Santa Clara University

Office of Marketing and Communications

Guidelines for writing op-ed

What is an op-ed?

An op-ed is an article expressing an opinion that is published opposite a newspaper’s editorial page and designed to express an opinion. Why should you take the time to write an op-ed? A well written op-ed can establish the writer as an expert on a particular topic. You will gain media recognition for Santa Clara University, your department and your area of expertise.

The following is a list of simple guidelines that can help you craft an effective op-ed.

Have a news hook: Tying your piece to an event, new research findings, or a debate will increase your chances of getting it published. If you are an expert on ethics in government, think about writing an op-ed when your city elects a new mayor, or is facing questions about ethical leadership.

Choosing a Topic: An op-ed can be satirical, light hearted or serious but the subject must appeal to a broad audience. Sources for ideas include, pending legislation, historical anniversaries, trends and breaking news.

Timing is crucial. Most editors assign and choose op-eds weeks before the event. So think ahead of the curve. If you want to write an op-ed on why the US is a sleep deprived country, National Sleep Awareness week in March might make a good tie-in. But the op-ed needs to be written by February so that editors at several publications have an opportunity to read it.

Take a stand: Op-eds are designed to express an opinion. So take a position on an issue and be prepared to defend it. Avoid the tendency to provide background and explain all sides of an issue. Rather than argue an obvious position, such as, teenagers should spend less time on the computers, taking a contrary approach can sometimes help your op-ed get read and published.

Keep it brief: Stick to the word lengths provided by editors. In general newspaper op-eds run between 700-800 words. Some may ask for pieces that run as long as 1200 words but they are generally solicited from writers with whom the newspaper already has an established relationship.

No jargon: Writing an op-ed is very different from academic writing. Op-eds appear in general publications and are designed for all audiences. Use simple language and no legalese or academese.

Understand your audience: Read the papers that you would like to reach. If you see your topic addressed on the editorial page, they are unlikely to carry another op-ed on the same issue. A point of view contrary to prevailing public opinion or the published piece will improve chances of publication.

Use examples. Illustrations, anecdotes are personal stories and are persuasive tools. They help explain and bring to life complicated issues.

Make a specific recommendation. This is an opinion piece. State your opinion on how to improve matters.

Draw the reader in. Your first paragraph should draw in the reader by using a dramatic vignette or a well-stated argument. End with a bang. Your final paragraph is as important as your opening paragraph.

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