Saturday, July 17, 2010

Op-ed Pieces

Call it “shameless self-promotion” if you must. But the op-ed piece I had published in the Albany Times Union this week, “Let's protect N.Y.'s water,” seemed  an appropriate topic for the blog.

How’s that,” you say, “what does a speech to a room full of people, have in common with a short article opposite the editorials in a daily newspaper?

Quite a lot, actually. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that there are similarities, so this seems a good time to examine them.

Op-ed pieces have much in common with speeches, but they are usually shorter, generally between 500 and 800 words, depending on the publication. They appear in the Viewpoints section of the newspaper, they express opinions, rather than being “hard news,” and need to have a clearly defined point of view.

Here’s what they have in common with speeches - both express opinion, and they share a similar structure. That structure consists of three main components:

Introduction – It’s a chance to establish audience identification with the topic. Lose this chance and you are likely to lose your audience as well. In an op-ed, this is called the “lede.”

Main Body – Carries the most important elements of the speech. This section should be developed step by step, in a logical or linear fashion.

This is the place to provide all the supporting information to bolster your arguments. Facts and figures are appropriate here.

Conclusion – This is the place to summarize what has been said. It’s also where to either issue, or restate a call for action. A good closing line is vital for a good speech just as for an op-ed, where this is known as a “kicker.”

As with a speech, research is vital to a good op-ed piece. This is where facts, figures, and other solid information build the case.

Newspapers generally look for certain elements in op-ed pieces:
The piece should focus on an issue of interest to readers of the newspaper. If the piece is related to a story that has already appeared in that publication, it indicates the paper’s editors have already judged that this issue is interesting to the paper’s readers. Another good technique is to develop a theme of topical concern - such as a public holiday, significant anniversaries, or comments on recently issued reports by some professional organization.

The author should have some special expertise or knowledge not generally available to the average reader. The writing should be concise. Concise is a term that varies from publication to publication, but it usually means something ranging between 500 and 800 words. That’s a major difference between a speech and an op-ed. If you’re asked to give a fifteen minute speech, no one will complain if go over that by a minute or two. If the paper’s limit is 650 words, believe it, and use a word counter to make sure.

There’s one other difference - a speaker is invited to give a speech. Most op-ed pieces are unsolicited.

If you can write an op-ed, you can certainly write a speech. The reverse may not be true.

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom


  1. I wasn't an English major in college, but it seems to me that most written forms of communication would share these same three main components. That is, it seems too broad a brush to paint with in your efforts to show similarities between speeches and op-ed pieces. Having said that, I agree that op-ed pieces *are* similar to speeches. I guess I'm just looking for a more fine-grained list of characteristics that these forms of communication share.

  2. JD - Thanks for commenting. You're absolutely right of course. This is an abbreviated description. One could, realistically, teach an entire course on this topic. Or at least an entire section of one.

    Brevity in a blog post is, however, as welcome as it is in an op-ed piece, or speech for that matter. I wanted to at least introduce the topic.

    With a recently published example available, this seemed a good time to do it.

    Thanks again for commenting.