Op-eds are opinion articles which appear opposite the editorial page in a newspaper. They can be written by local citizens, organization leaders, experts or others who are knowledgeable about an issue. These pieces express opinion and use persuasive language, but need to include data and true stories. They may range in length from 400 to 1,200 words; often newspapers will have specific length guidelines posted on their websites. These must be pitched to the editors and are published at their discretion. Compelling writing and an expert author can help sell the piece. Local details and perspectives that make it relevant to a publication's audience are important. More relevant and timely topics are more likely to be published.

Potential prompts for writing an op-ed on flavor bans:

  • Talk about a time you worked with a patient who was affected by secondhand or thirdhand smoke exposure. Describe how it made your patient feel to experience certain health issues resulting from an exposure that was out of their control.
  • Talk about legalization of cannabis and the impact on the air that children breathe.
  • Discuss the common misconceptions you often hear from parents and caregivers who use tobacco products, who do not understand the harm they are inflicting on their children.
  • Explain the importance of children having smoke-free spaces in which to live, learn, and grow.

Tips for writing op-eds:

Identify your goal. What is your primary communications objective for the op-ed? Do you need to raise support for a piece of legislation? Are you trying to raise awareness of an overlooked child health issue? Identifying your primary objective will help you select the main points you need to make in the text.

Trust your voice. As a pediatrician, you are an expert in child and adolescent health. Your voice is trusted and your perspective is unique. What do you add to this debate that is uniquely yours? How can you give voice to the needs of children in this conversation? Including anecdotes or specific examples from your experiences as a pediatrician gives credibility to your arguments, and can make the piece more engaging and persuasive.

Identify your audience. Knowing your audience (policy makers, parents, a specific community) will help you decide which media outlet to target and hone your arguments.

Consider the timing. Time the submission of your op-ed to coordinate with events or dates that stress your message. You may time your op-ed to coincide with legislative goals, the publication of new recommendations, national news events or other timely news hooks.

Research the media outlet. Know where you plan to submit your op-ed and the requirements of the outlet. In most cases the outlet will have a word limit.

Craft your op-ed. Once you have your objectives, target audience and word limit in mind, you can begin crafting the piece. These are essential elements as you construct your op-ed:

  1. A lead that grabs attention. Your opening line must draw the readers' notice and hold it. Remember you are competing for their attention. You must engage and entertain them.
  2. Essential background information. Determine what your readers need to understand to follow your argument; this should be a brief paragraph or two.
  3. Your thesis and main arguments. What is your most important argument? Support your conclusion with two to three key points, and devote one paragraph to each supporting point. This paragraph breakdown will help maintain your focus and organize your op-ed as a unified piece.
  4. Opposing arguments. Identify the opposing side to your argument. Include a paragraph or two to counter these arguments with facts, and point out other weaknesses to explain why your position is stronger.
  5. A strong conclusion. The article should end with a bang, not a yawn. Drive your key point home and sum up your argument.  

Edit. Once you have a draft, seek a second opinion. Ask your reviewer to spot any errors, but also for his or her advice on whether you presented your arguments persuasively. Double check that your lead is compelling. Sometimes writers "bury" their best elements; moving a paragraph up may improve the piece. The AAP Department of Public Affairs is available to help refine your piece.

Make a persuasive pitch to the editor. Submit your op-ed with a brief cover letter that provides your contact information and reasons your op-ed is timely and relevant to the outlet's readers.

Follow up. If your op-ed is published, thank the outlet. If your piece is rejected, don't give up. Try different angles, different outlets, and different times to submit your op-ed elsewhere. Keep your information updated with changing events and sentiment.

An op-ed that will be signed by a pediatrician in an official Academy capacity, such as a member of a national committee, must be approved by the AAP prior to submission. The AAP Department of Public Affairs can facilitate this review process, and also help you edit and pitch an op-ed on a timely and relevant AAP priority issue. Contact us for information.

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American Academy of Pediatrics