You have a different take on something in the news. You want to build your organization’s credibility. You want to get your message out to a wide audience of people who may not know about you yet. These are all reasons your organization might want to consider writing and placing an opinion piece, aka an op-ed. 

And the number one reason to choose this — or any other — tactic? Because it will help sway your audience to take an action you want them to take!

What exactly is an op-ed?

  • A guest essay in a newspaper or magazine
  • A specific argument, not general musings
  • Expressing the opinion of an author not affiliated with the publication
  • Generally 600-750 words

What is not an op-ed?

  • An editorial written by the newspaper itself. 
  • A letter to the editor. These are much shorter (150 words) and they generally need to respond to a recent article.
  • A blog. Blogs don’t have to be tied to current news and you don’t have to consider the opposing point of view.

(For more on op-eds, including a list of places to submit, check out The Op-Ed Project.)

Let’s identify the hooks

Over the years I’ve written and placed a number of op-eds, and I’ve read far more. One thing that good op-eds have in common is a strong hook – the part of the piece that hooks your audience in and answers the question, “why now?” As I explained in my earlier blog post, one possible hook is celebrity – a piece by, or about, someone well known and ideally controversial. (For our friends at San Francisco Jobs with Justice, Elon Musk certainly fit the bill.)

Here are a bunch of ledes for published op-eds that I either worked on or enjoyed reading, with their hooks identified:

Big Oil has fouled the Bay Area’s air for too long. You can put a stop to it this week

By Amanda Millstein 
SF Chronicle 7/18/21

I met him just a few months after I started practicing medicine in Richmond: an animated 10-year-old, stubborn and funny, who loved baseball and not much else. He came to me wheezing, straight from the place he loved most — the baseball field in Richmond near his school.

“This always happens,” his sister told me.

Hooks: dramatic human interest, events

Oakland just gave us a Hillary Clinton ‘super predator’ moment

By Cat Brooks

SF Chronicle 7/29/21

On Monday, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley stood with …. representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to announce a “tougher on crime” approach in response to two recent robberies that took place in Chinatown….

In what I can only describe as a Hillary Clinton “super predator” moment, O’Malley said: “These perpetrators are ruthless and they are aggressive…” 

That’s code for: “They aren’t human. Engage as such.”

Hooks: controversy, new take on old story

UC betrays its values when it partners with Catholic hospitals that restrict care

By Daniel Grossman

Los Angeles Times 6/22/21

More than 500 abortion restrictions have been introduced in state legislatures this year. Laws banning gender-affirming care for transgender young people are sweeping the nation. These attacks make Californians feel lucky to live in a state that prides itself as a leader in reproductive and LGBTQ+ rights.

Yet at a moment when we need to be standing up for access to these essential services, the University of California… is considering formalizing and expanding partnerships with facilities that prohibit UC doctors, nurses, residents and medical and nursing students from providing this exact care. 

Hooks: contrary to conventional wisdom

On Independence Day, also celebrate the 14th Amendment’s promise of equal protection

By Abdi Soltani

SF Chronicle 7/3/18

Did you know that it took 92 years and five days after the Declaration of Independence was signed to write the promise that “all men are created equal” into the Constitution — and apply it to every one of us?

Hooks: anniversary/calendar

‘Zero tolerance’ doesn’t help students deal with toxic stress

By Godwin Higa

San Diego Union Tribune 11/6/14

In line after recess, Jacob gets antsy and starts poking Marcos. Marcos tells Jacob to stop, and when he doesn’t, Marcos pushes Jacob. An altercation ensues.

At a school with a zero-tolerance discipline policy, Marcos and Jacob would be sent to the principal’s office and suspended based on guidelines set by the district…..At Cherokee Point Elementary School, where I am principal, the story would have a different ending. After three years of declining rates, we have had no suspensions since the 2012-13 school year.

Hooks: dramatic personal interest, new numbers

So what’s your hook?

Senior Strategist Isobel White really would like to know your hook.