Opinion The Washington Post guide to writing an opinion article
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Each month, The Washington Post publishes dozens of op-eds from guest authors. These articles — written by subject-matter experts, politicians, journalists and other people with something interesting to say — provide a diversity of voices and perspectives for our readers.
The information and tips below are meant to demystify our selection and editing process, and to help you sharpen your argument before submitting an op-ed of your own.
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How to Write an Opinion Piece
Last Updated: February 12, 2023 Approved
Sample opinion pieces.
- Expert Q&A
This article was co-authored by Emily Listmann, MA . Emily Listmann is a private tutor in San Carlos, California. She has worked as a Social Studies Teacher, Curriculum Coordinator, and an SAT Prep Teacher. She received her MA in Education from the Stanford Graduate School of Education in 2014. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article has 13 testimonials from our readers, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 395,314 times.
Opinion articles are sometimes called "op-eds," and these articles allow readers of a newspaper to voice their thoughts and ideas on topics ranging from local happenings to international controversy. People often write opinion articles about politics, current events, and public affairs. Most opinion articles are about 750 words long, with a professional tone. If you want to try your hand at writing an op-ed, you can learn to choose a compelling topic, write an effective draft, and finish off your op-ed like a professional editor.
- Scour the paper for compelling topics to respond to. If your op-ed piggybacks on work the newspaper published recently, your piece is instantly more interesting to the editors and will have more of a chance of getting published, if you want to submit it.  X Research source
- If your local library is slated to close in the next week, you could write an op-ed about the merits of the library and why it is an absolutely essential part of your community.
- Let’s continue on with the library example. Your argument could be: The library is historically a hub of learning and community. It should not be closed so that a fast food restaurant can be built on the site.
- Why is the library closing? What is the history of the library? How many people check-out books from the library each day? What activities go on in the library each day? What community events are hosted in the library?
- Keep in mind that you're more likely to get your article published if your background and credentials show that you are knowledgeable about the topic. It's best to pick a topic that relates to your personal and educational background, as well as your work expertise.
- The library is a beacon of learning and togetherness in a town that lacks a community center and only has one small all-grades school.
- You might have a personal connection to the library and could incorporate a personal story that also brings in the present-day events and community activities.
- Explore possible alternatives to closing the library, how the community can keep the library open. Include suggestions for the local city planners.
- "In the winters of my youth, when days were short and walking was done in bundled layers, my sister and I would make the short trek to the library. Afternoons were spent in art classes, and among the bookshelves of that historic building. Sadly, next month the library is slated to meet the same fate as many of our other now-closed community buildings. For me, this is the last straw."
- The library op-ed might draw on details like the fact that the library was founded by President Wilson because he felt the town needed a place to read and discuss. You might discuss a specific librarian who has worked there for 60 years and has read every book of fiction in the collection.
- The closing of the library will displace 130,000 books and movies, forcing citizens of the town to travel 40 miles (64 km) to the next nearest library, bookstore, or movie rental business. Readers’ children will have access to half as many books, as the school always sends the kids to the library to rent their textbooks for the year. Etc.
- To continue the library example: You might use a personal story about how the first book you ever read from cover to cover was in that library; or how you developed a relationship with the old lady who runs the check-out counter; or how the library was your refuge from your bad living situation.
- Example of passive voice: “It is hoped that the local government will reconsider its plans to close the library.”
- Example of active voice: “I hope that the local government sees what this wonderful library means to the community, and will reconsider its horrible decision to close this hub of learning and community-building.
- To be sure, those that wish to close the library down are correct in thinking that our local economy is struggling. Businesses are closing left and right because people are not buying their goods. But to think that closing the library will solve the problem of our economy is surely a misguided notion.
- For example: If we come together as a community, there is a serious chance that we can save our library. Through fundraising and petitioning, I think it will become clear to the local government that they need to reconsider the closing of this historical and vibrant library. If the government were to instead allocate some of the funds they are planning on pouring into the new mega-mall to the upkeep of the library, this beautiful landmark would not have to close.
- Make sure your final sentences include specific actions the reader can take after finishing your article.
- Our town’s library is not only a house for the brilliant works of authors from around the world, but it is also a place where the community can come together to learn, discuss, appreciate, and inspire. If the library closes as planned, our community will lose a beautiful testament to our town’s history, and a hub for the curious minds of our young and old alike. As a community, we must come together to save our library. Do your part by calling your city council representative, donating to the library, and joining Friends of the Library.
