R. Shapiro photo

OP-ED Writing

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

August 2008

"If you’re ambitious, writing op-ed pieces is a sure way of gaining authority "



The crown jewel of most newspapers and magazines is the op-ed page. In magazines, you often find it at the last page. In newspapers, it’s next to “Letters to the Editor.” The op-ed piece slants news through the author’s point of view, which unfortunately, is usually nearly as slanted. If you’re ambitious, writing op-ed pieces is a sure way of gaining authority and attention as a writer. 

Unlike letters to the editor, the op-ed piece isn’t just a rant. It’s a carefully reasoned, documented rant. Usually it is written by an expert in the field. But if you’re not an expert yourself, you can call one up and quote him. You can also include statistics that prove your point and any other facts from reliable sources. And you have to cite them, not necessarily as a footnote, but something such as “Frank O’Dougherty of the Miami Vice Squad said…”

"The best way to get an op-ed piece published is to try to seize on a hot current topic "



The best way to get an op-ed piece published is to try to seize on a hot current topic, such as whether or not Michelle Obama should be wearing panty hose or whether it is the public’s business that she isn’t. (Op-ed can have humor.) Holiday, anniversary, deaths of important political or historical figures will be sure to get more attention if you’re writing about them as they happen. Caveat: Don’t do a Halloween op-ed in July.   

To find a topic to write about, just think of pet peeves: uncollected garbage, how dieting is killing Americans as much as obesity. (Don’t choose that one. I just made it up.)

Here are the requirements of every op-ed piece:

An op-ed piece must have a point to make and succeed in making it in the clearest, shortest way possible, using the simplest language. The point should have at least three supporting arguments and the last paragraph should take you back to your opening statement, making sure that you’ve nailed it. Always disclose your sources. In a blog such as the Huffington Post, it’s possible to click on the footnote and get to the original source. But usually, you only state the source minimally. “According to Dentistry Today, patients still prefer bridges to implants.” (I made that one up, too.) Think of the op-ed piece as a debate. Know what others have said about the topic and try to debunk them. Always choose a new point of view. If you are drawing on personal experience, you might use the “I” point of view.


"You have to catch an editor (and a reader’s) eye with a catchy first sentence."



You have to catch an editor (and a reader’s) eye with a catchy first sentence. The first sentence can be in the form of a question. “How long do you think our  planet will last if we keep guzzling gas?” You might want to write a statement for shock value that perhaps you don’t actually believe in, but hope to catch the editor and reader’s attention with such as “Even though I have two children who are of age to be in the military, I think that the draft lottery should be reinstated. But instead of going in alphabetical order, I think we should give the children of congressmen the lowest numbers. Sure Mc Cain has a son in the military, but he is one out of hundreds. Drafting the children of members of congress would be the best way to end this war and prevent all others.” The first sentence must be written and re-written as carefully as you would a poem.

Writing op-ed pieces is a fun and fascinating way to express yourself, and to be counted while you’re sitting down. Give it a try. If you win, you win big.  

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro



Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium, was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award and is currently selling in Holland, Belgium, and the U.K. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn, and in many anthologies such as It’s a Boy (Seal Press, 2005), The Imperfect Mom (Broadway Books, 2006) About What Was Lost (Plume Books, 2007,) For Keeps, (Seal Press, 2007.) Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Negative Capability, Moment, and in many anthologies such as Father (Pocket Books, 2000). The short story from that collection, "The Wild Russian," will be reprinted for educational testing purposes nationwide. She currently teaches "Writing the Personal Essay" at UCLA on-line and is a book critic for Kirkus. She can be reached at http://www.miriamthemedium.com/ or at her blog: http://rochellejewelshapiro.blogspot.com/