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Write compelling commentary – Advice

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Op Ed Elements

Engaging Openers

Editor’s Advice

Submitting Commentary

Editor’s Emails

 

Op Ed Elements

“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 concisetimelywell-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:

  • avoid jargon and acronyms
  • avoid 75-word sentences
  • use active versus passive verbs
  • choose shorter words when possible
  • enliven theories or concepts with concrete examples and vivid analogies

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:

  • statistics (from credible sources, government reports…)
  • case studies and anecdotes
  • historical or international precedent
  • expert findings, judicial inquiries…
  • authoritative texts (peer reviewed research…)
  • polling data
  • personal interviews, testimonials, eye witness reports
  • other credible and/or disinterested sources
  • personal experience
  • logic

“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.


 

Engaging Openers

Whether you’re trying to convince an editor to run your op ed or persuade readers to keep reading, a lively opening helps. The following examples offer a wealth of possible approaches.

It has become somewhat of a management mantra: you cannot manage what you do not measure. And, yet, when it comes to the most pressing social problems of our day — like hunger in America — we need so much more than measurement. We need smarter, more collaborative data collection that bypasses organizational silos. And, we need to couple that data with creative, compelling info graphics that spur innovation and action. We need a Hunger Data Consortium.

Integrated marketing consultant Anne Mai Bertelsen uses a bit of catchy alliteration to introduce a piece of conventional wisdom and get our heads nodding. Then she immediately demonstrates that we’re not applying what we know to be effective to our “most pressing social problems.” The inherent contradiction begs further reading, and she rewards us very quickly with some concrete suggested solutions.  Huffington Post – 27 July 2010

Supporters of the prostitution industry want us to believe that women would be safe if men’s purchase of women for sex is legalized. In the name of women’s security, they are arguing in an Ontario court this week that male johns and pimps have a constitutional right to buy and sell women…

Associate professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia, Janine Benedet makes her opening work really hard: She cites the controversial argument she wishes to refute in her first sentence; she gives people a reason to care by specifying its relevance to women’s security; she establishes immediacy by referring to the case being argued this week; and she engages readers emotionally by pairing the notion of constitutional rights with a barbaric practice of treating women as objects or possessions.. Globe and Mail – 7 October 2009

I confess: I do it, too. Like most Western women, I do it regularly, and it is a guilty pleasure every time. It is hard to listen to one’s conscience when one is faced with so much incredible temptation. I am talking, of course, about cheap trendy fashion. I’ll visit a Zara or H&M or…

American author Naomi Wolf piques interest immediately with her first person confession; she creates a sense of community with her claim that “most Western women” share her “guilty pleasure”, a phrase that – along with “incredible temptation”— also promises a little prurience along with the analysis to come about sweat shop labour. Globe and Mail – 5 July 2010

Here are some other ideas about how to begin, taken from columns and op eds written by Informed Opinions’ trainer, Shari Graydon.

New research

Domestic violence aimed at women is up in Windsor.
(on the social costs of casinos)

Provocative question:

Hands up: how many readers would willingly attend an international conference if the experience was likely to include an inconveniently remote location; a government-imposed nightly curfew; a cruel shortage of toilets; woefully inadequate accommodation; and unusually suspicious treatment by the locals?
(on the commitment of delegates to the UN Women’s Forum in Beijing)

Telling juxtaposition, vivid image

Put this storyboard in the category of ad campaigns we’d like to see: Frame one features an overweight eight-year-old struggling through the hell of elementary school, seated alone in a corner of the cafeteria, salivating over the smell of French fries and suffering the taunts of classmates every time he cracks open a can of soda. Frame two features a committee room on Parliament Hill where food conglomerate representatives and advertising industry lobbyists are arguing that they bear no responsibility for combating the growing obesity epidemic among young people.