- Newspapers will almost always edit, but will usually preserve the voice, style, and viewpoint of your piece. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can send a lengthy piece and count on them to cut it down to their liking. Papers will often skip over a piece that does not generally correspond to their specified word count.
- Example of brief bio-related to library op-ed: John Smith is an avid reader with a PhD in Creative Writing and Political Science. He has lived in Library town, MA his entire life.
Expert Q&A Did you know you can get expert answers for this article? Unlock expert answers by supporting wikiHow
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- If it is appropriate to do so given your topic, employ the use of humor, irony, and wit. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- If your topic focuses on an issue at a national or international level, send it out to many different newspapers--don't just limit yourself to one. ⧼thumbs_response⧽ Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
You Might Also Like
- ↑ http://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/by-writing-goal/improve-my-writing/10-rules-for-writing-opinion-pieces
- ↑ https://styleguide.duke.edu/toolkits/writing-media/how-to-write-an-op-ed-article/
- ↑ https://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/specials/weblines/481.html
- ↑ http://writetodone.com/how-to-write-a-strong-opinion-piece-for-your-blog/
About This Article
To write an opinion piece, or an op-ed, on a current event or trend, start by condensing your argument down to 1 or 2 sentences, then support that argument with historical facts, statistics, quotes, and other interesting information. Make your point in the first few sentences, then show the readers why they should care about the issue. In addition, add in personal details that will humanize the piece and show why you feel strongly about the subject. Keep reading to learn how to address other people’s arguments to the issue. Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Writing and submitting an opinion piece.
The opinion pages are one of the best-read sections of any publication, in print or online—often on par with front-page news. And, some of the most attentive readers are decision makers: top people in government, corporations and nonprofit institutions. Appearing there is a prime way for the nonprofessional writer to get a valuable perspective into the public eye. Here is a how-to guide.
What kind of piece?
There are two basic forms: the essay (often referred to as op-ed), and letter to the editor. (“Op-ed” comes from when all newspapers were actually printed on paper, and outside writers customarily appeared on the page OPposite staff-written EDitorials. The New York Times recently traded this old-fashioned term for “guest essay.”)
Opinion essays don’t normally come from just anyone; the writer usually has some special expertise or credibility on the topic. This might include lawyers, ex-government officials or scientists. A piece may also come from someone with an especially telling or powerful personal experience relating to the topic—for example, an essay on homelessness by someone who has been homeless. They can run 400-1,200 words. Some generate a small fee.
Letters to the editor generally run just 100 to 150 words (or edited, even shorter). They are welcome from pretty much anyone. But those with credentials often stand a better chance of getting published. Whoever you are, don’t expect payment.
What are my chances?
Most publications want only pieces that play off the news of the last few days, or the week. After that, your letter is a dead one. So, in most cases, is your op-ed. Act fast.
That said, something may be going on below the public radar that should be in the news, but has not surfaced. If you know something, you say something; an op-ed can help to break the news. Maybe an invisible threat to public safety, or an unnoticed scientific discovery. Ideally, your topic will be timely, but at the same time have a long shelf life (i.e., the issue won’t be solved in a day or a month). Occasionally, you may find a “peg” for your piece: a holiday, anniversary, election, upcoming conference, report, a pending vote in Congress.
In all cases, depending on where you submit, calibrate expectations accordingly. Major publications, especially big dailies like The New York Times , may receive hundreds of op-eds each day, and even more letters to the editor. They will use only a few. In publications with less competition, your odds increase.
What makes a good op-ed?
It’s not just your opinion. It begins with facts, and makes an argument based on facts. It is informed by logic—not emotion or ideology. You can educate without preaching. And it’s not just a complaint; you must almost always offer next steps or possible solutions for the matter at hand.
Editors want pieces that don’t just wow you with expertise; they want pieces that are colorful, fast-moving and provocative—hallmarks of any good writing. A good op-ed is concise. It hits hard. It marshals vivid images, analogies and, when appropriate, anecdotes. E ditors see the opinion page as a place for advocacy, denunciations, controversy and astonishment. They want to stimulate community discussion and drive public debate. They want people to say, “Wow! Did you see that op-ed today?”
What makes a good letter to the editor?
Same stuff basically, except in a nutshell. OK, maybe a little more pure outrage is acceptable. Just make your case, and make it fast.
How to write it ?
