Op-eds are short essays that articulate the opinion of the writer on a specific subject. The name originated in the 1970s when the New York Times started publishing an opinion page that set out “opposite the editorial” page.
If you have expert insights, an interesting opinion, or a novel story to tell, writing an op-ed could help you reach a wide audience, change the perspective of people, and even effect positive social and policy change.
So how do you go about writing an op-ed? This guide explains everything you need to know about op-eds. It offers practical tips for making your op-ed focused, clear, and compelling.
What’s an op-ed?
Op-eds are an enduring, widely used format for communicating the opinion of the writer on any issue. By and large, they’re written by people who are not affiliated with the publication. They’re designed to encourage thought and discussion in the readership.
In general, op-eds have three essential elements. First, you have a relevant topic. Second, you’re expressing a personal opinion. Third, you have evidence to support your theme or argument.
Op-eds tend to be short, in most cases between 750 to 800 words. Keep in mind you’re not only analyzing a situation but also arguing persuasively for a given outcome or point of view.
Why write an op-ed?
Op-eds can be used to change people’s minds on a given issue or to convey a unique perspective. An op-ed can also establish you as a voice of authority on a given topic and open up new opportunities for you. For example, if you’re one of the many retirees seeking to return to the workforce, writing op-eds can raise your profile. It could help you stand out among other job applicants, as an opinion leader or expert in a niche or field.
Questions to ask before starting
Answer these questions before starting so you can be clear about your topic, ideal publication and audience, stance, and the research you might need to present
- Who’s my target audience and why would they care?
- What’s my target publication(s)? You could be targeting a politically minded audience, a general audience, or perhaps a readership in the business field. This will determine your voice and tone.
- What’s the point I want to express? Is it clearly defined? Why is it important?
- Does my point have adequate substance?
Structuring your op-ed
Your op-ed doesn’t need to follow a given structure. However, use the following outline if you’d like to use a proven structure:
- Hook or lede: Why the topic matters. (one paragraph)
- Introductory paragraph: What the op-ed is about. (one paragraph)
- Theme overview: Describe the overarching theme or argument. (one paragraph)
- Problem or issue: Explain the challenge, problem, or issue. (four to five paragraphs)
- Solution: What’s the answer or solution? (four to five paragraphs)
- Concession: What’s the other side’s take? Typically, this is where you anticipate potential critics or counterarguments by noting any weaknesses in your stance and/or addressing them. (one or two paragraphs)
- Conclusion: Restate your overarching argument and the solution you’re proposing. Where relevant, include either a call to action that details what the reader should do or a call to thought and further discussion.
You can break this structure down to an even simpler one: A headline, a lede, a first paragraph summarizing your argument, and following paragraphs in support of your argument before a conclusion.
5 steps to writing a compelling op-ed
- Title: Your title or headline should state your topic and stance clearly. For example, “AI is here. Here’s what regulators need to be aware of.”
- Opening: Start with a strong opening with your lede. You can use a current news event, an attention-grabbing statistic, irony, humor, or even a personal fact to draw your readership in and highlight why your topic matters. If relevant, use a current event that’s dominating the news to capture attention.
- Tone or voice: The voice or tone you use depends on your target audience and publication. It could range from humorous or authoritative to reportorial and informed. It’s a good idea to use plain language. Avoid jargon and technical language unless you’re submitting to an industry or trade publication.
- Research: Although op-eds reflect an opinion, they need to reference research to be persuasive. Include facts, quotes, case studies, data, citations, and examples. These could be personal stories, anecdotes, or observations if relevant. Alternatively, you could highlight specific examples of current problems that need to change.
- Topic sentences: For clarity, guide the reader by starting every paragraph with a topic sentence. This topic sentence tells the reader what’s in that paragraph. Well-written topic sentences let readers quickly skim your op-ed by reading the first sentence in every paragraph to work out the essence of your piece.
Reviewing your op-ed
Remember to check your op-ed before you submit it for publication. Review it for clarity, consistency, logical sequence, and coherence. Equally important, don’t forget to consult submission guidelines and ensure your op-ed complies with the publication’s formatting and stylistic requirements.
Op-eds can be a powerful way to get your opinion across, effect change, and establish yourself as a subject matter expert. Make sure your theme and argument are presented clearly. Use plain language that appeals to your target audience. Support your argument with evidence, and briefly acknowledge and respond to possible counterarguments.
A persuasive op-ed doesn’t need to follow a specific formula or structure. However, considering the above tips will help you write one that’s focused and holds the attention of your intended audience.
Jacqueline Coombe has been a prolific reader since childhood, and now channels her love of the written word into writing content on a range of topics from business, marketing, and finance to travel and lifestyle. Jacqueline is also a Principal Consultant specializing in Search + Content Marketing at the international digital marketing agency Webprofits.
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