An Introduction to the Op-Ed

I have always enjoyed reading op-eds before I even knew they were called op-eds. Every Wednesday in middle and high school, I would sit at the island in my kitchen with the latest edition of The Barrington Times, always flipping immediately to the page containing the letters to the editor, opinions, and the local police report. This page consistently contained the latest topic of controversy in my hometown, and became the subject of plenty of gossip and chatter until the next week’s paper came out.

The controversial nature of many op-eds was what originally piqued my interest in the genre. Since high school, I have continued to read op-eds published in a variety of publications beyond The Barrington Times and am now exploring the prospect of writing an op-ed myself.

 

One of many ridiculous opinion pieces published in The Barrington Times. This particular opinion made national news and sparked a parade in my hometown.

 

Photo from the Yoga Pants Parade, during which over 300 women in spandex marched by the author’s home in protest.

After conducting research on the genre, I learned many typical conventions and features of an op-ed. First, it is worth noting that the genre is called an op-ed because pieces following this set of common conventions were historically printed on the page opposite the editorial page. Secondly, op-eds are generally synonymous with opinion pieces and letters to the editor in news publications.

Op-eds usually focus on one issue that is relevant at or around the time of publication. The author of an op-ed is typically not a journalist or professional writer. Opinion pieces written by journalists are typically called editorials, which are distinct from op-eds. Usually, the author’s name and a bit of context are provided for readers so they have a better idea of who the author is. For example, the author’s name, address, and profession were specified in The Barrington Times. The author of an op-ed makes an argument about the issue at hand, including some context, their personal opinions, evidence to support these opinions, and a call to action. The author’s purpose is to inform and persuade readers. Effective op-eds are relatively short and concise.

Here is a link to a New York Times article, written by an experienced opinion columnist, containing tips on how to write a good op-ed. This guide published by Duke University also lists tips, along with classic conventions and features of an op-ed.

In the last two weeks especially, since the publication of the anonymous op-ed about the resistance inside the Trump Administration in The New York Times, op-eds themselves have been making headlines. If you are looking for some relevant op-eds to get a better sense of what one looks like, here is one published in The Washington Post about the integrity of the Supreme Court and the Kavanaugh confirmation controversy. Here is another op-ed from another of my local papers, The Providence Journal, that talks about the importance of paying union dues. Interestingly, the author of this op-ed is writing in response to an earlier op-ed written by Dr. Stephen Skoly, who is Chairman of a conservative political organization in Rhode Island and also an oral surgeon who removed my wisdom teeth over Spring Break.