Whether op-ed or letter, your piece must unfold quickly. Focus on a single issue or idea. State what the issue is, and let us know where you stand. That should happen in the first short paragraph or two. Following paragraphs—the meat in the sandwich, so to speak—should back your viewpoint with factual or first-hand information. Near the end, clearly restate your position and issue a call to action.
Some specifics to keep in mind:
- Grab the reader’s attention in the first line. End with a strong, thought-provoking line.
- Come down hard on one side of the argument. Never equivocate.
- Identify and acknowledge the counterargument; then refute it with facts.
- Use active verbs; g o easy on adjectives and adverbs.
- Avoid clichés.
- Avoid acronyms.
- A void technical jargon.
- Cite specific references and easy-to-understand data.
Next step: All writers need editors. You might show your piece to a colleague or two in your field to see if they can poke holes in it. Or, if you know a good writer, ask them how the piece might be strengthened. You can also contact your institution’s communications staff; helping out is often part of their job. (But ghostwriting is not.) No guarantee someone can turn your junky screed into an influential masterpiece—but editing almost always helps.
Finally, include a catchy headline that conveys your message. This will help the editor grasp the idea quickly, and help sell your contribution. (However, expect the publication to write its own headline; that’s just how it works.)
Must someone sign off?
In most workplaces, there is no requirement that you submit a piece to management— especially in academia. It is understood that you’re speaking for yourself, not the institution. That said: your title and affiliation will usually appear with your byline. So in that sense, you indirectly represent the honor and credibility of your institution. A controversial piece that is well articulated, well read and respectful raises the profile of your institution. This is rarely viewed as bad.
Where and how to submit?
Everyone wants their piece in The New York Times . Few will ever see it there. Unless you have something super-strong, consider other options. Some national general-interest outlets with a big demand for copy include The Hill , CNN Opinion , Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and Slate . The Conversation specializes in op-ed-type pieces from academics. Is your piece more regional or specialized? Check regional or specialized media. Local papers are always looking for a local angle on wider issues. Publications that cover energy, law or other topics are of course looking for that kind of piece.
If you or someone you know happens to know the opinion editor, you can send directly to him or her. Otherwise, most publications have a web page telling you where to send, and their particular requirements. Don’t fret if you don’t have an inside line; editors really do read those over-the-transom submissions.
Letters to the editor can often be sent in the body of an email. Most op-ed submissions are made in an emailed Word document. For the subject line in either case, that catchy title mentioned earlier will come in handy. If it’s an op-ed, write the editor a short note in the email body telling her/him what the piece gets at, and why you’re the person to get at it. Include your contact info and, if you want, a brief bio.
In general, submit to one publication at a time. Unfortunately, editors may take days or weeks to get back—and if it’s a rejection, you may not hear at all. ( New York Times policy: if you don’t hear in 3 days, you’re rejected.) If you feel you must submit to more than one, let the editors know. But avoid submitting the same piece to two publications in the same geographical or readership market. Higher-prestige places will require that you offer to them exclusively.
Where can I find more guidance?
Below, some good resources. The OpEd Project in particular has not only advice, but a list of specific contacts and guidelines for submitting pieces. Good luck!
