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How to Write an Op-Ed

The term Op-Ed comes from the physical placement of columns and opinion pieces “Opposite the Editorial page,” but as members  of a College community, we can also think of it as Opportunity to Educate. Your op-ed can educate and enlighten as well as argue and persuade. 

Keep in mind that editors at major news outlets are choosing from hundreds of submissions each day, so make their jobs easier with a tightly written argument. 

If you want to react to a specific claim in an article or column you have read in a publication, write a letter to the editor, not an op-ed. In that case, the main strategy remains: submit quickly and keep it short and to the point.

Tips for Writing an Op-Ed

  • Keep it current.  Editors want the opinion pages to reflect what’s on their news pages. 
  • Act fast! You have to strike while the news topic is fresh, often within 24 hours. 
  • Be straightforward.  Strong language trumps subtle—get to your point.
  • Make your main point in the first paragraph.
  • Keep it short, between 300 and 750 words, and avoid long sentences and paragraphs.
  • Advocate your view. Don’t waste words summing up the views of others. 
  • Consider what questions a reader might have, and answer them.
  • Offer personal stories/anecdotes where possible. 
  • Suggest solutions.  Always close with recommendations for how to fix or ameliorate the problem in question. 
  • Establish your credentials in either the body of the piece (“I have studied this topic for 30 years…”) or in your byline (“Dr. Jones has studied and taught classes on racism for 30 years and is editor of…”). 
  • Different can be good. Humor, unexpected perspectives and quirky approaches can be refreshing.

Submitting your Op-Ed

The College Relations Office is happy to work with you by suggesting ideas and edits for your submission and by researching the best media contacts. Here are some general tips:

  • Use email. Most news Web sites offer an email address specifically for submitting letters and opinion pieces. 
  • Include your full title at Washington College and any other professional affiliations that are relevant to the topic. 
  • Submit to one news outlet at a time. Major media expect exclusive first-time rights for anything they publish; so do not blast the piece out to multiple media, tempting as that idea might be.
  • Decide where you will have the greatest chance of being published and to what impact. If nothing but the Wall Street Journal will do, then go for it, despite knowing that the odds of getting published are steep. 
  • Most news outlets will get in touch if they plan to publish your submission. If you have not heard from your first choice within 24 to 48 hours, email again to let the editor know you plan to submit it elsewhere.  
  • Know that if your submission is chosen for publication, it will be edited and given a final headline that may differ from the one you suggest.