Make Your Point

Op-Ed and Argument Writing with The OpEd Project

by Alli Treman

Our seminar leaders from The OpEd Project, Chloe Angyal and Martha Southgate, taught us about writing and polishing op-eds as a way to share our expert knowledge with those who need to hear it.

Op-eds are rooted in print media and the name sounds fairly antiquated, but you’ve probably read them online without even realizing it. They’re still important—people who publish op-eds are often those who go on to speak more and contribute more knowledge to the public conversation. Op-eds are also used as a metric. If you check theopedproject.org homepage you’ll see recent percentages of op-eds written by men and women in the country’s most read and regarded papers.

If you’re not convinced that writing an op-ed piece is for you, Chloe said this several times: “The op-ed is a metaphor.” What is it a metaphor for? It’s a metaphor for an argument. The basis of any op-ed piece is an argument. Humans argue every day, programmers probably even more often. It’s a metaphor for participating in the public conversation and being involved in thought leadership and citizenship. Primarily, it’s a metaphor for mattering.

Now that you are convinced, here is a brief overview of the components of an op-ed. Keep in mind that, as Martha and Chloe repeated many times, this is not a formula. As Barbossa would say, it’s “more guidelines than actual rules.” You can find more information on theopedproject.org in the Resources section, along with information on hosting or participating in your own seminar.

The Lede

Another archaic term deriving from old print media—it’s “lead” but spelled differently so the typesetters didn’t confuse it with “lead” (as in the stuff that used to be in pencils and the stuff you don’t want in your paint). The lede is what gets your readers attention. Newspapers are full of words and stories competing for your attention and you have to convince readers to choose your piece to read. When you consider all the information on the internet, there’s even more competition. As Chloe put it, “No one owes you their attention. Grab it.”

An essential component of the lede in op-eds is the news hook. This is essential for getting your work in print—it needs to relate to something that’s going on in the news. Martha and Chloe taught us how to “hijack the news”:if there wasn’t something going on in the media that happens to relate perfectly to what you want to say.

The Argument

As we stated before, the op-ed is a metaphor for an argument, so if you’re writing an op-ed, you need to include an argument. This is the heart of why you’re writing the piece, and is normally presented clearly in a thesis statement. Of course, you will want to back your argument up with evidence. Evidence can come in many forms, including:

  • Credible studies
  • Data and statistics
  • Personal experience (Don’t discount this! Emotional appeals can be very persuasive.)
  • Quotes from experts
  • General knowledge and logic
  • Evidence from history

Generally, you’ll want around three different types of evidence, but that’s also just a guideline.

The “To Be Sure”

It doesn’t matter what you say: someone’s going to argue with you. Here’s your chance to nip their argument in the bud. It’s important to treat your dissenters with respect. If someone disagrees with you, there’s no way they’re going to listen to what you have to say if you are insulting or disrespectful.

Note: You don’t want to actually begin your To Be Sure with “To be sure…”

The Conclusion

The conclusion of your piece should point back to your argument. After highlighting all of your evidence, remind your readers of the point you’re trying to make. Then, end with a call to action. What do you want your readers to do with this new information? It can be as open-ended as thinking more about the issue and engaging in discussions or as specific as not saying a word or phrase or boycotting a product.

Now you have everything you need to write an op-ed or other argument. For more information on op-eds and submitting op-ed proposals to publications, visit theopedproject.org.