The OpEd Project website
How to Write an Op-ed, Step by Step The Learning Agency
Writing Effective Op-eds Duke University
Writing Letters to the Editor Community Toolbox
Writing Effective Letters to the Editor National Education Association
Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers New York Times
And Now a Word From Op-Ed New York Times
NO MORE BLOOD FOR OIL
While war rages in Eastern Europe, life goes on elsewhere. Yet it is marked by fear and
resentment, especially in the United States, already torn apart by political strife and the
dread of yet another election cycle, with all that it entails. Understandably, the average
person (however one defines that abstraction) is worried about inflation. At the moment,
Americans are complaining vehemently about the high price of gasoline. Yet very little has
been said or written about how high (or low) those fuel prices are. When we compare the
current price at the pump to that in several other countries, including our North American
neighbors, Great Britain, the European Union, and the three nations most affected by the
war in Ukraine, the enormous disparity between our own situation and that facing people
elsewhere becomes apparent. Extrapolating from accurate and up-to-date data available
on the web, here is a table (adjusted for currency values, units of measurement and annual
household income) that makes those differences as precise as they are unmistakable:*
Gas Price Unit Cost Annual Income Relative Cost Purchase Power
U.S. $4.84 1.00 $79,400 1/16,405 (100.00) U.K. $3.70 0.76 $40,040 1/10,822 65.96
E.U. $4.46 0.92 $44,091 1/9,886 60.26 Canada $6.20 1.28 $54,652 1/8,815 53.73
Poland $22.22 4.59 $5,906 1/265.80 1.62 Mexico $103.17 21.32 $7,652 1/74.17 0.45
Ukraine $145.17 29.99 $2,145 1/14.78 0.09
Russia $672.79 139.00 $6,493 1/9.65 0.06
*Currency Rates: 1 USD = $0.92 EU, $0.76 £, $1.28 CAN, $22.80 złoty, $20.92 pesos, $29.66 UAH, $133 roubles Sources: globalpetrolprices.com; worldpopulationreview.com; statista.com; CNNbusiness.com (March 12, 2022)
By a sublime yet tragic irony, Russia, whose proven oil and natural gas reserves are three times larger than those of the United States, has by far the highest petroleum prices in the world. As
Ukraine is suffering from the Russian onslaught, Russians are suffering from the actions of their
government on a scale we can scarcely imagine. Adjusted for income levels, the gap between
both countries and their more affluent counterparts becomes astronomical. Mexico, although
still classed as a developing nation, is much better off than either one; Poland, though besieged
by refugees and threatened by invasion, is downright wealthy compared to the other three. As
the purchasing power index shows, America enjoys a standard of living that (in crude oil terms)
is 1,667 times higher than Russia, 1,111 times that of Ukraine, and 222 times that of Mexico, an
oil producing nation in its own right. That does not imply that we have no right to object to an
increase in gas prices, or that we should be grateful for what we have, and not make noise about
the conditions we face, both as individuals and as a society. It does mean that we must put such
matters in global perspective, and that it is not becoming for us to act beleaguered, put upon, or
oppressed, when our situation is not so much a major hardship as it is a minor inconvenience, or
a mere side effect of an underlying economic disease, caused by the unholy alliance between oil
cartels and political operatives, East and West. The pandemic started two years ago; but OPEC
is nearly half a century old, and shows no signs of abating, despite the routine lip service paid to
alternative energy sources, environmental regulations, and an end to domestic drilling, both on
land and off-shore. “Energy independence” is neither an unattainable ideal nor an inducement
to promote the use of fossil fuels. But if Europe relies on Russian oil, what does Russia rely on?
And for how long can it withstand the misery and suffering that it has inflicted on itself, let alone
those whom it failed to bully into submission? Who will die first—the oligarch, the imperialist,
or the global monopolist? And who will pay the steep price, let alone, clean up the whole mess?
Meanwhile. the U.S. imports nearly half (48%) of its oil, not from Venezuela or the Middle East
but from Canada, which accounts for over 90% of their oil exports. How long can we continue
deceiving ourselves about why trucker convoys swarmed upon Ottawa? Or about the role that
Athabascan sands (in the province of Alberta) play in fiscal diplomacy, never mind the Alaska
pipeline? And how long can either Russia or the United States remain superpowers, while mired
in myths, misconceptions and militarism, while everyone on the ground is caught in a vise, even
as they struggle to survive? Blaming the villain (Putin) is easy; rooting out economic causes
and human consequences of what passes for domestic as well as foreign policy is much harder.
[cf. Vaclav Smil, Energy and Civilization: A History (Cambridge, MA, 2017); Richard Rhodes,
Energy: A Human History (New York, 2018); R. Buckminster Fuller, Critical Path (New York,
1981). Fuller’s warnings are as apt now as they were four decades ago, only far more urgent].
Yet it must be done, or the world will perish in flames, losing its grip while clinging to illusions.
As Adam Smith prophesied on the eve of the American Revolution, “this empire [Great Britain]
. . . has hitherto existed in imagination only . . . it is surely now time that our rulers should either
realize this golden dream . . . or that they should awake from it themselves, and endeavour to
awaken the people. If the project cannot be completed, it ought to be given up” (The Wealth
of Nations , “Of Public Debts,” V.3. ad fin.; ed. Edwin Cannan , new pref. George J.
Stigler (Chicago, 1976), Vol, II, 486). If we don’t change our ways, extinction will be our lot—
our fossils will tell the tarry tale, as it did for all the dinosaurs who once ruled the earth.
