“Op ed” is an abbreviation of “opposite the editorial”; the term refers to the page of a newspaper placed immediately adjacent to the page on which the paper’s unsigned editorials appear. (It’s also widely understood as meaning “opinion editorial”, or guest commentary. A good op ed is a concise, timely, well-supported and accessible argument.
Concise usually means between 700 and 1000 words (depending on the publication);
Timely means it’s important now; it relates to a recent, current or upcoming news item;
Supported means you can back up your claims with convincing evidence;
Accessible means you do so in language that can be broadly understood.
In fact, when writing for a lay, versus learned audience, it’s important to:
Lede – An engaging first line or paragraph that ensures your compelling argument gets read. (The competition for attention is fierce, so investing in a creative or provocative lede increases your chances of having an impact.
News hook – The way you make your argument relevant and answer the question – posed by editors and readers alike) – “why now?” Connecting your ideas or analysis to something that’s already a hot topic, or relates to a current issue, or upcoming event, increases its relevancy.
Thesis – Your basic argument, which doesn’t have to be explicitly stated but should be clear and original. A focused thesis also makes it easier for you to keep the piece within the tight guidelines usually required, gauging which supporting statements or evidence are most pertinent to your central claim.
Evidence – The support you use to back up the claims of your argument, this can be drawn from:
“To be sure” – Your acknowledgement of one or more counter arguments that those who disagree with you might make. When you include – and refute – the “other side”, it becomes harder for people to discount your claims.
Conclusion – Your strong close, which can restate your argument, offer a solution, or call people to action.
Your Credentials – This is provided at the bottom of your piece in one sentence (not three!) starting with “(Your name) is…” It cites your title and/or your most relevant qualification (published book, recent award, personal experience) to the topic you’ve written about.