Crafting Compelling Op-Eds: Insights from Industry Experts Peter Stanton and Donna Leinwand Leger 

Every month, news outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times publish dozens of op-eds (or opinion pieces) from guest authors. These articles — written by subject-matter experts, politicians, journalists and people with something interesting to say — provide a platform for voices and perspectives on important matters related to current events and social issues. 

As the 2024 election draws near and organizations seek to share their perspectives on issues, there is no better time to refresh and expand your understanding of the format and framework for a compelling op-ed. Recently, our founder and CEO Peter Stanton teamed up with senior advisor and former managing editor of USA Today Donna Leinwand Leger to discuss everything you need to know about op-ed writing. In a webinar for The Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA NCC), they shared their industry tips and tricks.  

Here are some key points from Peter and Donna’s webinar to help you write your next op-ed: 

Stay Focused with a Clear Message

Before you begin writing your op-ed, identify your primary argument, which will serve as your lede. The lede should not only engage the reader, but also set the stage for the argument that follows, acting as a promise of what your op-ed will deliver. After you define the central message, select three strong and persuasive supporting points, examples, or arguments to bolster your main point. While it’s critical to emphasize your viewpoint, it’s equally important to acknowledge an opposing argument. Once you do this, make sure you refute it. 

Make Timeliness a Priority

To craft a compelling piece, ensure that your supporting facts align with current events and resonate with what’s happening in the world. By the third paragraph, your message should answer the critical questions: Why is this important? Why is it important today? Use the news as a vehicle for delivering your message.  

Have a Call to Action

It’s important to clearly identify the “ask” or the desired action you want your readers to take away from your op-ed. Your “ask” can vary from concrete, actionable items such as urging readers to register to vote or complete a Census form, to more abstract objectives like encouraging a shift in their opinions. It’s this call to action that can inspire readers to engage with your message and potentially drive real-world impact.  

Be Concise

While word limits can vary depending on the outlet, op-eds are usually short, and it is important to adhere to constraints to ensure your piece is considered for publication. With limited space, be economical with your words, focusing on clarity and impact. Write active, declarative sentences, and avoid passive sentence construction and helping verbs.  

Know Your Authority

Are you the best person to write this op-ed? An op-ed that comes from someone with specific expertise or authority carries more weight with readers. Keep your audience in mind as you are writing your op-ed. If you’re discussing policy matters, imagine you’re addressing members of Congress. Tailor your language and approach to resonate with this specific audience. 

Guarantee Accuracy  

There is no greater sin at a publication than having to run a correction. Go sentence by sentence to systemically check every fact for accuracy and credible citation, as well as spelling and dates. Most publications no longer employ fact-checkers. If it’s wrong, it’s on you.  

The Ultimate Weapon for Great Op-Eds is a Great Pitch 

Before you can blow readers away with your op-ed writing, you must first earn an editor’s attention. The best op-ed pitches are concise and direct, recognizing that editors receive numerous submissions. Explain why your op-ed matters now, and why it’s relevant. Further, you’ll greatly increase your chances by approaching the editor responsible for the specific topic, not just the general op-ed editor.  

By following these steps, you can increase the likelihood of getting your op-ed published and effectively communicate your perspective on current events to a wider audience. 

In the world of op-ed writing, clarity, timeliness, and persuasion are crucial. You have eight seconds to grab the editor’s attention, so make it count. By following these principles, you can make your op-ed a force for change and a powerful voice in the news. 

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