While it might seem old fashioned, a thoughtful and well-written opinion piece placed in a local newspaper—a letter-to-the-editor or opinion editorial (op-ed)—can have a real impact. Not only does publishing such a piece allow you to reach a broad audience (both print and online), it is also possible to directly convey a message to elected leaders. These kinds of pieces are also great fodder for social media. Members of Congress and their staff also monitor in-state and -district newspapers regularly to keep up-to-date on the issues their constituents care about. Here are some things to keep in mind when writing letters-to-the-editor and op-eds.
- Each news outlet has its own guidelines, but generally letters-to-the-editor should be no longer than 250 words and op-eds should be no more than 700 words.
- Letters-to-the-editor should pertain to a timely, newsworthy topic—generally, they are shorter, more conversational, and usually refer specifically to an article that has recently appeared in the same news outlet.
- Op-eds—short for “opposite the editorial page” (since that is where guest commentaries have traditionally been placed in print newspapers)—are longer, more in-depth, and generally include supporting evidence (statistics, examples, etc.) to bolster the main points of the piece.
- The best opinion pieces include a “hook” to a current news story or a local newsmaker (often a public official or politician of some kind—Members of Congress are an excellent “hook”).
- Not everybody takes the time to read a whole opinion piece, so try not to “bury the lede” (i.e., waiting until too far into the piece to make your main point). Be sure to include the most important thing you are trying to say somewhere in the first paragraph of the piece.