How to write political Op-Ed’s


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As a lobbyist I really wanted to learn how to write Op-Ed’s quick. Op-ed’s are more commonly known as opinion pieces (fun fact: it means ‘opposite the editorial page’). When timed and positioned well, they really ad momentum to a political debate. They can even lead to parliamentary questions. For a moment in time you are the talk of the town. “ I need to have this superpower!” I thought to myself.  So I turned to the most authoritative person in the Netherlands: Arnold Vonk.  Arnold wrote a book  Writing Op-Eds Effectively (sorry only available in Dutch  ) and has worked for the leading Dutch newspaper -the Volkskrant- for ten years (3 years as editor for the Op-Ed pages). Reading his book really delivered; I have been trolling the newspapers ever since, leaving a trail of Op-Eds along the way (like here, and here, here, here and here). But so can you! Writing Op-Ed’s is a superpower that is nurtured. Let’s learn how to write an op-ed!

Seduce your readers – but don’t start with the headline

A good Op-Ed is written with the desire to influence readers. In fact; readers expect this and want Op-Ed’s to seduce them into changing their minds! Don’t fall into the trap of starting with the headline though.  I have gotten about thirty Op-eds published in newspapers, and 100% of the times the newspaper changed the headline to something they liked better.  Start with the structure instead. An example of a structure is 

  1. Reason
  2. Opinion
  3. Substantiation / Arguments / Counter-arguments
  4. Conclusion

Finish the text, and summarize the text in three, very tempting, sentences. Editors call this the introduction and often print it in a slightly larger font, or in italics. Its okay to be polarizing in the introduction, you can put more nuance in the body of the text. But you will need first to grap people’s attention. Obviously, that summary also contains your opinion.  However, be prepared that the newspaper will actually change the headline you propose.

Start with your conclusion

If you have a University degree, work in academia, politics or in government you will have developed a writing-disorder. Meaning you will write pages long essays full of arguments only to end with the conclusion or policy recommendations. When stirring up news and writing Op-Eds, you have to do exactly the opposite. Start with your conclusion. This goes for the Op-Ed as a whole as well as individual paragraphs. Start with the conclusion! 

  • “Enough is enough!” 
  • “We need to take measures now” 
  • “This government has failed us”. 
  • “100.000 people are left out in the cold”. 

Or look at these two sentences

“Don’t be afraid to forget about nuance for a second and point out how remarkable facts and figures are. But whatever you do, don’t structure your Op-Ed in such a way that it starts with a deluge of arguments and ends with the conclusion, because the journalists will never get to the conclusion because they will simply stop reading. “ 


“Journalists are never going to read your Op-Ed! Unless you start with the conclusion! Therefore don’t structure your Op-Ed in such a way that it starts with a deluge of arguments. Don’t be afraid to forget about nuance for a second and point out how remarkable facts and figures are.” 

End with a BANG! 

When journalists open press releases or newsflash’ they habitually scan for the first paragraph to decide whether it is interesting or not and whether they should continue reading to the end. For Op-Ed’s its the total opposite. They scan to the last paragraph because that is where the conclusion is and often policy proposals to solve the problem at hand. So make sure you end with a bang and leave an even bigger impression then you did when writing the introduction. Both praragrpah’s (the first and the last) will summarize your main thesis. An editor at the newspaper will merge the two into a introduction and use it as a introduction and headline of your Op-Ed. 

After Sales 

Congratulations, you got your Op-Ed published. But don’t stop there! A good Op-Ed can be followed up by radio or even television appearances. Make sure you promote the Op-Ed on social media. You can even think of syndicating the Op-Ed to newspapers in different countries. But these things do not organize themselves you will need to plan and execute the after-sales. 

Final notes 

Some final hints and tips. Make sure your Op-Ed adheres to the maximum length allowed. My experience is that this ranges between 500 and 600. Some newspapers like the Guardian have guidelines. The Op-Ed is now usually also sent by email so not only do you have to think about the title, but also about a catchy subject-line. I normally also put in the subject line the amount of words used;

Death of an industry – 500 words

Plan well in advance. If you know there will be a parliamentary debate make sure you write your opinion peace well in advance. Most people write Op-Ed’s about current affairs or breaking news. But guess what, you will be competing with hundreds of wannabees. Instead, plan your Op-Ed in advance about a subject you have expertise on. It also helps if you actually now the people at the newspaper to test the waters if they are open for your subject and Op-Ed. 

If you are interested in the topic there are more resources like this article written by Arnold and of course you can order his book here.  In the end, the best way to learn wow to write an op-ed is simply by doing!

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