Ten Tips for Successful Op-Eds: A Writer Shares Her Wisdom

(Credit: Getty Images)

By Queenie Sukhadia and Jamie Banks

Every graduate student should write at least one op-ed since it forces them to distill and clarify complex ideas into something compelling, persuasive, and, for once, concise, said Lindsay Sarah Krasnoff (Ph.D. ’09, History), who spoke at The Fine Art of the Op-Ed, an event organized by The Graduate Center’s PublicsLab.

Krasnoff, a graduate of The Graduate Center’s history program, focusing on French sports and sports diplomacy, drew on her varied experience as a historian at the U.S. Department of State, a journalist, a consultant, and a writer, to address the what, why, and how of the op-ed — from big-picture purpose to writing style and pitching strategies.

Following are 10 tips from Krasnoff’s talk that will help you craft impactful op-eds:

1. Make sure the op-ed is short, direct, and compelling. This is a different genre from academic writing. Most op-eds run between 600 and 800 words, and to deliver maximum punch in this short space, you should ensure that your piece is concise, succinct, and tightly-argued. One way to achieve this is to make sure the piece has a single thesis and no more than three supporting points that help argue this thesis. 

2. Keep your goal in central focus. With such few words, you need to make your point quickly and precisely, even when you want to share so much more with your audience. By eliminating or leaving out what may be fascinating but does not further your clearly defined goal, you focus your audience on the “call to action.”

3. Think carefully about the audience. The central purpose of an op-ed is to persuade an audience of your argument, and a simple hack for achieving this is to be intentional about the audience you are writing to and why this new perspective might be of value to them.

4. Write well, even though showing that you can write is not the point. Beyond what you know about good writing in general, be sensitive to the genre, purpose, and audience when writing your op-ed. Your writing should be readable and relatable for your audience, avoiding both jargon and clich├ęs.

5. Tell a (short) story. While op-eds hook and convince their readers in a variety of ways, one powerful way into your ideas is through narrative, be that through a human-interest angle or data that tells a story. This can make even the most complex of topics absorbing. In all cases, the beginning of your piece is key.

6. Consider regional or local publications rather than national ones. While national publications grab the most eyeballs, it’s imperative to remember that the most effective op-eds are ones that persuade an audience to think differently about the topic or take action after reading. As such, a surefire way to ensure that your op-ed reaches your target audience is to think carefully about which regional/local publication this audience is most likely to interact with and place your piece there. 

7. Peg the op-ed to a current event but go beyond the news. Op-eds are most likely to be accepted and read widely when they are timely. An effortless way to check off the timeliness parameter is to peg your piece to a current event in the news cycle or a calendar event, such as a holiday or death anniversary. But don’t stop there: It is essential that your op-ed reach beyond the chosen news item to make a broader argument. Krasnoff advised, “Use the news to shoehorn people into a larger idea.”

8. Write your pitch to catch a busy, on-the-go editor’s attention. Drawing on her long experience with journalism, Krasnoff went into the practicalities of what to do with the writing you’ve done. She points out that editors are often reading (and deciding on) pitches on the go, on mobile devices. Your pitch format, length, and style should take this into account. Dr. Krasnoff even suggested, albeit haltingly, that your subject line should function as click-bait.

9. The news cycle really is a cycle, so hold on to your work. Stay on the lookout for other opportunities to pitch your piece even if you don’t place it when you planned to. Your topic is likely to become timely again, as another big date approaches or something else happens to bring the issue back into the spotlight.

10. It’s not done once it’s published. After your piece has been published (congrats!), amplify it! Post it on your social media and send it to friends, colleagues, your department, and contacts. If it’s been a while since you talked to someone, this is a great chance to restart a conversation. Consider working out a mini publicity plan. Be as intentional with publicizing your op-ed as you were with your goals while writing it.

Learn more about the PublicsLab and upcoming events and programs

Students attend an op-ed writing workshopStudents attend an op-ed writing workshop. Credit: Justin Beauchamp

Submitted on: NOV 22, 2019

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