Contact Info Resources Home FAQ Calendar Tools of the Trade Strategy and Planning Just Starting Home
SEARCH

WRITING FOR THE MEDIA
Writing and Publishing an Op-Ed

Writing an Op-Ed

Start by outlining what you want to write - not only the issue but the point of view you want to take. Consider what the paper has already printed on the subject and decide how you could best contribute to the debate. Again, unless you want to write for the New York Times, or another major national outlet, the local angle is your best bet. Even international issues such as climate change have local impact.

Tips:

  • Keep your text to between 500 and 800 words (about 3 pages double-spaced) in general, but call the outlet you plan to submit it to for their guidelines.
  • Stay focused on one issue, and boil your argument down to three or, at the most, four major points.
  • Think creatively and try to be original. (Tip: read op-eds before starting so you see how they are styled.)
  • Highlight the issue's relevance. How/why has it been in the news? What's so controversial?
  • Write in short paragraphs; three sentences each.
  • Use simple, short sentences. Avoid fancy words, jargon, or acronyms.
  • Eliminate the passive voice. Example: "This legislation was defeated almost entirely by the governor." Changed to: "The governor single-handedly defeated the bill."
  • Begin with a short vignette illustrating how the issue affects an individual or group of people to drive home why the newspaper's readers "need to know."
  • For regional placement, use local or regional statistics. For example, in an op-ed focusing on the Clean Water Act, you should mention the number of lakes, rivers or streams in your state that are unsafe for swimming.
  • Include at least one memorable phrase that can be used as a "pull" quote. It must be short.
  • Op-eds should provoke discussion, controversy and response.
  • Op-eds should be informative and provide practical solutions for the problem you have presented.
  • Close on a strong note. Use a short, powerful last paragraph that drives the point home and sums things up.
  • Don't forget to thank the editor, or whomever you are dealing with at the paper, for publishing your op-ed piece. A good relationship with the editorial staff could become one of your most valuable resources. (But don't include your note of thanks in the op-ed itself).
  • Include a cover letter when submitting an op-ed that summaries why it is timely and of interest to readers of this particular publication. Thank the editors for considering your piece. Keep the letter short - less than one page.
The Right Author

You do not necessarily have to sign or write an op-ed by yourself. Sometimes it's best to ask a government official or expert to collaborate on an opinion piece.

Finding the best author to collaborate with can be critical in getting your article published and maximizing its impact. Choose from scientific or other experts from your organization or others, ask a local doctor, business executive, or elected official - anyone who may be perceived as having an interesting perspective on the issues or the appropriate credentials for weighing in on a topic.

For example, a retired Energy Department official would carry more clout discussing the potential impacts of energy sector deregulation a known renewable energy or environmental activist.

The best person (or persons) to collaborate with on an op-ed are not always experts on writing for the media. However, when revising the text, be sure that everyone who collaborates on and signs an opinion piece has the opportunity for revision and fact-checking.

Formatting an Op-Ed

  • Double space your text.
  • Provide a suggested title, the author's name and identification - although it will most likely be re-named.
  • You may want to include a short biographical paragraph about the author at the end, including residence and experience relevant to the topic.
  • Consider illustrating your piece with a photograph, map, or other visual aid. It is a good idea to maintain a good file of black-and-white shots.

Environmental Media Services
1320 18th Street, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 463-6670
ems@ems.org

©1999 Environmental Media Services