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For Additional Information:
Please contact Charlotte Crystal at (434) 924-6858

Send Your Opinions To:
Charlotte Crystal
Senior News Officer
U.Va. News Services
P.O. Box 400229
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4229
opinion-editor@virginia.edu

 
 

 

What is an Opinion Piece? | Why write an Opinion Piece? |
| About the Sevice | Writer's Guidelines|

What is an Opinion Piece?

An opinion piece or “op-ed” is a short essay that newspapers have traditionally published “opposite the editorial” page to provide voices and views other than those expressed by the newspaper’s editorial staff. Many newspapers fill their op-ed pages predominantly with syndicated columnists — such as George Will, Molly Ivins, Cal Thomas, William Raspberry and Ellen Goodman — who write on various topics, including politics, economics, baseball, and their children’s graduation ceremonies. 

But the newspapers also make limited space available for pieces by other writers on a broad array of topics. Writers vary from policy experts to celebrities, authors, academics, business executives and other individuals with something compelling to say.

Op-eds generally discuss topics in the news, but also may explore personal issues, such as coping with a family member’s illness, or subjects of broad human interest, such as the impact of urban development on the environment. Pieces without a clear news tie-in are sometimes called “evergreens,” because they can stay fresh for weeks (or even months) before seeing publication. Many editorial departments like to have a few evergreen pieces on hand, especially in the summertime and over the winter holidays, when many regular writers take vacation time and the flow of copy slows.

Opinion pieces are generally written in third person, though sometimes in first person when exploring particularly personal subjects. Length can vary from 500 words (about two double-spaced typed pages) to 700-750 words, a typical length. Special Sunday Commentary or Outlook sections often run much longer pieces, in the 1,000- to 1,500-word range. As the non-breaking news sections of Sunday newspapers are often put together on Thursday, the best time to submit opinion pieces for consideration by Sunday commentary editors is Tuesday and Wednesday.

Op-eds are not short responses or reactions to recent articles, which are more appropriately addressed in newspapers’ “Letters to the Editor” sections.

The most effective opinion pieces are short, sweet and to the point. They are simple, focused and clearly written. They make a point, offer a few supporting examples or evidence, and wrap up with a snappy ending that refers back to the beginning or “lead.” They express an opinion.

Anyone can write and submit an op-ed to a major metro paper. But the country’s largest newspapers routinely receive hundreds of submissions each week for a limited number of slots, so the editors of these pages can afford to be choosy. Their choices reflect several factors, including what’s in the news, the originality of the idea, the quality of the writing, the credentials of the writer and the personal interests of the editor. 

Given the high volume of submissions to the country’s largest papers, it’s often easier to place an op-ed in a smaller publication. Even so, the piece must be well written, make a point, and take a stand. A local tie-in is helpful.

While op-eds are most closely identified with newspapers, many magazines and Web sites also publish opinion pieces, providing writers with additional outlets that can reach hundreds of thousands of readers.

Why Write an Opinion Piece?

There are three good reasons not to write opinion pieces. The first is that they generally do not count toward tenure. The second is that they are so short, they can be hard to write.  The third is that there is no guarantee of publication.

Still, there are compelling reasons to bother.

  • Like an executive summary or the conclusion to a book, an op-ed-style piece boils down an argument into its most concentrated form. Writing an op-ed can be a useful intellectual exercise in focusing on what is most important.
  • An op-ed writer must think clearly to write simply. In the same way that a professor teaches sophisticated concepts to undergraduates, an author must reduce complex ideas into simple language. The exercise of writing for a newspaper can help an author explain abstract concepts using concrete prose.
  • Academics tend to discuss their work predominantly with other academics, particularly those in the same field. But policy makers who are pressed for time are unlikely to seek out specialized publications, written in off-putting jargon. By sharing their views with millions of newspaper readers, using simple, easy-to-understand language, academics not only can educate policy makers, but also inform the public debate on myriad issues. As public intellectuals, disinterested academics, who have spent years acquiring expertise in specialized areas, could deepen the understanding of issues, enabling a democratic society to make better-informed choices.
  • Sharing one’s expertise is a vital way to give back to society.
  • Publishing opinion pieces can lead to national visibility in one’s field, as well as recognition in other fields. This could lead one’s professional life down new and exciting paths.
  • Publishing an opinion piece in the outside media, or on U.Va.’s new Web site, could lead to calls from other institutions, industry, government or the media, seeking the author’s expertise.

U.Va. News Office Faculty Opinions Service

The U.Va. News Office is available to assist University faculty (including teaching, research, general and emeritus faculty and administrators) with writing, editing and placing opinion pieces in external news outlets, including newspapers, magazines, news wires and Web sites.

While the News Office cannot guarantee placement of faculty opinion pieces in external news outlets, pieces submitted to the office also will be considered for publication on the U.Va. Faculty Opinions Web site.

Opinion pieces may be submitted by mail, fax or email. By mail, send the piece to Opinion Editor, U.Va. News Services, P.O. Box 400229, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4229. To submit by fax, send the piece to Opinion Editor at (434) 924-0938. By email, send the piece to opinion-editor@virginia.edu. Email is preferred. For more information, call Charlotte Crystal at (434) 924-6858.

Writer's Guidelines for U.Va. Faculty Opinions Web Page

In the fall of 2004, the University of Virginia launched a Faculty Opinions page, which is open to submissions by current and former University faculty and administrators. There are no restrictions on topics, within the bounds of good taste and legality, though the goal of the page is to promote academic expertise.

Publication will be at the discretion of the U.Va. News Office opinion editor. Length may range between 500 and 1,500 words. Accepted submissions will be edited for clarity, style and length.

Submission information is the same as above.

 
 
  *All opinions on this page belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the University of Virginia. All other text, images, logos and information contained on official University of Virginia Web sites are the intellectual property of U.Va. © 2014 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

Faculty Opinions site edited and maintained by Charlotte Crystal
Last Modified: Thursday July 01, 2004