WANTED: Witty, engaging writers to share their opinions about current, relevant, and/or local topics. Must be able to create buzz-worthy writing that gets people talking.
If this sounds like you, I have the perfect writing assignment: an op-ed.
Op-eds (opinions and editorials) are short essays published in newspapers. They were designed to allow the average citizen a voice. (You know, before any average citizens could have their voices heard on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blogs, and any other social media platform you can think of.)
So whether you’d love nothing more than to share your ideas with the world or you’d rather keep your opinions to yourself (and are only writing an op-ed because your prof requires it), this post will help you write an op-ed the smart way.
How to Write an Op-Ed the Smart Way
When people think of op-eds, they sometimes think that an editorial is an excuse to rant about a topic, but that’s far from the case. An op-ed is a chance to thoughtfully and respectfully express your opinion, not to rant or complain about something.
If you’re struggling with forming your thoughts into a well-written op-ed, follow these four steps on how to write an op-ed to put you on the right track.
Step 1: Choose a current topic for your op-ed
Choose a topic that’s fresh, interesting, and timely. You want to write about something with staying power.
Remember when Google started worldwide hysteria by creating a cheeseburger emoji with cheese on the bottom of the burger (as opposed to cheese on the top)? That was news for about a minute. The hysteria died down in no time flat, and no one gave it another thought.
This internet-sensation type of topic is perfect for instant social media discussions, but not necessarily for op-eds that need to be read, reviewed, and approved before being published.
What type of topic should you choose instead? Try a topic of local concern, such as crumbling bridges, drinking water contamination, or underfunded schools. Try national topics, like political scandals, immigration, or social movements.
These types of topics will be debated long after the matter of which cheeseburger emoji correctly portrays a real cheeseburger is settled.
Step 2: Make your point quickly and concisely
When you write an essay, you express the main point (or argument) of your paper in the thesis statement and have one or more paragraphs to grab readers’ attention with a catchy hook and introduce your topic.
Not so in an op-ed.
When you write an op-ed, you don’t have the luxury of space. Many op-eds are less than 750 words, so you need to make every word count.
To do this, make sure you’ve appropriately narrowed your topic. Remember, you don’t have a lot of space, so don’t try to write about five ways to improve the education system in the U.S.
Sure, you might be able to write a few sentences about each idea, but you won’t be able to effectively make your point. Instead, pick one problem in the education system, and write about it.
One way to check to see whether you’ve narrowed your topic to an appropriate topic for an editorial is to try to write your argument in one sentence. If you can’t express your point in one sentence, you’re likely trying to cover too much ground.
Check out these example one-sentence statements:
- The Main Street bridge must be repaired immediately in order to prevent serious injuries.
- Teachers at Washington Elementary shouldn’t have to spend their own money for classroom supplies.
- Due to his misuse of public monies, Representative Smith needs to resign immediately.
These examples are clear, direct, and present your argument in a focused statement. They are also narrow enough to allow you to express your opinion in the allotted space.
Step 3: Be persuasive
Remember, though, that this is a formal and professional type of writing. Persuasion doesn’t mean using slang or jargon, and it certainly doesn’t mean being rude or insulting to your readers.
Here’s a quick example.
Which statement is more convincing?
Statement A: Anyone with any common sense should be able to see that the bridges in our county are crap, and these public officials need to be willing to spend a few bucks and get the them repaired before someone gets killed or something.
Statement B: If you’ve ever traveled over a bridge in our county and worried that the bridge might crumble beneath you, you know the urgent situation we’re in. Citizens need to band together to tell our public officials that, for the safety of everyone, county bridges need to be repaired immediately.
Statement A sounds like you’re ranting to a friend. It doesn’t sound professional, and people aren’t likely to take you seriously.
Statement B, however, presents a clear, persuasive, professional statement that doesn’t offend and instead attempts to convince with clear reasoning.
Don’t forget: You only have a short space to grab readers’ attention, so a catchy opening line is another great strategy you might use to persuade your audience.
Think about it. If an op-ed starts out boring, readers will probably think that the entire piece is boring. But if it starts out with something interesting, the rest of the op-ed is likely to follow suit.
Compare these two examples:
Example A: The last time I drove over the XYZ Bridge, I feared for my life. A giant pothole appeared, and I could see the cars driving on the road below me.
Example B: People drive over bridges every day to commute to work or to simply run daily errands. These bridges, though, aren’t always the safest, especially in our county.
Which statement sounds like it has a good story to tell or an important point to make?
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather read a story about a near-death experience on a bridge that I also likely drive over every day as opposed to reading an op-ed about people driving over bridges to run errands.
Step 4: Get personal
The op-ed is your chance to bend these strict rules. While you’ll still need to support your statements with facts and logic, feel free to use first person, be emotional, and get personal (no, not that personal).
But seriously, what better way to convince your audience than showing them how your cause affects them? In other words, convince your readers that they should care.
Here’s a hypothetical op-ed excerpt that knows its audience and gets personal by attempting to make connections with readers in order to persuade them.
Example op-ed excerpt:
College football and basketball teams play in multi-million dollar facilities and enjoy fabulous perks by being involved in college sports. “And why shouldn’t they?” you ask. “After all, they’re elite athletes who train non-stop and are dedicated to their sport.”
I agree. College athletes deserve the perks that come with such intense training and dedication. But shouldn’t all athletes be treated the same? I would certainly hope so.
But they’re not–at least not at ABC University.
Those of us who train in e-sports are elite video game athletes. As gamers, we practice for hours and work with our coaches and teammates to master our sport. Yet we don’t receive the same recognition. Our facilities are marginal, at best, as we’re often asked to train with outdated equipment, and get by with fewer systems as there are often not enough for all athletes.
Because all athletes deserve equal respect and recognition, I urge everyone–including concerned citizens, students, and especially anyone who is involved in e-sports–to stand with me. Contact administration to let your voice be heard. Let them know that e-sports are just as valuable as traditional sports.
Notice the persuasive strategies this op-ed excerpt uses. It appeals to the fact that everyone deserves to be treated equally. This connects with average readers and appeals to their sense of justice.
The excerpt also appeals to students at the college, attempting to convince them that their fellow classmates (very likely people that the students actually know) deserve equal treatment.
And finally, it appeals to fellow e-sports athletes, who likely already experience the injustice of inequality.
A Final Reminder About Writing an Op-Ed
Now that you know how to write an op-ed, keep in mind that op-eds aren’t traditional formal essays. Though they require a few of the same basic writing conventions, they do differ in a variety of ways.
Here’s a quick summary of tips for how to write an op-ed that’s successful:
- Choose a current, relevant, and interesting topic.
- Be concise.
- Be persuasive.
- Be emotional.
- Be respectful of your audience.
- Use first and second person when necessary.
- Use varied sentence structures, such as short sentences and one-word paragraphs to create interest.
If you’re still a little unsure of how to write an op-ed, you might also find it helpful to look at some example opinion pieces from our essay database:
- Why Hillary Would Make a Better President Than Trump
- Let’s Spend Our Resources on Solving Social Problems Not Space Exploration
- Homework Should Be Extra Credit
Want another set of professionally trained editorial eyes to review your finished work before you submit it for publication (or to your professor)? Send your op-ed to a Kibin editor for review.