I think Putin will go down in history as a waster of young russian lives also a barbarian and for nothing he must not like the russian people ether as thay also suffer mothers losing sons wives losing husband children losing father’s what an a*%*#h##&£#_
That goes without saying, yet it does nothing to change the situation. It also ignores the fact that neither his friends nor his foes among the nations of the world are any less guilty of creating and perpetuating the misery and suffering which you rightly condemn. Invective is neither helpful nor illuminating. As Sam Rayburn used to say, “you can always tell a man to go to hell, but making him go there is another story entirely.” When you find the words to make that happen, let me know.
Opinion Writing: a Guide to Writing a Successful Essay Easily
An opinion essay requires students to write their thoughts regarding a subject matter. Relevant examples and explanations back their point of view. Before starting an opinion paper, it is important to study the definition, topics, requirements, and structure. Referring to examples is also highly useful. Perhaps you need help with our college admission essay writing service ? Take a look at this guide from our dissertation writing service to learn how to write an opinion essay like an expert.
What Is an Opinion Essay
A common question among students is: ‘What is an Opinion Essay?' It is an assignment that contains questions that allow students to share their point-of-view on a subject matter. Students should express their thoughts precisely while providing opinions on the issue related to the field within reasonable logic. Some opinion essays type require references to back the writer's claims.
Opinion writing involves using a student's personal point-of-view, which is segregated into a point. It is backed by examples and explanations. The paper addresses the audience directly by stating ‘Dear Readers' or the equivalent. The introduction involves a reference to a speech, book, or play. This is normally followed by a rhetorical question like ‘is the pope Catholic?' or something along those lines.
What Kind of Student Faces an Opinion Essay
Non-native English-speaking students enrolled in the International English Language Testing System by the British Council & Cambridge Assessment English are tasked with learning how to write the opinion essays. This can be high-school or college students. It is designed to enhance the level of English among students. It enables them to express their thoughts and opinions while writing good opinion essay in English.
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What Are the Requirements of an Opinion Essay?
Avoid Going Off-Topic: Always write an opinion essay within relevance to answer the assigned question. This is also known as ‘beating around the bush' and should not be included in any opinion paragraph as it may lower your grade.
Indent the First Paragraph: With most academic papers, opinion writing is not different. Therefore, it contains the rule of indenting the first line of the introduction.
A Well-Thought Thesis: The full thesis statement is a brief description of the opinion essay. It determines the rest of the paper. Include all the information that you wish to include in the body paragraphs
The Use of Formal Languages: Although it is okay to write informally, keep a wide range of professional and formal words. This includes: ‘Furthermore,' ‘As Stated By,' ‘However', & ‘Thus'.
Avoid Internet Slang: In the opinion paper, avoid writing using slang words. Don'tDon't include words like ‘LOL', ‘OMG', ‘LMAO', etc.
The Use of First Person Language (Optional): For the reason of providing personal thought, it is acceptable to write your personal opinion essay in the first person.
Avoid Informal Punctuation: Although the requirements allow custom essay for the first-person language, they do not permit informal punctuation. This includes dashes, exclamation marks, and emojis.
Avoid Including Contradictions: Always make sure all spelling and grammar is correct.
We also recommend reading about types of sentences with examples .
Opinion Essay Topics
Before learning about the structure, choosing from a wide range of opinion essay topics is important. Picking an essay theme is something that can be done very simply. Choosing an excellent opinion essay topic that you are interested in or have a passion for is advisable. Otherwise, you may find the writing process boring. This also ensures that your paper will be both effective and well-written.
- Do sports differ from ordinary board games?
- Is using animals in circus performances immoral?
- Why should we be honest with our peers?
- Should all humans be entitled to a 4-day workweek?
- Should all humans become vegetarians?
- Does a CEO earn too much?
- Should teens be barred from having sleepovers?
- Should everyone vote for their leader?
- The Pros & Cons of Day-Light Saving Hours.
- What are the most energy-efficient and safest cars of X year?
Opinion Essay Structure
When it comes to opinion paragraphs, students may struggle with the opinion essay format. The standard five-paragraph-essay structure usually works well for opinion essays. Figuring out what one is supposed to include in each section may be difficult for beginners. This is why following the opinion essay structure is something all beginners should do, for their own revision before writing the entire essay.
You might also be interested in getting more information about: 5 PARAGRAPH ESSAY
Opinion essay introduction
- Address the audience directly, and state the subject matter.
- Reference a speech, poem, book, or play.
- Include the author's name and date of publication in brackets.
- 1 or 2 sentences to make up a short description.
