Ten Tips for Faculty Members Writing Opinion Columns

1.) Have an Opinion: The best columns are those that illustrate a point of view, or make a call to action, or put forward recommendations. The best columns also limit themselves to one subject.

2.) Consider the Context: Leverage your expertise by writing about topics already in the news. A story from across the country, or around the globe, can be “localized.”

3.) Move Fast: The shelf life for most news stories is less than a week. If you can’t turn a column out in 24-48 hours after a breaking news story on which you have authority to offer recommendations, advice, perspective, etc., the odds of being published in a larger newspaper are significantly diminished.

4.) Use Conversational Language: Consider your audience. Readers are NOT always familiar with your discipline, so avoid jargon. A rule of thumb is that each paragraph should be no more than two sentences. Write short sentences.

5.) Use the Active Voice and “Show, Don’t Tell”: Good verbs trump adjectives any day. Illustrate your point with anecdotes or descriptions. However…

6.) Keep it Short: Most columns are between 600 and 800 words. That also means you’ll need to get to the point very fast.

7.) Acknowledge Critics: The strongest columns are those that briefly mention opposing views while offering a rebuttal to those arguments. "Brief" is key since this should be about YOUR ideas or work, and spending time on critics can make you sound defensive.

8.) Keep Expectations Realistic: Big newspapers are bombarded with submissions. You typically have two pages in each day’s op/ed section. Newspapers tend to be friendlier to writers from within their own media markets.

9.) You Will Be Edited: Newspapers have the right to truncate your submission for space. It helps to send editors a column that’s written in AP style (short for “Associated Press”). The Office of University Communications is happy to assist with copy editing your work, and offering suggestions, to help minimize the likelihood of such edits. 

10.) Update Your Faculty Directory Portrait: Most newspapers ask for your photo to run with the column.