When to write an op-ed:
- Your time: not as limited.
- Your desire: to draw attention to the importance of a particular scientific issue to your community/region and because of a current, specific event or seasonal occurrence.
- Have a hook. Make clear in your submission letter and in your op-ed why people should care now about this issue.
- Keep it short. Newspapers have limited space, so try to keep your op-ed shorter than the word limit (usually ~600 words).
- Be relevant, be local. Newspapers publish content that is local, relevant, and specific. Include specific examples related to your work and local influences on or consequences of the issue.
- Follow a simple format. Your op-ed should be composed of a lead paragraph, ~3 supporting paragraphs, and a strong statement of your main message and any request you are making of your audience. (See the figure “Anatomy of an op-ed” for specifics.)
- Include your contact information and affiliations. At the end of your letter, include your personal information (title, university or other affiliation, means of contact, physical address). Please mention you’re an AGU member!
- Don’t be discouraged. If one newspaper declines to publish your op-ed, submit it to another paper (but never submit an already published op-ed).
- Make your voice heard. If your op-ed is published, consider sending a copy to your legislator and/or other affected parties in your state.
More Information — Op-eds:
Writing an op-ed gives you the chance to heighten the public’s awareness of scientific issues and to promote and/or defend Earth and space science’s contributions to public health and safety, global economic competitiveness, and national security. It’s also a good way to make yourself visible in your community as an informed, engaged, and accessible expert on scientific issues.
Although these days most papers ask that you submit an op-ed in its entirety—rather than submitting a proposal and full text only upon request—you will still need a brief, paragraph-long “cover letter” to explain and introduce your op-ed. Make sure that you mention your area of expertise as well as the importance of this issue (particularly for those in the area covered by the paper’s readership). (For example, “Hurricane season is beginning on 1 June. As a scientist who studies hurricanes, I understand both personally and professionally the threats hurricanes pose and the importance of research that improves hurricane prediction and allows us to issue the early warnings that can protect our health, homes, and communities…”)
Follow these links to read op-eds written by AGU members:
Tight budgets posing threat to Texas hurricane research
Rising seas a real threat to New Jersey
And read more about the value of inserting your passion and personality into your op-ed:
The Magic Word (Inside Higher Education)