- 1 or 2 summarizing sentences of the entire paper.
- 1 sentence that links to the first body paragraph.
Body Paragraph 1
- Supporting arguments
- A linking sentence to the second body paragraph.
Body Paragraph 2
- Supporting argument
- A linking sentence to the third body paragraph.
Body Paragraph 3
- A linking sentence to the conclusion.
- Summary of the entire paper
- A conclusive sentence (the bigger picture in conclusion)
If you need some help, leave us a message ' write my essay cheap ' and we'll help.
Opinion Essay Examples
Do you need something for reference? Reading opinion essay examples can expand your knowledge of this style of writing, as you get to see exactly how this form of an essay is written. Take a look at our samples to get an insight into this form of academic writing.
Over the past, American popular culture has been strong in creating racial stereotypes. Images displayed through television, music, and the internet have an impact on how individuals behave and what individuals believe. People find their identities and belief systems from popular culture. Evidently, I believe that American pop culture has created racial stereotypes that predominantly affect other ethnic minorities. Analyzing the history of America reveals that African Americans have always had a problem defining themselves as Americans ever since the era of slavery. AfricanAmericans have always had a hard time being integrated into American culture. The result is that African Americans have been subjected to ridicule and shame. American pop culture has compounded the problem by enhancing the negative stereotypes ofAfrican American. In theatre, film, and music, African Americans have been associated with vices such as murder, theft, and violence.
The family systems theory has a significant revelation on family relations. I firmly agree that to understand a particular family or a member, they should be around other family members. The emotional connection among different family members may create functional or dysfunctional coexistence, which is not easy to identify when an individual is further from the other members. Taking an example of the extended family, the relationship between the mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law may be tense, but once they are outside the family, they can pretend to have a good relationship. Therefore, I agree with the theory that the existing emotional attachment and developed culture in the family is distinctively understood when the family is together.
Opinion writing is a form of academic paper that asks students to include their thoughts on a particular topic. This is then backed by a logical explanation and examples. Becoming more knowledgeable is a practical way to successfully learn how to write an opinion paper. Before writing anything, it is essential to refer to important information. That includes the definition, topics, opinion writing examples, and requirements. This is what turns amateur writers into master writers.
Feeling like you need some assistance with your essay? No matter what kind of writer you need, opinion or persuasive essay writer , our team consists of experts in all fields. Our college essay writing service helps those students who need an extra push when it comes to their assignments.
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How to write an op-ed or column
Tip sheet on formulating, researching, writing and editing news opinion articles.
Republish this article
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License .
by The Journalist's Resource, The Journalist's Resource January 28, 2013
This <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org/home/how-to-write-an-op-ed-or-column/">article</a> first appeared on <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org">The Journalist's Resource</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src="https://journalistsresource.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/cropped-jr-favicon-150x150.png" style="width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;">
The following is reprinted courtesy of Jeffrey Seglin , lecturer in public policy and director of the Harvard Kennedy School Communications Program :
An op-ed piece derives its name from originally having appeared opposite the editorial page in a newspaper. Today, the term is used more widely to represent a column that represents the strong, informed and focused opinion of the writer on an issue of relevance to a targeted audience.
Distinguishing characteristics of an op-ed or column
Partly, a column is defined by where it appears, but it shares some common characteristics:
- Typically, it is short, between 750 and 800 words.
- It has a clearly defined point.
- It has a clearly defined point of view.
- It represents clarity of thinking.
- It contains the strong, distinctive voice of the writer.
Questions to ask yourself when writing an op-ed or column
- Do I have a clear point to make? If so, what is it?
- Who cares? (Writing with a particular audience in mind can inform how you execute your column. Who is it that you are trying to convince? Why are you targeting that specific reader?)
- Is there substance to my argument?
Topic and theme
Every successful op-ed piece or column must have a clearly defined topic and theme.
- The topic is the person, place, issue, incident or thing that is the primary focus of the column. The topic is usually stated in the first paragraph.
- The theme is the big, overarching idea of the column. What’s your point in writing about the chosen topic and why is it important? The theme may appear early in the piece or it may appear later when it may also serve as a turning point into a deeper level of argument.
While columns and op-ed pieces allow writers to include their own voice and express an opinion, to be successful the columns must be grounded in solid research. Research involves acquiring facts, quotations, citations or data from sources and personal observation. Research also allows a reader to include sensory data (touch, taste, smell, sound or sight) into a column. There are two basic methods of research:
- Field research: going to the scene, interviews, legwork; primary materials, observations, and knowledge.
