Writing Op-Ed’s: A Nurse’s Guide to Getting Published

I. Introduction.
A. Why should nurses write op-ed’s?:
a. Personal and professional reasons for writing op-ed’s:
1. Gain credibility within the nursing community;
2. Great for self-promotion;
3. Share inside knowledge of health-care industry/hospital;
4. Obligation to inform public;
5. Can be very persuasive for social change.

b. The mechanics of writing op-ed’s:
1. Not difficult to write;
2. Standard format to follow;
3. Typically only 550 or 750 words long.
c. The need for op-eds:
1. Thousands of publications in print and on internet;
2. Most of them need op-ed’s.

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II. Body.
A. What is an op-ed?:
a. An op-ed is a signed essay expressing a personal viewpoint.
1. It got its name from traditionally being placed in a newspaper opposite the editorial page;
2. Now it is used to generally refer to opinion-editorials;
3. An opinion-editorial can also be written by a professional writer/columnist giving her own personal opinion about a timely topic – you will see many of these in large daily newspapers.
b. What is an editorial?:
1. An editorial is very similar to an op-ed;
2. An editorial is an essay in a publication expressing the opinion of its editors and publishers;
3. These are not signed.
c. What is a letter to the editor?:
1. A letter to the editor is simply that – a short letter that a reader sends to a publication commenting on a particular issue – generally an issue that appeared in a past issue of the publication;
2. It is a good idea to write LTE’s, as well as op-ed’s, because it is much easier to get LTE’s published;
3. An LTE can be used as a writer’s clip just as well as an op-ed can be.

B. Major types of op-ed’s:
a. Argument and persuasion:
1. Take a firm stand on a problem or condition;
2. Attempts to persuade the reader to agree with you;
3. Proposes a solution;
4. Advises taking some definite action.
b. Information and interpretation:
1. Attempts to explain the meaning or significance of a situation or news event.
c. Tribute, appreciation, or commendation:
1. Praise a person or an activity.
d. Entertainment:
1. Short humorous treatment of a light topic;
2. A slightly satirical treatment of a serious subject:
a. Satire is the use of sarcasm or keen wit to denounce abuses or follies;
b. It ridicules or makes fun of a subject with the intent of improving it.

C. How to write an op-ed:
a. Research:
1. You must research your topic and find out what’s happening and what went on in the past;
2. You must know the facts and be able to refer to them in your argument;
3. You must understand the current arguments about the topic.
b. Collect facts:
1. Start collecting the facts:
a. What are the arguments used to support your thesis?;
b. What issues have prompted debate on this issue?;
c. What examples can you find to support your argument?;
d. When did the problem begin?;
e. Where should federal dollars/support be most wisely used?;
f. Why is this issue so important?;
g. How is the problem affecting us?;
h. Is this problem/issue for real, or is it exaggerated?;
i. Who should be the main force for change?
c. Understand the other side’s argument:
1. You must also consider the other side of the argument:
a. What would people who oppose you say?
b. How would they respond to your points?
d. Make an outline of your op-ed:
1. Introduction – state the problem;

2. Body – expresses an opinion;3. Solution – offers a solution to the problem;4. Conclusion – emphasizes the main issue.
e. Re-write outline in essay form:
1. Stick to the 550/750 word limit;
2. Use transition words/sentences between paragraphs;
3. Pretend you are a lawyer and you are making a case before a jury.
a. You need to convince the members of the jury to believe that your client is right.
b. Therefore you need to present as much evidence as you can that proves your point.

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D. Checklist to keep your op-ed on track:
a. Focus tightly on one issue or idea – in your first paragraph; be brief;
b. Lead with an objective explanation of the issue/controversy;
c. Keep the five W’s and the H in mind;
d. Pull in other facts and quotations from well-known people/experts who support your position;
e. Conceding a valid point of the opposition will make you appear rational and fair;
f. Express your opinion, and then base it on factual, researched, or first-hand information;
g. Be timely, controversial, but not outrageous.  Be the voice of reason;
h. Be personal and conversational;
i. Be humorous if your topic lends itself to humor;
j. Have a clear editorial viewpoint – come down hard on one side of the issue; don’t waver;
k. Provide insight and understanding; educate without being preachy;
l. Have verve, and “fire in the gut” indignation to accompany your logical analysis;
m. Don’t ramble or let your op-ed unfold slowly, as in an essay;
n. Use clear, powerful, direct language;
o. Emphasize active verbs; don’t use adjectives and adverbs, which will weaken your argument;
p. Avoid clichés and jargon;
q. Appeal to the average reader;
r. Good op-ed’s engage issues, not personalities; no name-calling and other petty tactics of persuasion;
s. A quotation can be effective, especially if from a respected source;
t. A rhetorical question can be an effective ending as well;
u. In the conclusion, clearly re-state your position and issue a call to action; don’t philosophize;
v. Write 550-750 double-spaced words or less (fewer is always better);
w. Include a brief bio, along with your telephone number, email address, and mailing address at
the bottom.

E. Finding op-ed topics:
a. The possible topics for op-ed’s are almost endless because everyone has an opinion on everything;
b. They could include:
1. legal or political issues such assisted suicide, cloning body parts, abortion;
2. issues facing people in your own community such as AIDS or child abuse.
c. Look through stories in newspapers, magazines, and the internet;
d. Form your own opinions;
e. Opinions are based on what you have read and what you already know or believe.

F. Finding publications that will publish your op-ed:
a. Most publications state their policy for submitting op-ed’s on their website.
1. Make sure you follow their procedures exactly.
b. Getting a local prominent person or group to co-sign it can help you get published – especially in the larger and more prestigious publications.
c. As a nurse you will probably know about many of the nursing related publications.
1. You can also search for other medical/health-care related publications;
2. You will find that there are thousands of them, in print, and on the internet;
3. Start your search with the internet.

III. Conclusion.
A. What to do after your op-ed is published:

a. Some of your op-ed’s will get published, others won’t:
1. Don’t despair, just keep sending them out;
2. Keep re-writing them, updating them, and changing them to meet a particular topic’s needs.
3. Keep searching for new topics to write about.
b. Some of your op-ed’s will be edited by the publication:
1. Some publications (especially newspapers) will put on a title that doesn’t match the op-ed;
2. Some will screw-up the grammar; some will miss-spell your words;
3. Some will spell your name wrong;
4. Again, don’t despair;
5. Make a photocopy of the op-ed that gets published;
6. If you post your op-ed’s on your website, for example, and the op-ed was too messed-up by the publication, post your corrected/original op-ed;
7. Include a note at the bottom of the op-ed that says that “this op-ed appeared in print in a slightly different format, in Such-and-Such Newspaper on MM/DD/YYYY”;
8. Do not complain to the publication about the mistakes;
9. Let it go, and move on.

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About Michele G. Kunz

I am a nursing educator and AHA Certified Instructor and I specialize in providing AHA Certification classes in ACLS, BLS, and PALS to healthcare professionals and students. I am also a certified six-sigma green belt (CSSGB).
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