When assessing whether or not to run your piece or someone else’s, editors question:
Authority: What imbues your opinion with credibility? If you don’t already have an established name, relevant affiliation, or recently published book, do you have a personal connection to the issue that gives you genuine insight not available to most others?
Timeliness: How current is the piece? Because some editors receive 20 submissions a day, they‘re less likely to give space for something that’s two weeks old when current options abound. So same day response to a major story, or little known context to an upcoming event are both good ways to stand out.
Quality of writing: Clarity is essential, and if your piece is lively and engaging too, that can sometimes compensate for other weaknesses. Before submitting, get feedback from a lay person or communications staff member to ensure it’s accessible.
Originality of perspective: Editors want their pages to have impact; they want their own and others’ reaction to be “Ah – I didn’t know that!”
Most common mistakes: “Too long or too full of jargon.” If your piece is original and timely, but comes in at 1,000 words, many of which require a dictionary to decipher, you’ve likely wasted your time. Editors, despite what’s implied by their title, just don’t have time to edit a long or inaccessible piece.
Receive too much: on foreign affairs, international politics, and from business and advocacy group authors whose submissions are too often self-interested, as opposed to providing context for bigger picture issues of broader concern.
Looking for more: on science, especially pieces exploring the nexus of science and health, or the impact of medical technology; on art, especially pieces that are surprising, provocative and will inspire discussion and debate.
Regarding scholars: Scholars have a reputation for being slow to respond to timely issues, but once you’re seen as a trusted and reliable source, editors may call you to solicit a piece in advance of an upcoming event or expected decision. Real world experience is also seen as good complement to research, so look for ways to cite on the ground examples.
Responsiveness: If they want it, they’ll often respond right away, but you can follow up by email or voice mail to flag the submission, in case it got overlooked, and/or offer a deadline (e.g. “Given the timeliness of my piece, please let me know by the end of the day; if you’re not going to find space for it, I’d like to submit it elsewhere.”)
Longtime Informed Opinions’ supporter and (now former) Op Ed Pages Editor of the Ottawa Citizen, Kate Heartfield offers insight into what editors look for in a submission:
(Video by Informed Opinions volunteer Stephanie El-Nahoum)