Thanks to Preeti Kulkarni for contributing this article.
Building a portfolio is one of the most important things you can do as a writer. An op-ed could be just the piece to add some dimension to your portfolio and showcase your writing style. Before you write an op-ed, it is essential to understand what an op-ed really is. An op-ed is an opinion piece that you can write on just about any topic. However, most journalists write an op-ed in response to a recent event, or stories that have been published in the most recent news cycle. According to Benjamin Spall, a contributor for news corporations such as the New York Times, the word op-ed means “opposite the editorial.” This means that in an op-ed the author is encouraged to give their take on the news. Sometimes a contributor from one news source writes an op-ed in response to an investigative piece by another writer.
The “High School Essay” op-ed and Tips for Each Section
This kind of op-ed is structured like your typical high school essay: it has an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion, with the addition of what’s called a “to be sure” paragraph. Although you may be familiar with this type of structure for essays, it’s the details in each section that make it an op-ed. It is vital for the reader to be interested in what you have to say from the very beginning. You have to hook your reader by creating a compelling lede, or introduction. One way to do this is by connecting your piece to something that is already happening.
Unlike a regular article, the op-ed is not meant to start conversations, but instead usually aims to address ongoing discussions. In “What is an op-ed?” you learned that the best op-eds connect to the news cycle in some fashion. This connection could be the segue to a larger theme, or it could be the content of the entire op-ed. What’s important is that you have that news cycle connection.
- The lede is where it is best to introduce this connection, which will be carried into the other paragraphs. Other ways to hook the reader are to use a historical event to draw a parallel to current times, introduce popular culture references, or challenge the typical way of thinking on a particular topic. This process is similar to finding your op-ed topic. Once you have your issue, you can create a lede that fits it.
- Coming just after the lede, the thesis is the statement of the main point of your argument. Up to this point, you have been creating reader interest in what you’re going to say. Now, you say it. Don’t introduce any evidence here. Instead, give your thoughts on the topic you chose. The thesis can be either implied or explicitly stated. Authors usually state their theses explicitly, however, because an explicit statement is often easier to back up with evidence.
- After the thesis statement comes the argument. The argument consists of a few sentences in which you introduce the evidence that supports your thesis. Those pieces of evidence could be statistics, personal experiences, news items, or even quotes.
- After the argument, write your first body paragraph, which should explain your first point. We will go more in-depth about the structure of these paragraphs in a later article. For right now, you will learn the basic outline. For your first point, we suggest creating an obvious connection to your thesis statement and argument. Your other body paragraphs should also support your thesis, but since you don’t have to connect this first body paragraph to those that follow, make the connection between your first point and the thesis explicit here. Make this connection in the topic sentence of this first body paragraph. After the topic sentence, present two to three pieces of supporting evidence. You can go into detail about the evidence right after you state it, or make those details a part of the conclusion of your paragraph. This structure applies to the other two body paragraphs as well. The only difference between the first body paragraph and the second and third body paragraphs is what the topic sentence connects. In the second and third body paragraphs, your topic sentence acts as a segue from one body paragraph to another, rather than just relating to the thesis statement. Sometimes, authors use the third body paragraph to introduce more big-picture ideas that they can carry forward into the last two paragraphs.
- After the body paragraphs, the “to be sure paragraph,” as The op-ed Project calls it, is next. In this paragraph, your job is to outline what those opposing your argument have to say and then refute it. Don’t focus on adding as many counter-arguments as possible. You have most likely gone into enough detail in the three body paragraphs to relax a little bit in this one. In this paragraph, pick three of the most compelling counter-arguments, analyze them, and prove them wrong. You can cite evidence that you have already laid out in your body paragraphs to help you do this.
- Finally, write a conclusion. The conclusion, or “so what?” paragraph as we like to call it, is arguably the most critical part of the op-ed. In this paragraph, you take all of the arguments you have made in your piece and connect them to the thesis statement. The conclusion of the op-ed is also a great place to expand on points that you introduced in the third body paragraph. You can personalize the ending just like you personalized the lede. The only rule for the conclusion paragraph is that it must connect to the lede.
More Basic Guidelines for an op-ed:
- Word count: 400‒1,200 words, but typically 750‒800 words
- Font: Usually 12-point Times New Roman
- Line Spacing: Double spaced
- Formatting: Shorter paragraphs
There it is! You have your basic op-ed structure. For a more in-depth analysis of the body paragraphs, the “so what?” paragraph, and the importance of academic writing, read on!