Op-eds are a great way to share your views with the public; they help raise the level of public discourse, and contribute to better public understanding of current affairs and complex issues.
As scholars at a major research university, you have valuable expertise to share. Elected officials, policy makers, and other “influencers” read the opinion pages and can be swayed by what they learn from you.Op-eds give you an opportunity to weigh in on news events.They raise your stature (and the stature of your institution) and can connect you with others in your field.
Increasing your chances of getting published
Everyone wants to appear in the New York Times, but the odds of getting published in your local or regional paper are much better.
Editors want something new and fresh; they are always looking for opinions they haven’t heard. They seek compelling arguments that challenge conventional wisdom.
Be outspoken, clear, and convincing. Editors want your opinion; take a stand and make a compelling case.
How do you write an op-ed?
Writing op-eds is an art, not a science, but observing the following guidelines will increase your chances of getting published.
Got a topic and a news hook? Feeling feisty? Good.
Now pick your target publication and think about your audience. Then take these steps:
- Bounce your idea off a trusted friend or colleague.
- Draft a five-word headline, and then a three-sentence summary of your piece.
Your first sentence (the “lede”) has to be irresistibly compelling. Editors at regional newspapers are sifting through hundreds of entries every day. They will spend only 60 seconds determining whether your piece makes the first cut. Focus on the three T’s: topic, timeliness, and traction. Your lede has to get traction immediately.
Write short: 700 words used to be the norm. Today it’s 600. Really.
Keep it simple: write a compelling lede, make three points, and end with a “call to action” that tells readers how they can make a difference.
Use clear language. Avoid jargon. Be descriptive; a short anecdote can be powerful.
Be bold: Academic writing tends to save the best for last. You will probably do this. Watch for it, and when you see it, rewrite to move the good stuff up to the top.
Review, revise, cut, edit, and repeat. Polish your piece until it shines!
If accepted by a newspaper or online outlet, your work will be edited. Try not to be defensive; professional journalists can make your writing better. Before publication, you will review and sign off on the revised draft.
Your headline may never appear in print; headlines are written by copy editors—not the editor who edits your commentary. You won’t have any say in the headline they put on your piece.