Strategy: Writing Op-Eds

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Op-eds offer folklorists a chance to weigh in on important issues that can be informed by the work we do. The general rules of writing for the mass media apply here, including ensuring that our writing is clear, jargon-free, brief, makes a clear point, and offers evidence to support our claims. 

Before writing an op-ed, consider the following: 

  1. Is the topic relevant and timely?
  2. Do I have something new and useful to say?
  3. Why should people listen to me? What roles, identities, or expertise do I have that would make an audience trust me on this issue?
  4. What is my distinctive voice? As opinion pieces, op-eds need to establish themselves not as the authority, but certainly an authority. “But the range of voice used in columns can be wide: contemplative, conversational, descriptive, experienced, informative, informed, introspective, observant, plaintive, reportorial, self-effacing, sophisticated, humorous, among many other possibilities” (Harvard Kennedy School of Government). 

When writing, be sure to hook the reader from the start. The folks at the Op-Ed Project suggest the following: 

  • Reference a recent news story
  • Tie into a recent anniversary
  • Cite a major new study
  • Tell a dramatic anecdote
  • Tell a personal anecdote
  • Reference popular culture
  • Turn conventional wisdom on its head
  • Use with and iron to point out a contradiction

Resources for Op-Eds 

Harvard Kennedy School of Government offers useful tips on writing op-eds as well as a list of additional resources included below:

The Op-Ed Project ( is a terrific resource for anyone looking to strengthen their op-ed writing. It provides tips on op-ed writing, suggestions about basic op-ed structure, guidelines on how to pitch op-ed pieces to publications, and information about top outlets that publish op-eds. Started as an effort to increase the number of women op-ed writers, The Op-Ed Project also regularly runs daylong seminars around the country. We encourage you to start here: Op-Ed Basics

“How to Write an Op-Ed Article” (, which was prepared by David Jarmul, Duke’s associate vice president for news and communications, provides great guidelines on how to write a successful op-ed. 

“How to Write Op-Ed Columns” (, which was prepared by The Earth Institute at Columbia University, is another useful guide to writing op-eds. It contains a useful list of op-ed guidelines for top-circulation newspapers in the U.S.
“And Now a Word from Op-Ed” ( offers some advice on how to think about and write op-eds from the Op-Ed editor of The New York Times.

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