How to Write and Place Op-Ed Pieces
Local and regional papers appreciate it when their readers take the time to put their thoughts about issues of concern on paper and submit them for publication consideration as an "op-ed" - the reader opinion columns that are often placed by newspapers opposite the editorials that they author themselves.
Before you start writing, you can call the op-ed editor to see if they are interested in the topic and present your perspective. This may keep you from investing your time in preparing and drafting a piece that the paper has no interest in printing. Or if you have written an op-ed you believe is compelling, check to see if the paper lists criteria for op-eds which can give you some guidance about their expectations - the number of words they will accept, how to provide them with your contact information, etc. After you submit your article, you can follow up with the appropriate editor. Some papers may invite you to write an op-ed on an education issue if they are aware of your expertise on or passion about a particular issue. During any conversations you have with the paper's staff, explain why your views are important to their readers.
Most daily and weekly papers have an op-ed review process that can take from one to ten days. Many larger papers will require "exclusivity," which means they will consider your piece only when they are the sole paper receiving it. Be aware of any exclusivity clauses before you call or send to other papers, but you can shop around for the best newspaper to publish your op-ed, depending on its topic.
A final suggestion: don't discourage easily. Good writing is hard work. If your column doesn't make is into your local paper, consider submitting it somewhere else or redrafting it as a letter to the editor, which is also an effective way of voicing your opinions.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Be brief and to the point. The standards length for most op-eds is about 700 to 900 words, but some newspapers may want more or fewer words to fit specific spaces on their op-ed pages. Some newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, have weekly "Outlook" sections in their Sunday editions that use essays of up to 1,500 words.
- Have a forceful lead. Make your strongest, most compelling point first; then support and back up your argument.
- Express a clear point of view. Tell your readers up front why they should read on and avoid using educational jargon readers may not understand.
- Be timely and topical. By giving your opinion piece a timely slant or "hook," your chances of seeing it published will increase.
- Be original and shed new light. If you can find a new way to write about educational issues that the community is interested in, the likelihood that your opinion piece will be printed increases considerably.
- Discuss issues that people and your community care about. Innovative ways to teach students, or insightful advice about students for parents, are topics that will resonate well.
- Use punchy, colorful language. Be opinionated. Express strong opinions with the courage of your convictions, and support your point of view with persuasive arguments and facts to back it up. Be passionate about the topic you choose to write about, because if you don't care about it, neither will anyone else.
- Be descriptive. Paint vivid pictures to get your point across and use real life examples and analogies to bring alive the issue you are discussing with the reader.