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How to Write an Editorial

Kevin Parrish, Opinion Page editor at The Record, says he essentially looks for four things when choosing opinion pieces to run in the paper. Many other newspapers have similar guidelines:

  • The Op-ed (opinion editorial) is current and timely, meaning it is based on recent news stories that were published within the past week or so.

  • The Op-ed has a local angle and is relevant to readers in the publication’s circulation area (although this is not required, but it is a plus).

  • The Op-ed runs no more than 800 words or less, about 600 is ideal.

  • The Op-ed is clearly written, using simple language and not much jargon or academic language, and uses correct grammar and punctuation.

Usually editors prefer the Op-eds come straight from the media relations staff to make sure any opinion pieces being submitted meet these guidelines. And we often have contacts that are vital in ensuring the pieces are published. Please submit your final drafts to us and we will forward them to the editorial staff at  The Record or any other publication you plan to pursue. 

Here are other suggestions by national media consultant Randell Kennedy, who works with the Office of Marketing and University Relations in getting national press coverage:

  • An op-ed needs to clearly state its argument or thesis in the first or second paragraph and should then back up that argument with compelling, informed opinion.

  • As the 24-hour news cycle picks up speed, the analysis of news stories is more immediate than ever. Good op-eds speak to what's hot now; the best ones identify an issue before it becomes a topic in the news.

  • The subject matter should, in most cases, be relevant to a professor's academic area. However, a psychology professor can certainly write a piece on a business topic, or a political science professor can tackle a social trend, if they make a compelling and credible argument.

  • An op-ed is not a forum in which to philosophize or to celebrate the "gray areas" of a controversial topic. This is the time to come down clearly on one side of an issue. Remember: it's all about informed opinion.

  • Op-eds can be co-authored - if it makes sense for a specific piece to have two authors. Multiple co-authors should be avoided in drafting op-eds and left to "letters-to-the-editor" submissions.

  • A good op-ed needs to contain at least one "point of enlightenment" which has often been described as "an observation that is fresh and original."

  • Although some Sunday opinion pages and special commentary forums publish pieces in the 1200-word range, it is best to keep an op-ed under 750 words in length. An excellent and hard-hitting short piece in the 600-word ballpark is often a winner.

  • If an op-ed openly criticizes current policies, it should provide clear and compelling solutions.

  • Keep punctuation simple. Avoid using exclamation points in an op-ed piece.

  • Perhaps the most common complaint among opinion page editors who receive many submissions from colleges and universities is that they are often filled with discipline-specific jargon. Help potential op-ed authors on your campus realize that they should not attempt to make the reader "work" to understand their point.

  • The target readership is a general newspaper audience comprised of people from many walks of life. The piece should be written with this general audience in mind. And remember: a good op-ed piece ends with a hard-hitting summary or a thoughtful final point.

Randell J. Kennedy is president of Academy Communications, a national communications consulting agency specializing in higher education. For nearly 20 years, he has worked in the media and with colleges and universities across the country, showcasing their people and programs to national and regional news media. Kennedy has provided extensive media-relations, crisis communications and editorial services to dozens of America's best colleges, universities and educational foundations. His op-ed placements for college presidents and faculty members include all of the nation's major-circulation daily newspapers.