The term ‘op-ed’ comes from its position in a traditional newspaper, which was ‘opposite the editorial page’. Even if you haven’t heard the term before, you’ve probably read a lot of op-eds.
In international relations, an op-ed is a written piece of around 700 to 900 words used to express your opinion and to present an argument to the reader.
Your audience is often people who have a general interest in the topic but are not experts. This means that your language should be accessible to a wide audience, rather than technical language often found in academic essays or journal articles.
How do I write an op-ed?
Step 1: Choose a topic
Your topic can be anything you’re interested in, as long as it fits the criteria of the organisation publishing it. Some places prefer current events or recent developments, while others only publish on a specific theme.
Step 2: Plan
If you like to plan your writing beforehand, you can write an outline of the argument you’re going to make. This way, you have a clear idea of your argument, the points you’re making, and the logical structure of your op-ed.
Step 3: Write
Introduce your argument and give some background to the issue. It’s best to tell the reader what you’re writing about, why it’s relevant or why they should care, and the argument you’re going to make. Sometimes, writers like to tell a story about their own personal experiences with the topic to connect with the reader. The tone of your piece can be a little more informal than an academic essay, depending on the subject matter.
In the subsequent paragraphs, lay out your argument in a logical way and briefly address counter arguments. As an op-ed isn’t very long, it’s best to focus on one main argument throughout your piece and to only include the most important points. The argument should be clear and easy for the reader to follow. The paragraphs are shorter than an academic essay and should explain your point in less than 100 words.
Your conclusion sums up your argument and could also present what you think should be done about the topic you have discussed or the problem you have raised.
Embedded hyperlinks are often the preferred method of referencing, rather than footnotes or in-text references. Many publications will prefer your sources to be freely available so your readers can read about your topic further using the sources you provide.
Step 4: Publish
Various places might want to publish your op-ed, including newspapers (print and online), blogs, not for profits organisations, think tanks and university publications. After you find a place that fits the tone and subject matter that you’ve written about, follow the instructions on their website to submit your piece.
What else do I need to know?
Organisations you write for will normally have their own style guidelines which will differ slightly between publications/websites. Make sure to read and adhere to any submission guidelines, such as word counts, style preferences, referencing guidelines, and what type of content to write about.
The most common mistake I see is op-eds that are written as if they were informative newspaper articles, telling the readers facts about a topic and listing events that happened. Instead, you should put forth a clear argument. Your opinion is important, the readers want to hear what you think about your topic.
I recommend reading a handful of op-eds to get an idea of how they are structured and the tone of voice. If you have a specific publication you want to write for, reading op-eds they have published will help you get a better idea of what they’re looking for.