In addition to pitching your story to the journalist as addressed in Outreach to Media, you may choose to write your own piece in the form of an op-ed or as a letter to the editor. While letters to the editor usually respond to something written in the paper, the topic of an op-ed is the writer’s choice. Nevertheless, more relevant and timely op-eds are more likely to be published. Both op-ed and letters to the editor can be effective ways to call attention to an issue. This page will outline some practical advice on how to write an effective op-ed and letter to the editor.
In reference to writing a successful and compelling Op-Ed, Trish Hall, the New York Times Op-Ed Editor states “we are only interested if its opinionated and we believe our readers will find it interesting. We are especially interested in finding points of view that are different from those expressed in Times editorials.”
When writing an op-ed it is essential to voice a strong, unique opinion and back it with evidence. Submissions that relates to the current news are most likely to be published, especially if they arrive very quickly after a breaking news story. The focus of an op-ed should be very specific. For example, it should not be about refugees in general, but about a specific refugee’s work rights case.
The op-ed should suggest a simple solution to a problem in the opening paragraph of the article, and backed up with factual research or first hand experience. Readers prefer positive messaging, so it is helpful to provide concrete examples of solutions. Editors receive many weighty, solemn letters and prefer those that can address a serious issue in a unique and uplifting way. It is also preferred to make the topic of personal interest to the reader. It should answer the questions: Why should I care about refugees? What can I personally do to help them? The article should conclude with a call to action take part in a well-defined solution, rather than simply issuing a criticism.
The suggested writing style of an op-ed article is relatively casual and personal. Editors prefer an article to be in readable conversational English, rather than with many jargons used within the field. Rather than communicating in “expert speak,” editors suggest that you embrace your own story and speak from human experience. Let the reader know why refugee rights matter to you by telling them a story of a refugee and how this personally made the writer feel. It is always preferable to use short sentences, short paragraphs, and an active voice.
Most op-ed articles typically run from 400 to 1,200 words. They must be pitched to only one newspaper at a time. If you do not hear back from the publication in 7 business days, it is safe to assume the article will not be published and can then be pitched to another publication. Each publication has a different way of submitting op-ed articles but most have a specific email address listed on their website. When submitting, include the writers phone number, email address, photograph and a brief two or three sentence bio that explains why we are qualified to write this piece. The editors will usually pick their own headline and graphic to accompany the piece.
Letters to the Editor
You can also submit a letter to the editor (LTTE), which has a slightly smaller PR affect than an op-ed, but is often easier to secure.
A LTTE differs from an op-ed in that it is shorter, often a 4 to 5 paragraph response ranging from 150 to 175 words that refers to an article that has appeared in the last seven days. The submission must include the writer’s address and phone number and the writer will be notified within 7 business days if the letter will be published.
To write a LTTE, you should write quickly, concisely, and engagingly, focusing on one or two points. It is preferred if you can submit the letter within a day or two of the news story that you are commenting on. These letters can be a response to criticism, a statement of policy, or a view that adds a differing perspective of expertise to a debate.