Challenge conventional wisdom

In political circles it is sometimes suggested that there’s no such thing as “bad press”. Getting your name in the news, the theory goes, is more important than what’s being said about you. Try telling that to the midwives in this province.
(on the importance of women’s health alternatives)

Unexpected statement:

Like the Fraser Institute, I believe that employment equity should be abolished. Unlike the Fraser Institute, I think we should actually achieve greater equity first.

Reference to popular culture

(celebrity, TV show, song)
You’ve seen the commercials: middle-aged men skip down the street like deliriously happy lottery winners… Women pass on a secret cure as if it were the key to everlasting life… Senior citizens perform their best Plácido Domingo imitations in the shower. Like the woman eating next to Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally, you find yourself thinking, “I want what they’re having!”
(on the problems with direct-to-consumer advertising)

Dramatic anecdote

Imagine your playful, innocent seven year-old daughter examining her reflection in the mirror. Her expression is grim. She turns to you and inquires, “Do you think I need breast implants?” (on Health Canada’s approval of silicone breast implants)

Compelling quote (and/or reference to a famous person)

To the casual observer, recent headline-makers Hugh Hefner and Sir Winston Churchill don’t appear to have a lot in common. One became the world’s most famous playboy parlaying images of and proximity to naked women into a multi-billion dollar entertainment empire. The other capped his career as the most respected wartime prime minister with a Nobel prize for literature. (on the importance of writing women’s history)

For additional examples of published success stories, see our Graduate Showcase.


 

Editors’ Advice

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)


 

Submitting Commentary

Email is the easiest and most common way to contact a publication, program or site to which you’d like to contribute. But the quick and casual medium of communication belies the thinking you should invest in crafting your pitch.

Editors and producers are busy people who apply established criteria to what they publish or program, so in one or two sentences only, your email introduction needs to:

  • demonstrate why your commentary is relevant now
  • concisely summarize your argument (thesis statement), and
  • establish that you have an informed opinion on the issue

Then you want to paste your completed commentary immediately beneath your pitch in the email message box, along with your contact information.

Following Up

If the stars are aligned, you might get a response within 24 hours, saying “yes, we want to use your piece.” But that doesn’t always happen, for many often unpredictable reasons. A “no thanks, not this time” response can still be the start of a relationship that leads to future opportunities – especially if you’re gracious and effectively demonstrate the relevance of your expertise.

If you hear nothing, follow up yourself. After a day or a week, depending on how time sensitive your piece is, you can leave a voice mail message or email again to say: “I’d still like to see this commentary in your pages, but because it’s timely, if I don’t hear from you by 5 pm (or Monday morning, or…) , I’ll assume you’re passing on it and I can submit it elsewhere.”

If and when your piece does appear in the paper, a quick note to express appreciation for the space they devoted to the issue or ideas is always appreciated.


 

Editors’ Emails

Every media outlet has slightly different needs and publication criteria. We recommend that you visit the websites of the media in which you’re hoping to be published BEFORE you pitch them, both to ensure you’re familiar with the kind of content they feature, and to review their submissions guidelines. 

 

Contact Information for Canadian Publications

We endeavour to keep the following list of editors’ email addresses and their desired word counts current. Please let us know if you find any of them to be in need of updating.

Calgary Herald* (500 words)
Paul Harvey, Editorial Page, pharvey@postmedia.comletters@calgaryherald.com

The Conversation (*To be published by The Conversation you must be currently employed as a researcher or academic with a university or university-affiliated research institution. Submit pitch first, not draft; 800-1000 words)
The Conversation Pitches

Le Devoir (5000 caractères)
Marie-Andrée Chouinard, Rédactrice en chef, machouinard@ledevoir.com

Le Droit
Patrice Gaudreault, Rédacteur en chef, pgaudreault@ledroit.com

CBC News Online (500-650 words)
Comment Editor opinion@cbc.ca

The Edmonton Journal* (600 words)
Bill Mah, Opinion Editor, bmah@postmedia.com

The Globe and Mail (650 words)
Natasha Hassan, Op ed Pages Editor, nhassan@globeandmail.comcomment@globeandmail.com

