Some of my favorite articles in any newspaper, magazine or online news website are the op-eds – the opinion pieces written by people who don’t work for the publication.
Well-written op-eds allow me to see issues and events from unexpected perspectives. Even if I don’t ultimately agree with the writer, I enjoy reading a carefully laid out argument or alternative viewpoint, and I always feel I understand the topic better afterward.
Op-eds offer a great opportunity for you as well. Here’s why, as eloquently stated in a note to the faculty of Duke University from their associate vice president for news and communications, David Jarmul:
Such an article can reach millions of readers, swaying hearts and changing minds. … It also can bring you considerable recognition for less effort than it takes to write a professional monograph or journal article. Moreover, effective op-ed articles reflect well on both the author and the university [substitute ‘your business’ here!], which is why Duke encourages faculty members and others to reach out to this important market.”
At EMSI, our outreach to the media on behalf of clients often results in requests for clients to write something exclusive for a particular publication. Sometimes, the editor asks for a bylined article – an informative piece that may include some opinion but is mostly helpful information, such as tips. Other times, the publication requests an op-ed, which leads to lots of questions from our clients.
“What’s an op-ed?” “Is there a certain structure I’m supposed to follow?” “How many words should it be?”
You don’t have to be invited to submit an op-ed for publication, which makes it a great option for pursuing publicity on your own. If you’re asking the same questions some of our clients ask, here are the answers so you can get writing:
- Contrary to myth, op-ed is not short for opinion-editorial. Actually, the term is an abbreviation of “opposite the editorial page.” Traditionally, newspaper editorials, which are written by the publication’s staff, are published together on one page, and opinion pieces written by non-staff members run on the facing page. Those pieces may be written by well-known syndicated columnists, such as Leonard Pitts, David Brooks or Anna Quindlen. They usually also include pieces written by readers, experts and other non-professional writers weighing in on an issue. What they all have in common, though, is that they are written expressly to convey the writer’s opinion.
- There are many approaches to writing op-eds; here are some ideas that work. Open your piece, or include early in the narrative, a news hook – a current trend, issue or event that’s relevant to your topic. This is important: News publications are written for people interested in what’s happening in their world today, so editors are looking for pieces that expand on the news. State your opinion, and then give solid evidence to support it: statistics, studies, surveys, etc. Address any weak points in your own argument, such as a lack of hard data, and any obvious counter arguments someone might make. If you present a problem, include your recommendations for solutions.
- Keep the length to 750 words or less. In school, it seems too many of us got good grades for writing long papers and bad grades for short ones. We ascertained that more is better, even if the extra verbiage really doesn’t add anything to the value of what we’ve written. That’s wrong – especially in today’s era of text messages, tweets, and news digests. You’ll have far more success getting your piece published if you keep it to 750 words; fewer is even better! The exception is if a publication clearly states that submissions must have a minimum length. Focus your message on one or two key points; if you can’t explain it to a friend in a sentence or two, you’re probably trying to say too much.
Before you spend a lot of time writing your piece, visit the websites of the publications to which you plan to send it. Some will have word count limits; some may ask you to submit a synopsis of what you hope to write so they can decide if they’re interested. Most will require your piece to be original and exclusive to their publication.
Finally, while you may already be putting The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal at the top of your wish list, the odds of getting an op-ed published in the mega-papers are low. The competition is intense!
Your chances of getting published in a regional paper are much greater, and you’ll get the same benefits: credibility as a published expert, additional exposure on their website and “marketing gold” – great publicity to share on your website and in your social media marketing.
Just my opinion!