Write an op-ed piece

Op-ed pieces can have an astounding influence over readers and can bring considerable recognition to both the author and the University. FDU's Office of Public Relations is happy to help in any way that you feel is appropriate.

Op-eds are opinion articles that provide readers with diverse opinions on timely news issues. Most op-eds relate to an issue in recent news, but also provide a fresh opinion or suggested course of action. While they are essentially opinion pieces, op-eds are balanced with factual information. Since op-ed pieces are longer than letters to the editor, authors have the opportunity to more fully develop their arguments.

Some suggestions

Timing is everything

Op-ed pieces need to be timely with the news, or papers will not print them. What’s hot in the news this week may become dull or over-analyzed by next week.

Write a majority of your article when you have time to build your argument. Anticipate the news. Think ahead to predictable events, i.e. State of the Union Address, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day, summer vacation plans, back to school issues, presidential primary.

Monitor the news to determine when you should submit to papers. Look for top stories, events or holidays that could give you a newsworthy edge over other submissions. Google Alert and other Web services can track news and provide hooks and timing for op-ed pieces.

Adjust the lead or one of the themes based on developing news.

Be current, concise and convincing

Controversial news topics make great op-ed pieces. Clearly define where you stand. Don’t waste too many words providing background information—get to the point and make your point well. Use facts to boost your credibility and personal experience to provide a more compelling story. Be prepared in case the newspaper decides to run a counter-argument on the same page as your article.

Highlight the action of your piece

Make sure readers know exactly why your article pertains to them and what they should do after reading it. 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. Give recommendations or sources of additional information.

Avoid jargon

Try to write your piece so that anyone that picks up the paper 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.

Follow the rules

Every newspaper has guidelines on what their specific requirements are for both writing and submitting pieces. We have compiled information for twenty leading papers to make this process easier for you. Follow those guidelines and call the Office of Public Relations if you have any questions.

Edit

Even if you have read and re-read your piece, run it by a few colleagues. If your piece is accepted, a word of caution: you should be prepared to edit/adapt on short notice.

Getting started

Do some background reading

Since different newspapers have different audiences, op-eds can change in tone, topic and format from paper to paper. Read a variety of op-eds to see how they differ.

Identify your intent

Why do you want to write an op-ed? Do you want to raise awareness on an issue? Do you want readers to take action for a cause? Focus on one objective in your op-ed piece and frame your article around it.

Target your audience and the newspaper

Tailor your op-ed to the publication and the readership of that paper. Follow each newspaper’s recommendations of text limit, format, etc. We have provided a list of publications and their guidelines to help you. Click here to view the list.

Research your topic—again

Although you are an expert on the topic, see if there is any new information about it or if it has recently been in the news. Think of how best to explain your views to readers who may not be familiar with the issue. Gather fresh statistics to help prove your point.

Format

Cover one issue in three points

Focus on one issue in your op-ed and have one clear objective. Develop your issue in standard essay format, with an introduction, three key points and a powerful conclusion. Keep your piece concise and organized.

Count the words

Try to limit your piece to 750 words or less, depending on the guidelines of the newspaper. It’s tempting to explain your argument in great detail, but newspapers have limited space and readers have limited attention spans. Be prepared for editors to cut sections of your piece to make it fit or change some of your wording if they desire.

Use an active voice

Using an active voice (“I believe that”) instead of a passive voice (“It is believed to be that”) will keep your piece concise and easy to read. It also gives an identity behind your opinions, making the piece more powerful.

Write a catchy headline and first sentence

You only have a few seconds to draw your reader into your article, so make sure you grab their attention with a strong headline and a powerful first sentence. Get to the point quickly—readers don’t have time to figure out what long anecdotes really mean.

Finish strong

Summarize your argument in a strong final paragraph with a memorable last sentence. If your objective is to make readers take action, make sure you tell them what they should do.

Don’t forget

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.

Cover section with contact information

For all submissions, be sure to include a cover section with your name, day and evening phone numbers, mailing address, email address, title and FDU association. Use the cover section as an opportunity to explain your credentials and why this story is of interest to the public.

Resource box

Provide a brief description of your job title or qualifications for use at the end of your article. Something like “Joe Smith is a professor of sociology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, NJ, and the author of “____” or “Jane Jones is a professor of film at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s College at Florham, Madison, NJ, and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.” Choose from your credentials those that best apply to the article you have written.

Double-check newspaper standards

For the precise guidelines/contact information for 20 leading newspapers, click here. Click here to see how individual papers prefer to have work submitted and adhere to those rules. Almost all newspapers demand exclusivity.

Finally

You should know if your piece will be published within two weeks—either the newspaper will contact you or you’ll see the article in print. Avoid the temptation to call the paper to see if they’re planning to run your article.

If your piece runs, thank the news outlet. Make sure you get copies to distribute and let the Office of Public Relations know it was printed.

If your piece is not accepted, don’t be discouraged. Rejection is a typical outcome even for successful op-ed submitters. If the timing is still right, immediately submit to another paper. If the moment has passed, think about how you can rework your argument or approach the topic from another angle. Wait for the right moment to pitch it again.

Additional resources

Guidelines for twenty U.S. newspapers, alphabetically by paper

American Civil Liberties Union - How to Write an Op-Ed Piece

Ragged Edge - Become an instant op-ed star! By Mary Johnson

Ezine Articles – How to write your op-ed piece

Green Media Toolshed - The Op-Ed Top Ten