To the untrained eye, an op-ed and a letter to the editor may seem synonymous. Both allow the writer to express personal opinions and lean toward a particular bias that editorial articles may avoid. However, more seasoned media professionals know there are some key differences between them. As public relations professionals, we feel it’s important to share this knowledge with others, including our clients and prospective clients.
An op-ed, which stands for opposite the editorial page, generally gives a bit more space than a letter to the editor.
Well-known individuals who aren’t a part of the newspaper’s editorial team most often write op-eds. However, many newspapers accept op-ed submissions from their readers.
When to use it:
- This is a good option if you want to share your opinion on recent news. Each paper has its own requirements for length, so make sure to check prior to your submission.
- If you want others to see you or your company as a thought-leader, this is an effective way to position yourself as an expert.
Tips on writing an op-ed:
- Focus on one topic. Don’t get sidetracked by other issues. You only have so much space and you want your point to be clear.
- Have an opinion and make it known near the beginning. People reading your piece don’t want you to sound wishy-washy; they want to know your viewpoint from the start.
- Back up what you're saying. Use personal stories and facts and statistics to prove your point.
Letter to the editor
A letter to the editor is typically shorter than an op-ed. It’s written in direct response to an article previously published in that paper, rather than any general news topic. It’s almost always written by a reader or concerned citizen.
Letters to the editor have a longer history behind them. They’ve existed nearly as long as print newspapers.
When to use it:
- People write letters to the editor when they’re either opposed to an article previously published or because they agree with something and want to add further information.
Tips for writing a letter to the editor:
- Keep your writing clear. Like an op-ed, you want to focus on your topic, and you have even less space. Since your letter is a response to another article, this should drive the focus of your writing.
- Make it relevant and timely. The newspaper you're writing to isn’t interested in your response to a story published a month ago.
- Cite the article you’re referencing. If the editor or reader doesn’t know what article you’re opposing or supporting, your whole letter could fall flat.
Both options are good if you want to express your opinion on a popular subject or want others to see you as a thought-leader on a particular topic.
Writing op-eds and letters to the editor that get published is challenging. If you need professional help, contact Axia Public Relations at 888-PR-FIRM-8 today to discuss options and other services we offer, including monitoring for articles that your executives can submit on your company’s behalf.
Macey Wilson is a senior at the University of Florida majoring in public relations and minoring in theatre. This fall she will serve as vice president of public relations for PRSSA as well as work as an account executive for The Agency at UF. She will also be the director of special events for Florida Players, a student-run theater company. Follow her on Twitter @MaceyPWilson.
Featured image credit: 123rf.com