Social media is overrun by people’s half-baked thoughts. After all, there’s no grand editor of the internet. Luckily, though, there are editors all over the place — at newspapers, blogs, magazines and other publications — who spend all day looking for good ideas to elevate.
Publishing an op-ed or a letter to the editor is a smart way to get your views out there in more than a soundbite. You get a little space to really make your point and give other people a nudge to care about the same thing you do. Here’s how.
Writing an Op-Ed
An op-ed makes a case for a position, like why the city should turn that abandoned parking lot into a baseball field, why Congress should raise the retirement age, or how neither candidate for a state Senate seat has a real plan to solve the local housing crunch.
If you’re thinking about writing an op-ed, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have a clear point to make? Ideally, you can summarize what you want to say in a single sentence. If you need a paragraph to explain yourself, take some time to refine your message.
- Does this issue matter to others? You’ll want to write about something that affects not just you but people in your community, state, or beyond.
- Are you the right person to write this? If you have direct experience or specific knowledge about the topic, then the answer is yes. If you’re concerned about the quality of education in your state, explain that you’re writing as a teacher, a parent, or a business owner who wants to hire locally, for example.
- Are you bringing a new or unexpected angle to the conversation? This isn’t a must but for a larger publication, it really helps. Maybe there’s a big issue in the news but no one has written about it from the perspective of someone like you. Or maybe most people in your demographic seem to feel one way about an issue, but you’ve got a different take and want to show things are more complex.
A few other tips:
- Get to the Point: You’ll want to hit your main point in the first paragraph. Any later and you’ve lost your reader.
- Present the Evidence: If you have numbers, use them! Say you read one news article about how your county’s budget keeps increasing faster than inflation, but then another news article about how your county has the worst roads in the state. Connect those dots and show readers the money.
- Be Newsy: Your op-ed will feel more relevant to readers when it’s pegged to something in the news. Say you think that elections would have higher voter turnout if independents could participate in primaries — and then your state has an election with particularly low voter turnout. Now’s the perfect time to make your point.
- Write What You Know: You can’t beat a compelling personal story. Would you like to work more hours but can’t increase your income without losing your Medicaid coverage? Write from your own experience.
How long should these be? The publication will have guidance on its website. At a local newspaper, editors will want your op-ed to be around 400 words, while bigger media outlets might take something up to 800 words.
Writing a Letter to the Editor
A letter to the editor is usually responding to a story the publication ran recently. Maybe your local paper wrote an article that quoted a public official complaining that wind turbines are unreliable because they can freeze in cold weather. You may want to write a letter to the editor responding that wind turbines are used in cold climates around the world and there’s technology to keep them from getting icy. Or maybe your state’s major newspaper ran a story about how the legislative session is about to end without any action on criminal justice reform. You could write a letter arguing that elected officials are more concerned about party politics than solving problems.
Letters to the editor are short, usually around 150 words.
Getting It Out There
A publication’s website will typically have an email address or webform for you to send your brilliant words off into the world. You’ll have a lot more competition when you submit something to a major news outlet (though it’s always worth a shot!) than to something more local or that has a narrow focus.
Once your piece has been published, you’ve got something truly thoughtful and informative to share on social media. After all, if your opinion was never in print, did it ever really exist?