By: Anna Lee
“Op-ed,” or opinion editorials, is a type of writing that’s common in newspaper and magazines and are from authors who aren’t associated with the publication company. For example, in the New York Times, it’s the Opinion section. In short, Op-eds are articles that comes with an opinion, popular or not.
At first for me, writing op-eds seemed completely antithetical to everything I learned. Writing school essays or fact-based journalistic articles have been such a norm for such a long time, that when I had the opportunity to write my first op-ed, I was completely taken off guard. The amount of first-person “I” or even “we” that you can liberally sprinkle in, the fact that no topic is off limits solely based on the fact that this is an opinion-based piece seemed all wrong at first. I was stuck in the mindset of having evidence and passages and sources to claim every statement I made. While op-ed pieces do rely on support and evidence from an outside source, these references are there for you to dispute, to wrestle with. So I think one of the most important things for anyone writing their first op-ed is to abandon- or at least, set aside- the traditional methodology of writing, and to find your passions.
Finding what you are passionate about is incredibly important. There is probably nothing more important in op-ed writing. Though this can apply to all writing genres, you can write an article about something you are dispassionate about for a journalism piece. For op-ed pieces, the amount of passion dictates how long and how eloquent the piece ends up. Living up to its namesake, op-ed pieces turn out flat and lifeless without the opinion aspect.
Another requisite thing for an op-ed piece is background research, preferable before the writing process. Although you may know a lot of information, that information can have a certain bias, which is fine in the long run, but can pose a problem in overviewing the topic objectively. I find that the most helpful research method includes both having a firm opinion of a topic and having a plethora of resources that allow me to see both sides of the issue. With this general background information, I am more confident to write as a credible, opinionated writer rather than just a biased one.
Although the structure of op-eds are pretty free-form, the introductory paragraphs should explain the topic at hand for a larger audience. I always visualized this genre as a pyramid, and at the bottom, there needs to be a strong foundation of the knowledge of the topic. Without this, the audience can easily doubt not only your opinions but the topic as a whole, which is exactly opposite of what op-ed writers want.
Once the topic has been established well, then the writer has free reins to set the parameters for their opinions and biases. There can be links and evidences to support your opinion at hand, just like any other writing. However, like a pyramid, it has to build up both the audience’s trust and one’s argument to get to the point of it all. This may seem confusing, but I think by allowing the audience to digest bits and pieces of information – that are all point to your own opinions- and reaching the definitive conclusion at the end is far more convincing than throwing a statement at them without any evidence to support it.
However, although this may seem contradictory, op-ed pieces’ goals aren’t purely meant to persuade, although they often have the power to. For me, writing op-ed pieces mean that I have an opinion, a thought, that I want to share with my audience, and by doing that, it could open a larger forum of discussion and ideas. So in essence, it’s impossible to “fail” at writing op-ed pieces, because the virtue of having presented your idea to someone else- regardless of how the other person takes it- is a success. I suppose this simple beauty of just writing mentality that op-ed pieces promote has been what’s drawn me to write them in the first place.