Oped - What It Is and How to Write It

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An oped is an opinion piece that a freelance writer may find themselves writing on behalf of a client, such as a nonprofit or business. The oped is a chance for the organization to garner some publicity for themselves and to perhaps sway public opinion about an issue. It is one kind of article or piece that freelance writers who specialize in journalism writing or PR writing may find themselves producing.

 

The oped is usually longer than a regular letter to the editor is. It is often written by a subject matter expert (so this might be an instance of ghostwriting for the freelancer). In addition to a freelancer writing this on behalf of an organization, they are frequently written by a PR writer within the organization, or other staff employees- such as a staff writer.

They are written in answer to a piece of news or to another opinion within the newspaper. For example, new immigration laws may push nonprofit immigration advocates to write an oped in favor of the new laws. An oped is anywhere from 300-700 words long, and sometimes a biography line and/or a photo of the "writer" (or subject matter expert) runs with the piece.

How to Write an OpEd

Own the opinion. This will generally come from the client, unless you've written for them a long time and are familiar with their stances. Know what the end outcome of the oped is.

Know what you want the reader to come away thinking and believing.

Start with a hook. Just like in any other piece of writing, your reader is going to make a decision within just a few seconds whether or not they will continue. I like to start with a story that is personalized to the issue- but a brief one.

Be careful with this- I'm not telling you to pad your beginning with too much work-up. The hook should be relevant to the issue. For example, I once began an oped about immigration law with a couple sentences about a woman who was waiting for her husband to return from Syria, where he was getting his papers in order, right when the recent violence broke out. It was brief but relevant.

Aim correctly. Again, this will sound familiar, as it's true with many kinds of writing: Know your audience. Think of who reads the paper, who reads that section of the paper, and who reads about that particular issue. Then, aim for them. This might mean decisions about what levels of words you use, or what kinds of stories you tell. It means avoiding industry-speak. Another point when talking about aim is timeliness. Hopefully your client is initiating this oped at a good time- such as when the issue is making news, or when someone else has written an (opposite) opinion about that matter to which you can respond.

Back it up. Opinions necessitate reasons and support. What are yours (or your clients')? Work them in there. Do I really need to tell you to massage stats and other figures and items that may be boring?

Nah, you're a writer- you already know this!

Follow the rest of the rules, too. As a writer, you know the basics, right? Don't use passive sentences because you think they sound special. Cut your darling words. Stick to one subject. These are especially true when it comes to pieces that have to compete for limited space. You can please your client and be hired again if you can write work that gets them published.

End with action. Don't leave your readers saying So? Tell them to support something- even if you can't give them an explicit action such as "go vote." This is also important because your readers will skim and scan, even if they're not reading on the internet. End it well.

Your turn! Go write!