Learn What an Op-ed Article Is and How to Write It
An op-ed is an opinion piece that a freelance writer may find themselves writing on behalf of a client, such as a nonprofit or business. The op-ed is a chance for the organization to garner some publicity for themselves and to perhaps sway public opinion about an issue. It is one kind of article or piece that freelance writers who specialize in journalism writing or PR writing may find themselves producing.
The Purpose of an Op-ed
The op-ed is usually longer than a regular letter to the editor is. It is often written by a subject matter expert (so this might be an instance of ghostwriting for the freelancer). In addition to a freelancer writing this on behalf of an organization, they are frequently written by a PR writer within the organization or other staff employees- such as a staff writer.
They are written in answer to a piece of news or to another opinion within the newspaper. For example, new immigration laws may push nonprofit immigration advocates to write an op-ed in favor of the new laws. An op-ed is anywhere from 300-700 words long, and sometimes a biography line and/or a photo of the "writer" (or subject matter expert) runs with the piece. Here are some tips on how to write an op-ed.
Own the Opinion
This will generally come from the client unless you've written for them a long time and are familiar with their stances.
Know what the end outcome of the op-ed is. Know what you want the reader to come away thinking and believing.
Start With a Hook
Just like in any other piece of writing, your reader is going to make a decision within just a few seconds whether or not they will continue. I like to start with a story that is personalized to the issue- but a brief one.
Be careful with this—I'm not telling you to pad your beginning with too much work-up.
The hook should be relevant to the issue. For example, I once began an op-ed about immigration law with a couple sentences about a woman who was waiting for her husband to return from Syria, where he was getting his papers in order, right when the recent violence broke out. It was brief but relevant.
Again, this will sound familiar, as it's true with many kinds of writing: Know your audience. Think of who reads the paper, who reads that section of the paper, and who reads about that particular issue. Then, aim for them. This might mean decisions about what levels of words you use, or what kinds of stories you tell. It means avoiding industry-speak. Another point when talking about aim is timeliness. Hopefully, your client is initiating this oped at a good time- such as when the issue is making news, or when someone else has written an (opposite) opinion about that matter to which you can respond.
Back It Up
Opinions necessitate reasons and support. What are yours (or your clients')? Work them in there. Do I really need to tell you to massage stats and other figures and items that may be boring?
Nah, you're a writer—you already know this!
Follow the Rest of the Rules
As a writer, you know the basics, right? Don't use passive sentences because you think they sound special. Cut your darling words. Stick to one subject. These are especially true when it comes to pieces that have to compete for limited space. You can please your client and be hired again if you can write work that gets them published.
End With Action
Don't leave your readers saying So? Tell them to support something- even if you can't give them an explicit action such as "go vote." This is also important because your readers will skim and scan, even if they're not reading on the internet. End it well.
For a different type of writing assignment, I sometimes ask students to compose an op-ed essay that succinctly communicates their point of view for readers of a general publication. “Op-ed” usually refers to a signed opinion essay by an outside contributor that appears “opposite the editorial page” of unsigned opinions by the publication’s staff. Trinity students and faculty have submitted op-ed essays to local news publications, such as the The Hartford Courant (see submission guidelines, the recent op-ed page, and search for “Fresh Talk” op-eds by writers younger than 30 years of age) and the CT Mirror “Commons” section.
See helpful advice from these guides to writing effective op-ed essays:
When preparing an op-ed essay for a course writing assignment, I require students to cite sources (for internal fact-checking only; remove them before submitting to a newspaper) and usually require a 1,000-word essay (to be shortened to an appropriate length before submitting to a publication).