How to Write an Op-Ed: A Guide to Effective Opinion Writing 🖋️

  • Writing
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Sharpen your rhetorical skills with our comprehensive guide on how to write an op-ed that persuades, captivates, and sparks change.

Today’s online world is saturated with polarizing voices. In such a crowded media landscape, how does one effectively communicate their perspective on an important issue? Try a medium as classic as the printed word: a well-constructed op-ed.Regardless of your writing style, you can write engaging, persuasive pieces that connect with readers and make your voice heard. Our comprehensive guide explains how to write an op-ed, from crafting coherent arguments to following submission guidelines.

What is an op-ed? 📰

Short for “opposite the editorial page,” an op-ed article is an essay presenting a robust and persuasive argument on current events and issues. An op-ed is an opinion piece traditionally featured in newspapers and magazines that’s written by someone unaffiliated with the editorial team.

Op-eds allow individuals to express their opinions and influence public discourse. They differ from a letter to the editor, which is typically shorter and in direct response to an outlet’s recent coverage. Op-ed examples can be found in many prominent publications, such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and 

Good op-ed topics vary, from social justice and economic policy to technological innovation. No matter your subject, it’s crucial to remember what an op-ed is not: a personal essay with no central argument, an objective journalistic investigation, or a review. Influential op-eds are well-researched and thoughtfully crafted pieces of writing designed to persuade readers and ignite action on important issues.

Reasons to write an op-ed ✏️

Writing an op-ed piece isn’t just about sharing your opinion via a news outlet or online publication; it’s also about making a difference in the world. It’s a unique opportunity to engage with the public on important issues and try to sway their opinions. 

Here are a few reasons to consider writing an op-ed:

  • To share your perspective. Writing an op-ed lets you explain your unique viewpoint, allowing readers to learn about an issue from a different angle. Your personal experiences and professional expertise can offer valuable insights that might otherwise go unheard.
  • To Influence opinions. The primary purposes of an op-ed are to grab the reader’s attention and persuade them. A well-crafted argument can sway your audience’s opinion, shape public perceptions, and even change behaviors and policies. 
  • To generate conversation. Op-eds are an excellent catalyst for public discourse. Presenting your opinion invites debate and discussion and can increase awareness and a deeper understanding of your chosen topic. 
  • To advocate for change. Are you passionate about a specific cause? If so, an op-ed is a powerful tool to draw attention, advocate for action, and rally support. 

7 steps for writing and publishing an op-ed 📓

Writing an op-ed — and writing it well — is no small feat. Fortunately, we have broken the process into steps to help ensure your piece is engaging, persuasive, and ready for publication. Here’s how to do it: 

Identify your main argument 💡

Before you begin writing, establish a concise main argument or point of view. It should be relevant and timely, providing a clear perspective on a current issue. Why does this topic matter to you, and why should it matter to your readers? Outline your argument in advance; having your points laid out helps maintain focus and structure as your piece develops.

Consider your audience 👪

Successful op-eds speak directly to readers. As you write, think about your audience. Who are they? What do they care about? How does your argument relate to them? Do some research to understand your readers’ cultural, political, and social context; this helps your piece resonate more effectively with them.

Start off with a strong introduction 💪

The opening of your op-ed sets the tone for your piece. As such, it must draw your readers in. Begin with a compelling lede that piques interest. This could be an interesting question, a surprising fact or statistic, or an illustrative personal anecdote. Engage your reader immediately and give them an overview of your argument, but make sure the introduction paragraph isn’t too long

Use active voice 🎤

Active voice keeps your writing dynamic. In active voice, the sentence's subject performs the action, making the statement more precise and impactful. For example, “The government should implement stronger environmental regulations” is more powerful than “It is suggested that stronger environmental regulations should be implemented.”

Address counterarguments 🗣️

A persuasive op-ed confronts opposing viewpoints head-on. Acknowledge and respond to counterarguments to your main point to demonstrate a deep understanding of the topic and a willingness to consider different opinions. Do your research to ensure you have a clear idea of what critics may say and why. This strengthens your overall argument and credibility. 

Offer concrete actions 🏃

Don’t leave your readers wondering, “What can I do?” Instead, provide them with concrete ways to further your stated goal. Whether contacting a local representative, participating in a community event, or changing a personal habit, a direct call to action in your final paragraph makes your op-ed more likely to incite real-world change.

Follow submission guidelines 🚦

Once you’ve crafted your op-ed, the next step is publishing it. Different media outlets have distinct guidelines regarding the word count, formatting, content, author bio, and submission process. These guidelines are critical, as ignoring them may disqualify your piece. If you haven’t heard back, follow up with the editorial board or op-ed editor.

Questions to ask yourself when writing an op-ed 🤔

If constructing a compelling, credible, and persuasive op-ed is your goal, you must consider a few critical questions. These considerations ensure your piece has an impact and elicits the desired action from your audience. They’re also essential for refining your ideas and bolstering your argument. 

Here are a few key questions to ask yourself before (and during) the writing process:

  • Can you back up your statements? An op-ed requires a well-supported argument. Back up every claim with credible statistics, expert opinions, or real-life examples. 
  • How will your ideas and arguments benefit your audience? Bring a fresh perspective to the discourse surrounding your topic. What unique viewpoint is your op-ed bringing to the table, and how does it contribute to the existing conversation?
  • Why should your audience trust you? Establish credibility so you’ll be taken seriously. Consider whether you have personal experience, professional expertise, or extensive research to lend authority to your argument.
  • Have you considered potential counterarguments? Address counterarguments to demonstrate your understanding of the issue and strengthen your argument. Don’t resort to petty grievances or stereotypes; this will only hurt your credibility.
  • What do you want your readers to do? A powerful op-ed inspires readers to take action. After you’ve convinced them, what steps can your readers take to support your cause?

Embrace the power of op-ed writing ✊

Penning an op-ed is a great way to become a better writer. It requires more than a passionate viewpoint, however; you need careful planning, thoughtful argumentation, and meticulous attention to detail to succeed. By following the steps outlined above and focusing on your central argument, you can craft a compelling op-ed that contributes meaningfully to the public conversation and inspires action. 

We encourage all Independent writers — whether you’re seasoned in op-ed writing or just starting your journey — to join Contra. On our commission-free platform, you can learn from other professionals and promote your freelance writing services. Our blog provides helpful tips and tricks on various freelancing topics, such as pricing your services. It’s time to let your perspective shine. 

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