Tips for Writing Op-Eds

Northwestern Law faculty who have a strong opinion, expert insight, or a counter-intuitive take on current events should consider writing an op-ed on the subject. Such articles can reach a wide audience, help establish you as a subject matter expert, and increase the visibility and reputation of Northwestern Law. Great op-eds can also change public opinion or even affect public policy. 

This tip sheet is intended to give you a primer on best practices for op-ed writing. If you want additional guidance or feedback, the Marketing and Communications team is always available to help you craft or edit your articles. We can also work with you to place an op-ed in an appropriate outlet.  

Be relevant. Tie your argument or opinion to something happening in the news. Outlets are unlikely to publish an op-ed that doesn’t have a strong news hook, which can be a recent verdict, a political decision, or even a new movie or TV show. 

Respond quickly. If news breaks that you want to comment on, start writing. Outlets publish op-eds in a timely manner, so if a piece is written a week later – even if it’s a brilliant article – it doesn’t have a great chance of getting published.  The news cycle changes rapidly, so have a sense of urgency.

Get to the point. Don’t bury the lead by spending the first 300 words talking about the backstory. Give the news hook, then give your argument. Grab readers in the first 10 seconds to convince them to invest their time in the rest of the article.

Aim for 750 words, tops. Outlets might say that op-eds typically run from 400-1200 words, but shorter is better and more likely to be published. A strong and concise argument, written for a wide audience, shouldn’t need more space than this.

Be willing to get personal. Readers respond to human stories. Writing from the third person about legal theory may work for journals, but to keep people reading in a more mainstream publication — and even to change their minds — you’re better off including personal stories, whether they are about you, a client, or someone else affected by whatever issue you’re discussing. Don’t be afraid of using the first person.

Embrace humor, with discretion. It’s okay, even encouraged, to inject a bit of levity into your op-ed writing. You are hoping to present your op-ed to a wide readership, and in general that audience isn’t looking for weighty scholarship but, often, to be entertained. Of course, for some subject matters humor isn’t appropriate. Still, always be provocative, honest, and even unexpected.