Writing an op-ed
Getting an op-ed published is a big deal. Op-eds are typically considered the second most influential items in a newspaper (after the official editorials). Each newspaper generally has its own policy for submission and publication. Be sure to examine the individual website before you get started.
Here are a few general tips:
- 600–700 words is the most common length.
- Write from your strengths: If you’re a doctor writing about immigration enforcement, for example, focus on how it affects your patients’ health, not on the legal issues.
- If feasible, find a co-author/co-signer who bolsters your authority. It may be a public official or a prominent executive, someone with personal experience that you lack, or a partner and peer (e.g. if two nonprofit executive directors co-author a piece). BUT: Two authors is plenty; three or more will be a turnoff for editors, who typically like authentic, distinct voices.
- Timeliness makes a big difference; you’ll have a better chance of success if you have a “news hook” – a connection to a hot topic in the news.
- Good writing is key. Be clear and succinct, get to the point quickly, and make sure your tone is engaging – read it out loud to get a better sense of your rhythm and flow. Remember also that in newspapers, paragraphs are much shorter than in academic or legal writing; try to keep your paragraphs at 3–5 lines each.
- Clean copy will make a better impression. Check for spelling and grammatical errors!
- Give yourself time. Editors may make you wait one week or longer to respond; they get lots of submissions and have plenty of other work as well. But if you don’t hear within 3–4 days, follow up with an email and/or a call.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try again: have a list of alternative outlets you can pitch. And don’t assume that because a paper rejected one piece, they’ll reject you again; sometimes it’s a matter of timing.
- Once your piece is accepted, expect edits. Your piece is unlikely to run exactly as you wrote it; however, it is OK to push back on edits that you don’t like. Pro tip: Instead of “I hate this edit,” try “I see what you’re doing, but I think it changes the meaning, so could we try this third option instead?” Or: “That’s a really important part of my argument. Can you explain why you want to cut it? Maybe we can shorten it a bit instead?”
- Make sure to thank the editor for accepting your piece and for their thoughtful editing.
- Once you’re published, promote the piece! Newspapers like buzz, and of course that was the whole point of submitting your op-ed, right? Make sure also to share your success with MIRA; contact Marion Davis.
We need your voice out there. If you’d like some feedback before you contact editors, email us and we’ll try to help. Best of luck!