Opinion Columns (Op-Eds)
This training discusses the process of writing an op-ed, how to submit an op-ed to your local print media outlet; and different approaches or angles one could take.
2019 Earth Day Opportunity
For Earth Day, CCL has provided an op-ed that you can coordinate with your local group to send to your editorial board. Here is both the 700-word and 600-word version from CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds. In each piece, there are places highlighted where you can insert local information and add the group leader's name to the byline.
Planning your Op-ed
Publishing an opinion column (“op-ed”) grabs the attention of members of Congress and their staff, while highlighting climate advocacy and climate solutions to a wide audience.
Choose a topic
Op-eds should relate to something that’s in the news, ideally with a local angle. The topic can be about a recent report, a disaster that is connected to climate change or an event such as Earth Day.
Create an outline
Make a brief outline of your main talking points. If you are focusing on a particular topic area, reading articles on that topic can make the writing process easier. Make a note of sources so you can cite them in your piece.
Ideas and examples
- The extended metaphor: You can build your piece on an implied comparison. Check out this op-ed that ran in several newspapers: “Last Call at Club Fossil Fuel.”
- The personal story: Nothing beats a personal story for connecting with readers. Read this op-ed about a former coal miner who is now working for a solar energy company: “Transition to clean energy can include a future for coal miners of today.”
- The local angle: The more you can connect the issue to how it affects your city and state, the more relevant it will be for readers. See this piece by Brian Ettling that was picked up by every major newspaper in Oregon: “Shrinking Crater Lake snowpack argues for carbon tax.”
- First person narrative: Insert yourself into the story for a personal angle. See this example from Susan Secord: “Colorado floods were a window on climate change.”
- Annual events: Build your piece on a calendar event, like Earth Day. Here’s an example: “Carbon tax offers hope for reducing pollution.”
Writing your Op-ed
- Start strong. You have one, maybe two sentences to grab the reader’s attention. Say something provocative, engaging and informative at the very beginning..
- Make it local. Editors are more likely to accept your piece for publication if you can relate climate change to its impact on your community.
- Answer the questions. Anticipate and answer questions you think readers might ask. You can even pose them and answer them directly, like “How can we tax carbon without it being an economic burden on families?”
- Tell a story. What’s the story you’re trying to tell with your piece? Weaving facts and numbers into a larger narrative helps make your piece more interesting and relevant to readers.
- Stay focused. Don’t try to say too much. Focus on just getting one or two points across, taking the time to explain them thoroughly.
- Call to action. An op-ed gives you a big megaphone to talk to your community. Issue a call to action, such as asking people to contact their member of Congress to support our bill.
- In conclusion. A strong conclusion repeats the main point and circles back to the beginning. If you have a clever turn of phrase, here’s the place to put it.
- Write a headline. When you submit your op-ed, include a suggested headline. More often than not, they’ll use it. This reduces the risk of a bad headline being written. The headline is the first entry point to your piece, so make it the best it can be.
Submitting your Op-ed
Once you’ve written your op-ed, submit it as follows:
- Go to the opinion page and see if there are instructions for submitting an op-ed. Be sure to adhere to the newspaper’s word limit.
- Introduce yourself briefly and make a short pitch about why they should publish your piece.
- If there are no instructions for submitting, send it to the opinion page editor.
- If you want to submit to multiple papers, make sure they don’t have a policy preventing your from op-ed from being published in other papers.
Sharing your success!
- Send a thank you email to the opinion page editor.
- Ask the Group Leader or their designate to submit a field report.
- Share the op-ed with your chapter.
- Share it on social media.
- Send a copy of the op-ed with the link to your district’s CCL liaison so they can forward it to your member of Congress.