The Globe and Mail Report on Business (700 words)
Gary Salewicz, Editor Report on Business, gsalewicz@globeandmail.comrobopinion@globeandmail.com  

The Halifax Chronicle Herald (700 words)
letters@herald.ca

The Hamilton Spectator (650 words)
Howard Elliot, Managing Editor Web/Opinions, helliott@thespec.com, letters@thespec.com

The Hill Times
Kate Malloy, Editor, kmalloy@hilltimes.com

iPolitics
editor@ipolitics.ca

The Montreal Gazette* (650 words)
Op ed submissions, opinion@montrealgazette.com

National Newswatch online news hub (750 – 1200 words, include brief bio, headshot)
opinions@nationalnewswatch.com

The National Post*
Comment Editor, Op ed submissions, submissions@nationalpost.com

The Ottawa Citizen* (800 words)
Christina Spencer, Editorial Pages Editor, cspencer@postmedia.com

Ottawa Sun (600 words)
Keith Bonnell, Editor, keith.bonnell@sunmedia.ca

Policy Options (750-1200 words, English or French)
policyoptions@irpp.org

La Presse (600 mots)
François Cardinal, Éditorialiste en chef, debats@lapresse.ca

Regina Leader-Post* (600 words)
Tim Switzer, Managing Editor, tswitzer@postmedia.com or letters@leaderpost.com
Please note: Paper has very little space for op eds; it has been advised to call first to pitch idea: 306-781-5300 (600 words or letter to editor of 250 words)

St. John’s Telegram (800 words)
Steve Bartlett, Senior Managing Editor, steve.bartlett@thetelegram.com or letters@thetelegram.com

Sun Media (400 words)
Anthony Furey, National Comment Editor, afurey@postmedia.com

The Toronto Star (750 words)
Scott Colby, Opinions Editor, scolby@thestar.caoped@thestar.ca

The Tyee (800 words)
Editor, editor@thetyee.ca

Vancouver Sun* (750 words)
sunletters@vancouversun.comsunopinion@vancouversun.com

Victoria Times Colonist (650 words)
Dave Obee, Editor and Publisher, dobee@timescolonist.comletters@timescolonist.com

Waterloo Region Record (550-600 words)
Op Ed Editor, letters@therecord.com

Windsor Star* (650 words)
Craig Pearson, Managing Editor, cpearson@postmedia.comletters@windsorstar.com

Winnipeg Free Press (850 words)
Brad Oswald, Perspectives Editor, brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca and Carl DeGurse, Senior Copy Editor, Carl.DeGurse@freepress.mb.ca

*indicates newspaper is part of the Postmedia chain

The Op Ed Project website has an excellent listing of the top 100 most influential print and online publications in the US, available at https://www.theopedproject.org/submission-information/

Letters to the Editor are a good alternative if you don’t have time to write a polished 700-word essay. The letters sections of most newspapers are extremely well-read. Check their submission and publication guidelines online or in the paper. Write to the length requested or expect to be edited or ignored altogether.

FOR EXAMPLE:

The Globe and Mail welcomes letters on any subject but reserves the right to condense and edit them. Brevity counts. All letters should be less than 200 words, and must include the name, mailing address and daytime phone number of the writer. The copyright becomes the property of The Globe and Mail if they are accepted for publication. You may also reach us by fax at 416-585-5085. letters@globeandmail.ca

The Academic Minute – features professors from top institutions around the country, delving into topics from the serious to the light-hearted, keeping listeners abreast of what’s new and exciting in the academy with topics ranging from updates on groundbreaking scientific research to an explanation of how the board game Monopoly can help explain the economic recession. Hosted by Dr. Lynn Pasquerella, the segment features a different professor every day, drawing experts from institutions within WAMC’s listening area, and beyond.
To submit your idea or for addition information, contact:
David Hopper II – Producer
tel: 1-800-323-9262 ext 170
email: dhopper@wamc.org

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