Op-eds provide an opportunity for you to speak directly to the public and bring your experience, ideas, analyses, and insights to a broad readership. The purpose, audience, structure, submission process, and publication process for op-eds are all very different than for your scholarly works.
This page provides information on how to write and submit your op-ed and includes the following sections:
- Before You Start
- Writing Your Op-Ed
- Submitting Your Op-Ed
- Publication Process
- Examples from the Georgetown Faculty
- Read More
Georgetown’s Office of Strategic Communications assists and advises all members of the university community interested in working with the media. Contact the Office at 202-687-4328 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have questions on publishing or promoting your work, contact Meg Oakley, Director, Copyright & Scholarly Communication.
Before You Start
The most important element of a successful op-ed is your topic. Your op-ed should contain a fresh viewpoint and should not repeat ideas that have already appeared on the publication’s news or opinion pages. Many op-eds voice an opinion on a topic in the news in order to promote public discourse on the issue and inform public policy. Other op-eds are written to bring an issue to the attention of readers that they don’t know about or haven’t considered from your perspective.
Be sure you can answer the following questions about your op-ed before you begin writing:
- What do you have to say that is new and compelling so that your op-ed will attract the attention of readers and promote discussion and debate on your topic?
- What special knowledge, expertise, or personal experience do you have that will make your piece stand out from others who are writing on the same topic?
- What supporting facts, data, quotations, or personal experience do you have to support your opinion?
- Is there an event in the news, an upcoming event, or the anniversary of an event that can be tied to the topic of your op-ed? This will increase your chances of catching the attention of op-ed editors. If not, considering submitting your op-ed at a slower time of year, such as late August or December.
One of the best ways to prepare to write an op-ed is to read recent op-eds in leading national newspapers and analyze how they are written. What topics are chosen? What special expertise or experience does the author have? How are the opinions stated? How is the argument made and what evidence is used to support the thesis? (Click here for information on educational access to the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal)
Writing Your Op-Ed
Before you begin writing, define exactly what you hope to achieve with your op-ed. One editor suggests that if you can’t sum up your position in 10 words or less, then you haven't yet “nailed down what you want to say.” (Hartford Courant)
John Timpane, former Commentary page editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, in a talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, listed the three categories of op-eds he was most likely to publish:
- Why something is or is not good, true, or worthy
- Look what happened and here’s why
- Make predictions or issue warnings
The length and style of your op-ed will be very different from your academic writing. (Click here for information on educational access to the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal to see the style and voice used by successful op-ed writers.)
- Check a publication's guidelines before submission for word limits. Many newspaper op-eds are limited to 700-800 words. Some also publish opinion pieces that are longer or shorter, so be sure to check each publication’s guidelines.
- Write in plain English for readers who are not experts in your field.
- Open with a sentence that will capture the attention of readers.
- Clearly state the issue and your thesis in the opening paragraph. “You have no more than 10 seconds to hook a busy reader. Just get to the point and convince the reader that it’s worth his or her valuable time to continue.” (How to Write an Op-Ed Article, Duke University)
- Use your research and personal experience as persuasive evidence to support your opinion.
- Fact-check your own work before submitting it. If accepted, it will be fact-checked again, but your credibility will be higher with your editor if you submit your op-ed without errors or misrepresentations in your facts or quotations. It is better to leave a blank space to fill in later than to include incorrect information.
- Acknowledge opposing views and state reasons why they are wrong.
- In your final paragraph, clearly state your conclusion.
Submitting Your Op-Ed
Choosing a Publication
The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal are all top choices for op-ed submissions, and numerous Georgetown faculty have published op-eds in these newspapers. However, there is a lot of competition for space on the opinion pages of these leading national newspaper. Editors may receive 100 or more submissions a day, yet usually have space for only 2-3 pieces from outside contributors. Since editors also solicit op-eds from experts on topics of interest to them, the number of unsolicited op-eds that can be published is further reduced.
Because it is highly competitive to get published in a national newspaper, you should also consider other newspapers and websites that publish opinion pieces. Look at publications that people who care about your topic are likely to read, including subject-oriented websites and local or regional newspapers where residents may be particularly interested in your issue.
One great option for placing your op-ed is with your hometown newspaper or a smaller DC newspaper, such as the Washington Examiner or other Washington newspapers. You can also consider online sites for your op-eds and articles. Consider some of the following:
- The Conversation
- The Daily Beast
- Epoch Times
- Huffington Post
- Monkey Cage
For detailed information about other publications you might consider, take a look at these lists:
- The Op-Ed Project provides information for over 100 online and print publications, updated as of August 2016.
- Columbia University’s Earth Institute has an April 2010 document listing 101 U.S. newspapers by circulation with op-ed submission information (list begins on p. 5 of the document).
If you are not sure where to submit your piece, consider sending an email message with a short description of yourself and your proposed piece to the op-ed editor asking whether it is a topic that would be of interest. If your op-ed is not accepted by your first-choice publication, consider whether it might be a better fit for a different publication or whether revising or refocusing your draft would make it a stronger piece.
Op-eds are usually submitted as completed articles and not proposals and should be submitted to only one publication at a time. Do not submit anything that has been previously published either online or in print.
From the dozens to hundreds of submissions on a given day, editors will look for op-eds that offer a new, different, and unique perspective on the news that would be of interest to readers. Decisions to publish op-eds are made quickly, usually within a week or less, and for hot topics, an op-ed may be published within hours of a newsworthy event. Occasionally, however, an interesting piece may be held by the publication for several months before publication.
You will not get a response from an editor unless your piece is being considered for publication. If an editor contacts you with interest in your op-ed, respond immediately! Newspapers run on tight deadlines, so your prompt response to an editor’s inquiry is critical. Most op-eds are not published as initially submitted, so you should expect to make revisions in consultation with your editor.
Your editor will not ask you to change your opinion on your topic but may suggest changes for clarity, flow, style, grammar, and length. You will be given the opportunity to approve all changes before your op-ed is published. If you do not agree with the changes, you can work with your editor to find a mutually agreeable solution, or, if that is not possible, it is always an option to take back your article and submit it to a different publication.
Read more about what happens in the editing process from a New York Times editor in What We Talk About When We Talk About Editing.
Once you have published your op-ed and have a link to it, you can distribute it widely through your GUFaculty360 page, personal webpage, Twitter, Facebook, departmental web pages, and blogs.
Examples from the Georgetown Faculty
New York Times
- My Mother Speaks Through Me by Deborah Tannen, Professor of Linguistics (September 19, 2017)
- The Practical Case for Parole for Violent Offenders by Marc Morjé Howard, Professor of Government and Law (August 8, 2017)
- Block Grants Would Be a Disaster. Here’s How We Know., Peter Edelman, Professor of Law and Public Policy (September 22, 2017)
- Leaks Are Actually the Lifeblood of American Democracy, Sanford J. Ungar, Director, Free Speech Project (August 28, 2017)
- And Now a Word From Op-Ed, New York Times (February 1, 2004)
- How to Write an Op-Ed Article, Duke University
- How to Write an Op-Ed or Column, Harvard Kennedy School Communications Program
- How to Write an Opinion Essay and Why You Should Do It Now, Phi Delta Kappan (September 2014)
- Op-Ed and You, New York Times (October 13, 2013)
- The Op-Ed Project hosts workshops and seminars on publishing op-eds for a fee. The Project’s Op-Ed Basics pages are available for anyone to read for free.
- Tips for Aspiring Op-Ed Writers, New York Times (August 25, 2017)
- Writing and Submitting an Opinion Piece, Columbia School of Journalism