- Use the news—make a link between your idea or topic and the greater conversation. If a news hook isn't readily available, find another way to link your idea with what's current, fresh, and on the public radar. Point out a trend or connect your piece to newly released data. Or, use a holiday or an anniversary of an event.
- Research and report—even if you are writing about a personal experience, there's no substitute for doing your homework.
- Write Fast. News is fleeting. If you're responding to a headline you'll have a few hours or at most a few days to get your op-ed published, before the moment passes.
- Write in plain language.
- Think like your reader. Never underestimate your reader's intelligence, but never overestimate his/her level of information.
- Recognize that your average reader isn't an expert in your topic, and that it's up to you to make clear why it matters.
- Think about the significance of your topic, and the results you'd like to achieve. The Op-Ed page is a place where writing can change the world. What change do you want to see? Write it.
Section 3-2: How to Structure Your Op-Ed
Op-eds don't have to follow any one structure, but it helps to know what formats typically work well. Below are a few tips on structure. This is not a formula; just one way of approaching the form.
- An op-ed usually begins with an attention-grabbing lead, which can be as short as a few words, or as long as several paragraphs—but remember, an op-ed is short, so the lead usually is, too.
- The lead is often built around a news hook, such as a newsworthy event, an ongoing event, concern, or topic that is currently in the news, newly released data, or an upcoming anniversary.
- Your thesis—that is, a statement of your opinion or argument—usually comes next. It can be explicit or implicit.
- Evidence: Following the lead, you'll present evidence to back up your opinion or argument—this should be the bulk of your op-ed. Your "evidence" might include statistics, expert quotes, personal experience or anecdotes, and citations of scholarly works.
- A "to be sure" paragraph often appears right before your conclusion—here's where you can directly address the obvious counter-arguments to your position. You can do this either by acknowledging their validity, or by explaining why you think they don't hold water.
- A conclusion should wrap up what you've said, and send your reader forward: What should be done about a problem? Or how should we change our thinking? Often a conclusion will refer back to the op-ed's lead ("book-ending" your piece).