Writing an Op-Ed Opinion Piece

from the Washington Post

What is an op-ed?

An op-ed is an opinion piece by a guest writer that makes a clear argument about a topic usually (but not always) in the news. The name is derived from the traditional placement of these pieces opposite the editorial page of the printed newspaper.

Op-eds should be focused: 750 to 800 words is ideal. Op-eds can incorporate charts, photos, audio or even comics.

What is not an op-ed?

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Personal essays that do not make an argument are generally not op-eds. Even if the op-ed includes a personal story, it should have a point to make — something readers can engage with and think about.

Journalistic investigations without an argument are not op-eds. Poems and works of fiction usually are not op-eds either. Neither are reviews of books, movies, television shows or other media. We only rarely accept op-eds that are written as open letters.

  • Help people more deeply understand a topic in the news.
  • Help them understand what it means for them.
  • Equip them with arguments they can employ when talking about the subject.
  • Elevate ideas that help them think about the world differently.
  • Expose them to topics they might not have heard about.
  • Help them better articulate their own perspective.
  • Help them understand perspectives different from their own.

Timing is to an op-ed as location is to real estate, especially if you are writing on a breaking-news topic. That means an op-ed submitted on the day after an event will have an advantage over one submitted a week later, when the conversation has slowed.

Not every op-ed will be about the news of the day, but it should always have an original angle — something readers might not have thought of before and will find interesting.

Your op-ed can be about any topic in the news and does not need to reference a specific Washington Post article.

Should I include supporting documentation for fact-checking?

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Yes, this can be included in the comments field of this form, or after a piece is accepted. Supporting documents and citations are very helpful during the editing process.

How should I structure my op-ed?

The format of your op-ed helps the reader understand your argument. Here is a classic structure that does this effectively:

  • Statement of thesis or problem
  • Three reasons this argument is right or wrong
  • Conclusion

There are many other ways of presenting ideas that work, but any successful op-ed needs structure and a logical flow that makes the reader’s life easier, not harder.

What is a lede (also known as a lead)?

A lede (rhymes with “deed”) is the opening sentence or sentences of your op-ed, and it is very important.

A good lede will draw in readers and persuade them to keep reading. It can be your thesis, but it does not have to be. In any event, make sure to get to the crux of your argument fast — that means in the first couple of paragraphs. Remember, you have only 750 words, so make each of them count.

What is a kicker?

A kicker is the last sentence of your article. It should leave readers satisfied that they knew what the piece was about and that it was worth getting through. Sometimes circling back to the beginning does the trick.