- Library, academic, or internet research: using secondary materials, including graphs, charts, and scholarly articles.
Openings and endings
The first line of an op-ed is crucial. The opening “hook” may grab the reader’s attention with a strong claim, a surprising fact, a metaphor, a mystery, or a counter-intuitive observation that entices the reader into reading more. The opening also briefly lays the foundation for your argument.
Similarly, every good column or op-ed piece needs a strong ending that fulfills some basic requirements. It:
- Echoes or answers introduction.
- Has been foreshadowed by preceding thematic statements.
- Is the last and often most memorable detail.
- Contains a final epiphany or calls the reader to action.
There are two basic types of endings. An “open ending” suggests rather than states a conclusion, while a “closed ending” states rather than suggests a conclusion. The closed ending in which the point of the piece is resolved is by far the most commonly used.
Having a strong voice is critical to a successful column or op-ed piece. Columns are most typically conversational in tone, so you can imagine yourself have a conversation with your reader as you write (a short, focused conversation). But the range of voice used in columns can be wide: contemplative, conversational, descriptive, experienced, informative, informed, introspective, observant, plaintive, reportorial, self-effacing, sophisticated or humorous, among many other possibilities.
Sometimes what voice you use is driven by the publication for which you are writing. A good method of developing your voice is to get in the practice of reading your column or op-ed out loud. Doing so gives you a clear sense of how your piece might sound – what your voice may come off as – to your intended reader.
Below are some things to remember as you revise your op-ed or column before you submit it for publication. You should always check:
- Coherence and unity.
- Voice and tone. Most are conversational; some require an authoritative voice.
- Direct quotations and paraphrasing for accuracy.
- That you properly credit all sources (though formal citations are not necessary).
- The consistency of your opinion throughout your op-ed or column.
Below are links to some online resources related to op-ed and column writing:
- The Op-Ed Project is a terrific resource for anyone looking to strengthen their op-ed writing. It provides tips on op-ed writing, suggestions about basic op-ed structure, guidelines on how to pitch op-ed pieces to publications, and information about top outlets that publish op-eds. Started as an effort to increase the number of women op-ed writers, The Op-Ed Project also regularly runs daylong seminars around the country.
- “How to Write an Op-Ed Article,” which was prepared by David Jarmul, Duke’s associate vice president for news and communications, provides great guidelines on how to write a successful op-ed.
- “How to Write Op-Ed Columns,” which was prepared by The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is another useful guide to writing op-eds. It contains a useful list of op-ed guidelines for top-circulation newspapers in the U.S.
- “And Now a Word from Op-Ed,” offers some advice on how to think about and write op-eds from the Op-Ed editor of The New York Times .
Author Jeffrey Seglin is a lecturer in public policy and director of the Harvard Kennedy School Communications Program .
What you need to know about writing an opinion article for The Washington Post, including the definition of an op-ed, tips for sharpening your argument and examples.
When you’ve settled on something that you have an opinion about, boil your argument down to its simplest form. Try to make one single point clearly in one or two sentences. If you can do this, you've got a good topic for an opinion piece.  Let’s continue on with the library example.
A piece may also come from someone with an especially telling or powerful personal experience relating to the topic—for example, an essay on homelessness by someone who has been homeless. They can run 400-1,200 words. Some generate a small fee. Letters to the editor generally run just 100 to 150 words (or edited, even shorter).
Opinion writing involves using a student’s point-of-view, which is segregated into a point. It is backed by examples and explanations. The paper addresses the audience directly by stating ‘Dear Readers’ or the equivalent. The introduction involves a reference to a speech, book, or play.
BE VERY OPINIONATED. Here’s the one time it’s helpful to be a hothead. Avoid being mild-mannered, tactful or diplomatic, as well as offering both sides of the story. An argument is much better than a discussion. 3. CONVEY A STRONG LINK TO YOUR SUBJECT.
Every successful op-ed piece or column must have a clearly defined topic and theme. The topic is the person, place, issue, incident or thing that is the primary focus of the column. The topic is usually stated in the first paragraph. The theme is the big, overarching idea of the column.
Intro Opinion Writing: Using the letters O.R.E.O to learn how to write a persuasive or opinion piece. Learn With Me Mrs. Sullivan 2.59K subscribers Subscribe 113K views 1 year ago How to...