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.  

Ghostwriting and Anonymity


Op-eds can be ghostwritten, which means that a writer creates an op-ed for someone else, such as a political leader. The piece is then signed with that leader’s name. It can be compared to when celebrities have someone collaborate with them on an autobiographical book.

Ghostwritten op-eds have become more common in recent years, but anonymous op-eds are rarely published. The only case where popular news sources accept anonymous op-eds is if the author would be put in a dangerous or life-threatening situation if their name were published.

However, a writer is never truly anonymous, because the publisher always knows who wrote the op-ed. One such incident, also cited by Spall, was the September 2018 op-ed from a senior official of the Trump administration, published by the New York Times. Miles Taylor, chief of staff in the Department of Homeland security, made his authorship of the Op-Ed known two years later, in 2020. In doing so, he waived the confidentiality agreement he had with the Times. This example shows that anonymity, even when achieved, rarely sticks.

The Difference between op-eds and Articles


When writing, it is important to know the playing field. How do you know the difference between writing an investigative article and an op-ed? The main difference between the two is the amount of research necessary to write them. Research is essential for both types of writing, but for different reasons.

For the investigative article, fact-checking and careful sourcing are much more high-stakes, as you are presenting your statements as factual. Although a writer’s bias shines through in all pieces, most types of articles are meant to be more informative than opinion based.

In an op-ed, however, you would research to form an educated opinion. You still need to have a solid grasp of the facts, but you don’t need to be as particular about details like sourcing. One way to better grasp the difference between op-eds and other types of articles is to read a lot of op-eds. Most news sources have an opinion section of their website or paper dedicated to op-eds and other opinion pieces such as editorials or guest essays. Read through these to get a feel for what an op-ed should look like.

How to Find an Eye-Catching op-ed Topic


The op-ed is a powerful tool. It can be used in many ways and reach thousands of people, depending on where it’s published. It is often used for advocacy purposes. In the age of social media, public discourse has become part of our everyday lives. Especially in today’s political climate, a well-written op-ed can be the catalyst for a movement. Since they are typically written to respond to current events and issues, the time frame to write an op-ed piece is minimal. These time constraints can make it challenging to create a piece that has a ground-breaking topic, tells a compelling story, and showcases your strengths as a writer. 

Luckily, we have compiled some helpful tips on finding a topic and writing your op-ed: 

  1. Keeping up with the current news cycle is vital to finding a great story.
  2. One way to do this is to read your favorite publications as often as possible.
  3. Follow social media, which is a great way to keep up with rapid changes in public discourse.
  4. Another way to tap into public opinion is to be on the lookout for new surveys.
  5. Go out into your community and find a story. Covering a local story can be a great way to find sources that will give you more information than other writers have on a particular subject, and could also be an excellent way to segue into a broader topic. 
  6. Your piece can be anything from an uplifting story to a cautionary tale, as long as it’s current and well-written. 
  7. Even though urgency is necessary for some stories, other topics are evergreen and can fit into any context. Take your time when you can.
  8. Don’t be afraid to partner with another writer. The most compelling pieces illustrate different perspectives, and one of the best ways to understand other views is to have another mind working on the same subject.
  9. Draw from your personal experiences to help your audience connect to a broader topic.
  10. Don’t be afraid to use humor, wit, and sarcasm in your op-eds!
  11. Watch movies or documentaries on the topic you want to write about.
  12. Write from your heart! An op-ed can be whatever you want it to be, and expressing your personal style and spirit is a sure way of attracting new readers.

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