Many people confuse writing an op-ed with writing a letter to an editor. Though the two pieces certainly do share some of the same characteristics, an op-ed is usually the longer and more formal of the two. It’s often written by an expert, such as a journalist or PR writer, with a specific goal in mind. Here’s exactly how to write an op-ed that your audience will enjoy.
What is an Op-Ed?An op-ed, short for opinion editorial or opinion piece, is a professional letter that merges your personal opinion with factual information. Unlike a letter to the editor which is usually written by an interested or concerned citizen, an op-ed is almost always written with a professional goal in mind. Though you can certainly write an op-ed to pass your own opinion along, it’s much more common to write an op-ed for your company or a client. Your job is to pass along information about the company. Your goal is to boost their publicity, sway public opinion, or otherwise give them positive media coverage. Despite their personal, opinionated nature, an op-ed is a professional piece of writing with a specific end goal. One of the most common reasons to write an op-ed is as a response to another article or opinion piece in a newspaper or other publication. You are writing to agree or disagree with the piece, present new evidence or information, and boost the image of your company. Most op-eds present a strong opinion. They do their best to convince readers that this opinion is true by presenting evidence from authoritative resources, studies and research, and expert opinions. While you do have more wiggle room as far as style and format goes with an op-ed, there are still several rules you must follow.
Examples of an Op-EdOp-eds come in many different varieties, but they all follow the same basic structure, formatting, and rules. Reviewing successful op-eds is a great way to learn the basics to ensure that your own op-ed is as professional and effective as possible. Here are two strong examples:
How to Write an Op-EdYou have a lot of wiggle room and freedom when writing an op-ed. Yet even though the style and format are largely up to you (and your client), there are still several important rules every op-ed must follow. Not only does following these rules increase the likelihood that your piece will be published, but it also ensures that you accurately and expertly present your opinion to your audience. So, let's write an opinion editorial together so that you understand how all the different components need to coalesce into one.
1. Selecting a Topic and OpinionEvery effective op-ed piece starts with a strong opinion. In fact, sharing your opinion with the world is the main reason to write an op-ed to begin with. Your opinion should relate to a current topic. The best time to write an op-ed is when that topic is already at the front of the public’s minds. Because there is limited space for op-eds in most publications, the media places priority on those that related to current events and important issues. Select a topic and opinion that focuses on a single point. You must be able to explain exactly what the issue is and what you want the reader to believe in one or two sentences. Take care to select a topic and opinion that not only readers will connect with, but that editors will be interested in publishing as well.
2. Start with a Headline and HookIt’s imperative to catch reader interest from the start to ensure they read the rest of your opinion piece.
- Strong Headline – Even though most publications choose their own headlines, you must still include a strong, catchy headline that gets your point across.
- Catchy Hook – Introduce your opinion in an interesting and exciting way that catches the reader's attention in the first few sentences. A relevant, personalized hook is usually effective.
- Write for Your Audience – Know your audience. Know who reads the publication your op-ed is published in. Write the piece with these readers in mind.
3. Organization is KeyYou do have some freedom with the organization of your op-ed, but you still must make sure that it follows some basic rules.
- Proper Length – Every publication has different rules regarding length, but most op-eds fall between 500 and 1,500 words in length. Shorter is almost always better though.
- Proper Formatting – Break down your op-ed like any other essay or article. Start with an introduction (hook), move to the body (back up opinion with facts), and end with a summary (call-to-action).
- Back Up with Facts – Despite the fact that it’s an opinion piece, you must back up all your opinions with evidence and facts. Cite all sources, studies, and experts.
4. Make it ActionableThe goal of an op-ed is to get your readers to care. You want the piece to move them to take action.
- Call to Action – Include a CTA at the end of the piece that encourages your readers to do something. Tell them exactly what to do to take the next step.
- Tell Readers to Care – Explain exactly why your readers should care about the issue at hand – and how caring benefits themselves and others.
- List Additional Resources – Offer specific recommendations and suggestions on how your readers can learn more information and help make a change.
5. Important TipsHere are a few additional tips that will help your op-ed shine.
- Focus on a Single Point – A clear, specific idea is much more effective than an expansive point.
- Tell a Story – Don’t make your op-ed too formal. Tell a story and try to make it relate to you or your readers. Draw your readers in by making it personal.
- Show, Don’t Tell – Show the readers the importance of your opinion with relevant information rather than just telling them why they should care.
- Use a Personal Writing Style – Avoid technical jargon. Avoid sounding too stiff or professional. Relax a little and use a simple, personable voice. Use the active voice over the passive voice when possible.
- Follow All Writing Rules – Every publication has different rules for their op-ed pieces, so research these to ensure your piece meets all of the requirements and guidelines.
Op-Ed Cheat SheetMake sure that your next op-ed includes all the essential information with our op-ed cheat sheet.
- Use a Catchy Headline
- Include a Strong Hook
- Introduce Your Opinion
- Explain Your Opinion
- Use Stories to Show What You Mean
- Explain Why Readers Should Care
- Back Up Claims with Sources
- Focus on a Single Point
- End with a Call-to-Action
- Tell Readers What to Do Next
- Include Additional Resources
- Use a Personal Writing Style
- Know Your Audience
- Show, Don’t Tell