Writing an Op-Ed

Consider writing a newspaper op-ed, or opinion story, which can be an effective channel for direct communication with the public, in order to achieve specific public engagement with science goals. Op-eds provide a forum for injecting scientific information and/or viewpoints into a pressing issue, or to advocate for a specific policy aim. When writing op-eds and letters to the editor:

  • Consider the goal. Consider why an op-ed is warranted. Focus on a relevant topic and offer a distinct perspective. When possible, tie the story to an event or discussion currently in the news. Often opinion editors select op-eds that comment on a current issue or offer opinions that are missing from the public conversation. Don't become frustrated if an op-ed submission does not get published. Newspapers typically receive far more op-ed submissions than they can print.
  • Make one major point. Opinion editors seek clear, concise opinions on a topic — not discussions of two or more perspectives on an issue. Clearly state one major point with a strong perspective.
  • Abide by the word limit. Call the newspaper to ask about any guidelines for op-eds, including the word limit. The word limit may vary greatly from one newspaper to another, but a typical range is 250 to 750 words. Stay within the limit to increase your chances of getting published.
  • Include contact information. Always include an address and a phone number with a submission. Include your title and affiliation too, if appropriate. Be responsive if the op-ed is selected for publication or if an editor has questions.
  • Respond promptly. Timeliness is key. Always respond to inquiries in a timely manner to improve the odds of being published.
  • Submit to local newspapers. Don't rule out local papers! In the age of the internet, people all over the world, including members of Congress and other policymakers, can access local papers. Smaller newspapers do not have as many op-ed submissions as larger, national newspapers, which increases the chances of publication.

Learn from other op-ed writers and editors. Read other opinion stories to learn how to frame complex issues for public consumption.

Examples

  • Commentary: Texas textbooks need to get the facts straight - Camille Parmesan and Alan I. Leshner, Austin American-Statesman, Nov. 6, 2014 - These authors had a specific policy outcome in mind: encouraging Texas educators to reject or edit certain textbooks they argue do not accurately represent the scientific consensus on climate change.

Resources

  • Read How To Write An Op-Ed Or Column from the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government
  • Consider advice on op-eds from David Jarmul, formerly of Duke University’s Office of News and Communications.
  • Learn more about how op-ed editors think by listening to remarks by John Timpane, commentary page editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer.