Op-Ed: What Is It and How to Write it?

The term op-ed was coined from the phrase “opposite the editorial page,” which was where an opinion piece was published in print media traditionally. The opinion pieces were written by (or on behalf of authors) not associated with the newspaper or magazine but who wished to express an opinion about an unknown or popular matter.

If someone popular, influential, or experienced would like to lend their voice to a subject matter, they might contact you as a freelance writer for help. This guide explores the topic: Op-Ed: What Is It and How to Write it and will help you write a mind-blowing op-ed.

What Is an Op-Ed?

An op-ed is a piece of writing that captures the opinion of an individual or group not affiliated with the publication concerning a relevant topic. Most op-eds are written to address unknown or popular issues or the opinions or statements of others. Generally, they are longer than a letter to the editor and can be attributed to notable people or experts with qualifications on the matter. When such a person cannot write the op-ed themselves, they usually hire a freelance ghostwriter.

When a ghostwriter writes an op-ed, the notable person’s name (and sometimes photo and biographical paragraph) accompanies the piece. The ghostwriter is not mentioned. The piece is then published in a noticeable spot, such as on a website or opposite the editorial page.

How to Write an Op-Ed

When writing an opinion piece, you should understand your topic of discussion, the audience, and the outlet’s formatting rules. Once you have these in the bag, follow this step-by-step guide: (we will refer to the person commissioning the op-ed as the ‘author’).

Step 1: Agree with the Subject Matter

As someone writing on someone else’s behalf, you won’t always agree with their opinion about a matter. Nonetheless, your dissent should never come off in your writing. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the author’s point of view and make it your own. This will allow you to write a better, more convincing piece.

Tip: If you cannot get yourself to agree with the author’s point of view, it is better to turn down the job than write contrary to the instructions.

Step 2: Craft a Catchy Introduction

Most people decide whether they will read an item from the first few lines, meaning you have a limited window within which to capture your audience’s attention. Start with a catchy introduction that captures and personalizes your opinion.

Step 3: Talk to Your Audience

Once you have your audience’s attention, you must deliver the message as they would like to hear it. This requires that you be familiar with the outlet’s main audience. Will they understand medical jargon? Do they like short stories or long essays? Figure out what they like to read and tailor your op-ed to meet these needs.

Step 4: Reinforce Your Points

Back up your opinions and statements with evidence in the form of facts and figures.

Step 5: Follow the Style Guidelines

If the editor has a specific word count, they prefer for op-eds, keep your piece well under this number. You should also consider other formatting guidelines to reduce the chances of your piece being declined.

Step 6: Include a Call to Action

Finally, tell the reader what they can do about the issue you have raised. You can do this through a natural and strong call to action.

Tips for Writing an Op-Ed

Even if you are experienced in writing op-eds, it is important to remember that thoughts, goals, outlooks, and opinions surrounding a matter tend to change with time. Here are some writing tips to ensure you are always at the top of your game when crafting an op-ed:

  • When you receive an assignment, familiarize yourself with the opinion or argument and find an approach that will convince your readers to care.
  • Don’t be afraid to express provocative or opposing opinions, as these are likely to interest your readers.
  • Time your op-ed, so it coincides with an important event (usually indicated by a strong news item), and send it a few days before the date of the event.
  • Avoid ranting to the reader. Instead, express your opinion in lively and authoritative language.
  • While the editor will almost certainly change the title of your op-ed, accompanying your piece with a strong title will convince them to read it in the first place.
  • Use short, easy-to-understand sentences and paragraphs, so you don’t lose your readers under 8-sentence monologues.
  • Avoid using technical terms and jargon that your readers will find hard to understand.
  • Use examples, short stories, and jokes to bring life to your op-ed and illustrate your points.
  • When you express an opinion, try to back it up with relevant data and facts to sell your point. Be careful, however, not to cluster your piece with statistics.
  • Keep your piece between 650 and 750 words.
  • Always supply a relevant call to action at the end of your piece. Suggest ways the readers can solve a problem (if that was your point of discussion).

Tips for Submitting

Publications that accept op-eds often have regulations and guidelines that govern how authors submit pieces. Most submissions are made electronically as text in an email (not attachments). Besides this, here are more pointers for when you are submitting your op-ed:

  • Contact the Media Relations Office to get help selecting the best media outlet for your op-ed. Newspapers will often only run op-eds that are strategic and relevant to their current news pegs.
  • Supply your credentials and contact information so the editor can reach you in case they have questions.
  • Never send your op-ed submission to more than one media outlet. Instead, wait until the first one has been declined before offering the piece to another outlet.
  • If you are pressed for time, indicate that you plan to offer your op-ed to another outlet if the editor fails to respond within a given timeline.

Key Points

Op-Ed: What Is It and How to Write it? Op-eds are opinion-based pieces mostly written by, or on behalf of, people of influence or expertise in a given topic. The writers have no affiliation with the media outlet and must back up their opinions with credible facts and figures. In most cases, op-eds are written to push an agenda, respond to a popular issue, or start a conversation on an unknown matter.

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