Op-Ed WRITING TIPS

Writing Successful Op-Eds and Letters To The Editor
Highlight your expertise through opinion-editorial (op-ed) columns and letters to the editor in newspapers and magazines.

Academic voices are among the most frequently found on editorial pages. Still, you will need more than persuasive writing and solid credentials to rise above the pack and get your op-ed or letter published. Follow these suggestions to improve your chances.

What to Write?

Op-ed or Letter to the Editor?

Best Practices

What to Write?    

  • Select topics that align with your area of expertise. Virtually all op-eds and letters to the editor deal with issues that currently dominate the news. Most importantly, have something fresh and original to say.
  • International relations, social and economic trends and politics are the topics most often seen on the editorial page. To determine what would be most appropriate for a publication, become familiar with it. Learn to recognize the style, length and tone of successful submissions and fashion your effort similarly.
  • Major events or political developments, pending or recently enacted legislation, and groundbreaking research findings all provide opportunities for op-eds or letters to the editor.
  • If you have already seen your topic addressed in a particular media outlet, send your piece to a different news organization, write about a different angle on the issue or choose another topic.
  • Significant anniversaries of major events—such as the 60th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima—can be an opportunity to bring new perspectives to topics. Holidays such as Labor Day or Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday provide a timely hook for fresh insight. Avoid using promotional events like national awareness weeks proclaimed by trade associations or social service organizations. Humorous or personal essays dealing with day-to-day life are used on occasion.
  • You may not be the only one to write about an issue. Opinion page editors may receive dozens of pieces about Mother’s Day, but may have room for only one.

Op-ed or Letter to the Editor?    

  • Op-eds are typically longer (600 to 750 words) and feature self-contained arguments that stand alone.
  • Letters to the editor are short (usually 150 to 250 words) and usually provide a direct response to an article that has appeared in the publication. If you have a brief point to make, a letter is your best bet; because publications run so many more letters than op-eds, your chances of getting letters published are much greater.

Best Practices for the Editorial Page    

  • Timeliness: Op-eds and letters to the editor need to be timely and address issues that are currently in the news. In the case of a letter to the editor, you must send it within one or two days after the original story appears. Because of limited space, it is common for editors to hold potential columns for weeks while they consider whether to run it. Op-eds written with longer “shelf lives” will have a much greater chance of getting published.
  • Pointed View: Opinion editors look for articles that are provocative and succinctly argue particular points of view on issues that are dominating the headlines. They do not want pieces that argue all sides of an issue.
  • Clarity: Op-eds in general-circulation publications should be comprehensible to all readers. Avoid acronyms and academic or legalistic language, use active voice and a moderate tone. Op-eds should conform to the stylistic rules of the Associated Press Stylebook.
  • Accuracy: Double-check all your facts, the spelling of names and places, and make certain you have no grammatical errors. Even simple mistakes can hurt your credibility and cause an otherwise well-written piece to be rejected.
  • Length: Follow the word-length limits set by the publication. Your piece is most likely to be selected if it fits the format. Typically, op-eds should be no more than 750 words, although each publication sets its own limit and the trend is toward shorter pieces. Submit only completed pieces – editors will not respond to queries on topics.
  • Exclusivity: Newspapers usually demand exclusivity on op-eds they publish. If you are planning to submit to multiple publications, give each paper one week to consider the piece. Review each newspaper’s guidelines.
  • Identification: Include your name under the headline of your submission. A short statement of your credentials should be included at the end of the article noting your name, academic title, department, DePaul University and expertise in the area (25 words or fewer). It is not appropriate to cite your title or DePaul affiliation if you are writing as a private citizen expressing a personal opinion.
  • Submission: Virtually all op-eds and letters are submitted via email. Most media outlets will include the submission address on their opinion pages. If you need contact information for a particular outlet, call the News and Information Bureau.
  • Following Up: Op-ed editors will usually call only if they plan to use a piece. If you must follow up with a phone call, make sure to keep it short. Never call after 3 p.m., when editors are on deadline. 
  • Compensation: Larger newspapers may pay a stipend for pieces they publish, but most pay nothing. Sharing your knowledge with the public and enhancing DePaul’s and your reputation are your principal benefit.