Article Writing AdviceArticle, Writing, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated
2012

Writing an Engaging Op-Ed Piece


"Op-Ed" is the publishing industry's commonly-used term for opinion editorial – the type of article in which one's opinion is expressed relating to political, public policy, cultural or controversial topics. Op-ed pieces are most often placed near the front of a publication and are treated much the same way as letters to the editor are treated.

As with any persuasive writing – and op-ed articles are definitely considered persuasive – the approach you take will be the difference between engaging your audience and alienating your audience. Starting with a hook such as a question is an often-used approach that is effective, and sets the article up nicely to drive your point home.

You should keep in mind that the opening paragraph is the best place to state your position and thesis, detailing why you are writing the piece, the news-worthy event that prompted your writing, and the slant you are taking on the topic. Beyond this, the format for the article can be varied, as long as you create a valid argument and provide reasonable explanations and points to support it.

There are, however, basic things that should be included in an op-ed piece. The three necessary criteria of an engaging op-ed article are that it:

  1. Expresses the writer's opinion
  2. Is written about a timely and news-worthy topic
  3. Suggests a course of action that should be taken based on the writer's expertise or opinion

Research and valid facts are important

Op-ed writing should always be opinion-based yet factual and you should take the time to carefully research the topic if it is one on which you are not well-versed. However, most op-ed pieces are written by someone who is an expert on the topic, or at least someone who has kept up-to-date on all facts and recent news related to it, so most writers approach this genre only if they are highly aware of the nuances and commonly used terminology relating to the subject. As this genre of writing generally elicits much feedback from a publication's readership, any information that is incorrect will likely be openly and harshly criticized, immediately discrediting the writer. Since many newspapers allow this type of open criticism and dialogue, especially in relation to op-ed pieces (since the writer is most often not affiliated with the newspaper's staff), op-ed articles should be carefully fact-checked before you submit them, especially if your purpose is related to marketing and achieving higher visibility for your company or organization.

Op-Ed for marketing

A brief word on writing op-ed articles for marketing: an engaging op-ed piece is a great way to achieve visibility for a company and can be used as a unique and effective marketing strategy to highlight the company's presence. A CEO's input, written in the form of an op-ed piece on current industry-related topics, will show his or her expertise and unique leadership ability. Most newspapers and publications will also include a tagline with a brief author bio, which serves as free and widely read publicity for any company – whether it is a small business or a multi-national corporation.

Common mistakes writers make

Especially if you are writing for marketing purposes, you should avoid some of the common mistakes writers makes when writing op-ed pieces. One of the most common mistakes that a writer will make when attempting to get an op-ed piece published is writing about a topic that is either old news or a weak/non-newsworthy topic. Submitting an op-ed article about current and highly relevant topics/situations is the easiest way to get your work published.

Another common mistake is to approach the op-ed piece like a political ad or a public humiliation of key public figures. Especially if you plan to use your op-ed piece for marketing, it is crucial that you provide timely advice that is controversial, yet reasonable. While newspapers will allow some bit of controversy to be present in op-ed pieces because the writer is not associated with the newspaper staff, there is a limit to how far you can take it. You want to be seen as an expert – a voice of reason – and word choice, careful research, and precise editing is crucial in attaining this result. Often humor, insight, and emotional appeals are most effective in engaging your audience while maintaining your status as a concerned expert, and you should attempt these without seeming overly preachy.

As with any persuasive topic, it is best to approach the subject through the use of active verbs, ignoring the overuse of adjectives and adverbs, which often tend to "water down" writing. Your word choice and language used are crucial in maintaining your role as an expert; don't resort to name-calling, unfounded accusations, or highly charged political statements that could be misinterpreted easily by readers.

Length and format

The average op-ed piece is between 400 and 1,200 words, and many newspapers have specific requirements concerning word count. If a publication's op-ed requirements are not listed on their web page, it is wise to contact the editor in charge of op-ed submissions and request information regarding submissions guidelines. Additionally, many newspapers allow op-ed pieces to be submitted via email but might have restrictions concerning whether the article should be included in the body of the email or as an attachment.

If the newspaper or publication does not provide specific guidelines for submission of op-ed pieces, a generally accepted format is single-spaced, Times New Roman (or similar) font, with the author's name and the article's word count listed at the top of the page before the title and body of the article. Also, most newspapers prefer that the author include a brief tagline, or bio, written at the end of the piece.

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