1. Be straightforward, focus on one specific issue at a time and state your point right at the beginning
Editors are more likely to prefer and publish an op-ed piece that states an opinion right away (this means, in the first few lines or in the first paragraph). You should always show readers why they should care about the issue that you’re tackling. To do so, write in a lively language but try to avoid ranting.
2. Always back up your arguments with verifiable facts
Every argument that you make in your op-ed should be illustrated with examples, including facts, figures, references, etc., but don’t use too many of them. One powerful example per argument is enough.
3. Keep your opinion piece brief and make it flow
Most newspapers allow writers only 400 to 750 words (some of them, such as The New York Times allow them until 1,200 words but this is rather rare). You should probably aim for a length of 650-750 words.
4. Always keep your audience in mind
Keep your article simple and concise, but don’t talk down to your readers. They may not be in your field of study but you should always stay respectful and presuppose they may not necessarily know what you’re talking/writing about. TIP: Usually, if an argument is clear in your mind, you should be able to express it in 1 sentence max, as if you were talking to a friend. If you’re not able to do so, go back to your argument and see if you can simplify it and make it digestible for yourself and the reader.
5. Avoid academic jargon and technical terms
Whether you are an expert in the topic that you’re covering in your op-ed or not, you should always keep in mind that some of the concepts that may seem clear to you, may not be part of the reader’s (or the editor’s) everyday vocabulary.
6. Make your piece timely – a piece reacting to the news of the world is always more valuable
Tie your piece to the strongest possible news peg (i.e. what makes the story timely and newsworthy). Write about an issue too soon or too late and your op-ed will not be as relevant as it should be. In doubt, earlier is better than later. For example, you could write about an upcoming election or a law that is about to be passed. You can also write about an event that just passed but try to avoid writing about it more than 1 week after it happened.
7. Keep sentences short
Editors and readers love punchy articles. Keep sentences and paragraphs short and sweet.
8. Focus on the headline
Choose a strong headline/title for your op-ed as it will draw attention to your article. Also, don’t feel bad if your editor ends up changing your headline in the end. It’s not personal, and it often happens in the journalism industry.
9. If your article is focusing on a problem…
…suggest ways to fix it in your op-ed. Suggest one or several solutions and provide examples to back them up.
10. Don’t hesitate to develop your own voice and use analogies, anecdotes, humor, or unique examples to illustrate your points and add some colour to your piece
If the reader can identify with some of the examples and analogies that you use as tools in your op-ed, you’ve successfully achieved your goal. Personalizations tend to draw readers in. Always remember to tell readers why they should care about the issue that you’re discussing.
11. Don’t write too fast, always revise
An op-ed article can be very powerful and sometimes highly controversial. You want to make sure that you’re comfortable with every argument that you’re using. You also need to check that your piece is well structured and digestible. To do so, write your op-ed, let it sit, sleep on it, show it to a trusted peer and to someone outside your field (to make sure that you didn’t use jargon), make the necessary edits (if necessary), read it again, and send it over to your editor.
For more information and examples of op-eds:
The Opinion Pages, The New York Times
Opinions, The Washington Post