June 10, 2014

Op-Ed Articles Part II: How to Write an Op-Ed

Filed under: WRITING TOPICS — carolyncholland @ 3:00 am


(Early today Carolyn’s Compositions hit its 290,000th view)



(Part1: Op-Ed Articles Part 1: Discussion )

By definition op-ed articles are statements of opinion on controversial matters of public interest. A good op-ed is not just a rant by an uninformed writer. It presents a well thought out and researched point of view.

An op-ed article doesn’t use too many words providing background information. It gets to the point and makes it well.

It should be written in the traditional three-point essay format that has

  1. a news-hook oriented intro
  2. about a third hard factual material that will sell you to editors as an expert.
  3. a very brief conclusion

NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series on writing op-ed articles. It discusses the how-to-write aspect. The first article was a discussion on op-ed articles, and the third is an actual op-ed on an issue I am particularly interested in.


 The 3 “Cs” of op-ed:




 Check and follow the newspaper guidelines on length. A concise, to-the-point 500 words is infinitely preferable to a meandering, meaningless 1,000 words.^ Don’t follow the guidelines and chances are the publication will edit for length as they see fit ***—and your major argument could be lost.

Structure your op-ed article logically:

  •  begin with a provocative or original thought that grabs readers, making them want to read the rest of the op-ed.
  •  state the op-ed thesis and back up its argument.
  •  conclude with a fresh angle or new point that cinches your argument with a single, cohesive message—summarize its argument in a strong final paragraph with a memorable last sentence.

Use the active voice (“I believe that”) rather than a passive voice (“It is believed to be that”). This keeps your piece concise, easy to read, more powerful, and gives an identity behind your opinions.

Focus the op-ed on only one topic.

Focus on only one clear op-ed objective, stated and clearly defined in one sentence near the beginning  (usually no further down than the third sentence). Identify its intent: Why is it important to write this particular op-ed? To raise awareness on an issue? To move the readers to take action for a cause?

Do research.

Build your opinion and arguments around facts (i.e., reports, surveys, statistics, trends) to make it stronger, harder to rebut, and to boost your credibility. and establish you as an “expert commentator.” Fresh facts “sell” an op-ed piece to editors.

Argue its stand strongly: don’t hedge, equivocate or defer.

Use personal experience to provide a more compelling story.

Make certain readers know exactly why the op-ed pertains to them.

Keep it simple. Write simple, declarative, informal sentences. Compose paragraphs of one to four sentences, rarely more. Use quotations sparingly, if at all. Attribute if you must, but keep titles as short as possible.

Avoid jargon: The op-ed should be written so that readers will understand your argument. Fill in all of the missing pieces that readers need: background information, definitions, etc. Avoid technical jargon and obscure references. If anything, try to tie your point into popular culture.

Use unique ways of expressing yourself. Op-ed columns do not need to follow standard journalistic guidelines. Open with an anecdote, a quote, an example—something that will get your readers interested in what you have to say. An op-ed is not just an essay: it doesn’t have to state a thesis, with a few supporting ideals, and then move on. Its material should be presented creatively in a way that will make its readers want to at least consider its stance and keep reading. When possible, entertain. No one gets paid to read the op-ed. Don’t be afraid to try a little humor, tell a good anecdote or otherwise liven up your copy.

Demonstrate why this subject is specifically relevant to the reader.

Make certain your readers are clear on what they should be arguing about, and invite responses. If your objective is to make readers take action, make sure you tell them what they should do. Provide recommendations or sources of additional information. If you are trying to raise awareness on a particular issue, hook the readers by relating the issue to the individual, parental or community perspective.

Write a catchy headline and first sentence—there is only have a few seconds to draw your reader into your article. Get to the point quickly—readers don’t have time to figure out what long anecdotes really mean. The key here is “news hook.” The issue you are commenting on should be in the news. If it hasn’t been in the news, chances are that editors won’t be interested in an op-ed piece on it, either. Use this “news hook” and lead your op-ed with that.


Just like every other article the op-ed must be edited and rewritten for clarity, structure, and grammar. It needs to make sense to readers other than yourself so do not be afraid to rewrite as necessary.

Beware of attachments: most newspapers refuse to open emails that contain attachments. It is better to paste the op-ed into the body of the email.


The op-ed submission must be accompanied with a cover letter. This is an opportunity to explain your credentials and why this story is of interest to the public.

The cover letter needs to include your “bioline,” which authenticates your “standing” and present your credentials in a short and pithy manner.

The following contact information is necessary:

  •  your name
  •  day and evening phone numbers
  • (snail)mailing address
  •  email address
  •  a brief description of your job title or qualifications for use at the
    end of your article
  • word count

If you follow these guidelines well you will have an op-ed article worthy of any newspaper publishing it.

Have fun, and if you manage to be published share it with me in the comment box below.



Op-Ed Articles Part 1: Discussion

How to Write a Letter to the Editor

From Postcards to Tweets: The Byte Connection









1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for sharing this info. 🙂

    Comment by merry101 — June 12, 2014 @ 8:16 pm | Reply

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