Writing an Op-Ed

An op-ed is an opinion article on a timely news topic from an expert or specialist in a particular field. An op-ed provides an important opportunity to educate and contribute to public debate and sometimes even shape public policy. It is also a way to demonstrate your expertise and highlight your research.

Content:

  • Focus on one idea or argument and tell readers your viewpoint in the first paragraph. They need to know why they should care within the first two paragraphs.
  • Tie your piece to a recent news hook if possible (ie. a recent Supreme Court decision, release of a new bill or policy, approval of a new drug) and get it out quickly. When writing on timely topics, waiting even one extra day may be too late.
  • Don’t be afraid to be controversial and express strong opinions.
  • When possible, use a dramatic anecdote or an example that connects to the issue and helps illustrate your point.
  • Use relevant facts to reinforce your argument, but avoid filling your entire piece with statistics.
  • Look for opportunities to acknowledge a differing opinion. This gives you the chance to get a jump on objections to your argument by raising and answering them in advance.
  • Have a clear call to action.

Writing Style:

  • The ideal length for an op-ed is 500 to 700 words.
  • Be clear and concise and use language that resonates with a lay audience.
  • Keep sentences and paragraphs short and punchy.
  • Don’t be afraid to use your personal voice and write in the first-person. “I strongly believe…”
  • Use an active voice.
  • Be true to your personal writing style. Each writer has his or her own style; your best bet is to be yourself.

Considerations:

  • Be aware that your opinions will be public and associated with you and your institution.
  • You may be called on by other media outlets to discuss your opinion. Be prepared to do so.
  • Know that your piece may be edited for length and clarity by the newspaper.

Submitting your Op-Ed:

We recommend that you contact Crystal Mackay in the media relations office at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry for assistance in pitching your op-ed.

If you choose to submit it on your own:

  • Offer exclusivity to one publication. Don’t approach a second publication until the first has declined.
  • Use a strong headline and the words “Op-Ed Submission” in your subject line.
  • Include your title along with the name of the School (ie. Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University). It is not necessary to include your department.
  • Briefly highlight your area of expertise.
  • Copy and paste the submission into the body of the email.

 

Other reading:

New York Times’ Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers

The Op-Ed Project