Have you ever wanted to publish an opinion piece in a newspaper or think it might just be fun to try?
If so, keeping reading—we’ve put together easy instructions for writing an op-ed piece focusing on the intersection of community values and your connection to AFS-USA.
Why write an op-ed?
First, it’s a great way to express yourself.
By taking the time to think and write, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to articulate exactly how you think or feel about an important topic.
Your community will also appreciate reading someone’s take on an issue with local relevance. If published, your op-ed could be the spark for future conversations, friendships, or activities.
Plus, wouldn’t it be great to bring more attention to the work you’re doing to promote greater understanding and create active global citizens?
Choose a topic
Select one of the prompts below as inspiration, or take the piece in your own direction.
Topic #1: It’s “Back to School” season! If you’re an AFS Returnee, do you remember how you felt during the first few days of your AFS experience, back when you were a participant? Or when you returned to your American high school, how did it feel to step back into those familiar hallways and classrooms? Did you notice how much you had changed? Or, if you’re not a Returnee, why not talk about this from the perspective of a host parent watching their hosted student attend school in the U.S.? Or, try to corral community support to warmly welcome the arrival of this year’s exchange students to your community!
Topic #2: As we near the anniversary of 9/11, do you recall feeling a need for better understanding? How about now, 18 years later? Do you feel that your community provides a place of cross-cultural understanding through its participation in AFS-USA’s exchange programs? Do you find meaning and/or purpose in the ways you’re involved?
Topic #3: The United Nations’ “International Day of Peace” (September 21) is approaching. What role do you think communities can play in creating peace, and how has your community contributed to this global effort—in ways big or small?
Plan your angle, select your outlet
Editors like to publish op-eds that relate to the world of their readers.
Op-eds are a great way for news outlets to highlight how their readers think and engage with the issues and concerns of the community, nation, or world.
For example, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel welcomes op-eds (they refer to them as “letters”) from readers, but they specify that “timely, well-written, provocative opinions on topics of interest in Milwaukee and Wisconsin are given first preference.” While details such as word limit may vary, guidelines are generally the same no matter where you are pitching a piece.
Some papers ask for photos, too. If your paper gives this option, be sure to include those with your piece if you have photos that support your op-ed.
Note: Unlike a press release, which can be used to pitch the same story to various outlets, editors expect that each op-ed is unique—so be sure not to copy and paste sentences from any sources.
Here are several pointers to keep in mind:
9 Tips for Writing an Op-Ed*
- Don’t go over the suggested word count.
- Make a single point — well.
- Put your main point on top.
- Tell readers why they should care.
- Offer specific recommendations.
- Embrace your personal voice.
- Play up your personal connection to the readers.
- Use short sentences and paragraphs.
- Make your ending a winner.
(*Borrowed from Duke University’s Guide)
Time to write
The hardest part is making the time to sit down and write.
Once you have your topic in mind, take five minutes to “freewrite” and get your thoughts on paper. Now look back at the topic you chose, and write a clear sentence about why you chose to write about it. That’s probably a good way to find an opening sentence that will open your op-ed.
Then, try and identify the main point of your angle/argument that you want the readers to take away—that’s a great way to find your “ending.” Everything in between will be the thoughts and ideas that take us from your opening to your closing. Try to incorporate facts, and be sure to relate it to your community.
When you’re done, read it over and double-check that it follows the word count and guidelines of the local paper that you chose.
Sample press release
AFS Volunteer Jim Frenchik wrote the following Indianapolis Star on the occasion of Memorial Day:
American Field Service promotes peace
As we pass another Memorial Day, I’d like to salute an organization that was borne of the World Wars of the last century: AFS Intercultural Programs.
The American Field Service ambulance drivers (including Indiana’s Weir Cook) served on the battlefields of France in WWI, and reactivated to carry the wounded in WWII. In 1946, the drivers created the AFS international exchange to perpetuate peace.
AFS allowed me to be hosted in South Africa in the 1970s, and I’ve since hosted 11 students for their home stays in the United States while they attended American high schools.
Soon, my family will meet up with all 11 of our exchange kids near Barcelona — the first time they’ve all met each other. My most sincere wish is that they can pass peace forward in their lives.
Please consider hosting an AFS high school student so that your family can also foster peace.
Get feedback – and send!
The communications team is available to help.
If you’d like someone to proofread or offer suggestions, email your piece (it can be polished or very rough) to firstname.lastname@example.org along with the name of the publication where you would like to pitch your op-ed. We’ll be happy to offer ideas and help you shape it into a final draft.
The outlet you want to pitch might require a short cover letter. If so, keep it short, simple and straightforward. If you can, locate the name of the editor, and include their name in the greeting line.
After you submit, be patient! You’ll likely hear back within a week. They may offer suggestions or edits to your piece. If they do, our advice is to be flexible and open-minded—that’s your best bet to getting your piece published.