Information from: National Public Health Week/All of Us Research Program Outreach Toolkit
How to write an Op-Ed
Op-ed is short for “opposite the editorial page.” It’s the traditional space in newspapers reserved for opinion pieces. Op-eds differ slightly from both editorials and letters to the editor. Editorials are written by staff members affiliated with that publication. Letters to the editor are usually written by regular readers, expressing their personal opinions. On the other hand, an op-ed is often written by subject matter experts or representatives to an organization or company. The writing reflects that organization’s opinion or stance on a particular subject. Op-eds are often around 600–700 words, which is longer than most letters to the editor. You should be transparent about op-ed authors and their connection to the issue they are writing about.
Op-eds are published in newspapers, magazines and online media. You will need to find out what a publication’s op-ed guidelines are before writing and submitting your op-ed. Submit your op-ed to only one news outlet at a time; do not share it with multiple publications. If your op-ed is turned down, you may move on to the next outlet.
Here are a few places to consider sharing your op-ed:
1. National newspapers, magazines or online media outlets.
2. Your state’s largest newspaper.
3. Local newspapers. Learn more about submitting your op-ed locally at https://front.moveon.org/how-to-place-an-op-ed-in-your-local-newspaper.
Reach out early to the media outlet, perhaps 2–4 weeks before you want your op-ed published. Start by reviewing the publication’s guidelines online. For larger publications, you may be required to submit your op-ed through an online form or email it. Locally, call the newspaper and ask for the editorial page editor (at small newspapers, there may be only one overall editor). You can also email this person. Explain who you are and that you want to submit an op-ed. Explain the topic and ask about the timeline and any other guidelines you should follow.
Follow up with an email or phone call about a week after submitting your op-ed. Ask if it’s being considered or if you can answer any questions. If your op-ed is rejected, start the process over with the next media outlet.
The beginning of your op-ed needs to “hook” readers so they will want to keep reading. Start your op-ed by sharing upfront what your overall message or opinion is. What is the main idea you want readers to listen to? Make your point as clearly as possible. Keep sentences short. Don’t fall into academic speak.
Tell how your opinion affects people or the community. Make it human. Follow up with statistics. Your op-ed should have a strong voice. Don’t say “I think” or “I believe” — declare your opinions and back them up with facts.
Your op-ed should have a strong ending. Circle back to the main point in your opening paragraph and then end with a hard-hitting statement or a “call to action.” A call to action tells readers what you want them to do, such as call their local, state or congressional representative.
Examples of public health op-eds:
National Public Health Week Op-Ed Template
Headline: [Insert community/state name]Needs Investments in Public Health Now
Every day, in our community and every community across the country, the public health system is working in the background to help Americans stay healthy. When we turn on the tap, clean water comes out. When flu season hits, public service announcements tell us where we can get vaccines and when we should stay home from work. Public health departments, organizations and agencies have resources at the ready to help us with everything from responses to extreme weather to tobacco cessation and immunizations.
But public health needs strong investments to continue to protect our health and well-being. And progress on the federal level has stalled over the years. For nearly the last decade, federal funding for public health programs and agencies has fallen. In fiscal year 2018, discretionary health spending represented less than 2% of all federal spending, and projections indicate that this will continue to shrink over the coming years. In addition, once again this year, the president’s FY 2021 budget proposal would make major cuts to key public health programs and agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Fortunately, Congress has mostly rejected these proposed cuts, and last year passed a fiscal year 2020 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, the primary spending bill that supports public health programs, that includes critical increases for public health programs and agencies including CDC and HRSA.
Federal spending on public health makes a big difference on the state and local level. Funding for federal public health programs and agencies often goes toward solving community problems, such as preventing childhood lead poisoning, reducing infant mortality, curbing tobacco use and lowering obesity rates. Cuts to federal public health programs can exacerbate reductions to public health programs at the state and local level. We need funding for research, such as the historic effort of the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program, which is working to eliminate health and medical research disparities.
Fight for public health funding in [name of city/state] during National Public Health Week, April 6–12.
[Insert paragraph on how federal funding helps improve public health in your state. You can pull numbers and facts from APHA’s state funding factsheets: https://www.apha.org/policies-and-advocacy/advocacy-for-public-health/speak-for-health/state-fact-sheets
[Use this paragraph to talk about other important and pressing public health issues that your community is facing, as an example of why we need public health funding now. ]
Adequately funding our public health system is essential to protecting Americans’ health every day, and it saves millions of lives. The future of our nation’s health depends on a strong and properly equipped public health infrastructure at the community level — in [name of city/state] and in cities and towns across the country.
[Insert paragraph about what you want the reader to do locally or statewide.]
Learn more ways to get involved at www.nphw.org and www.allofus.nih.gov. Together, we can make a difference.
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