Commentary and Oped Tutorial

Tips on getting published

Newspapers—whether national or regional, daily or weekly—as well as magazines offer terrific opportunities to get your message to thousands and even millions of readers. Articles need to be timely, concise, and well-written. Here are some pointers to help you get started – and get published!

Picking the right format

Most newspapers invite commentaries by guest authors, and they generally have a telephone recording or a website that explains how to submit your article or letter.

Editorial pages are usually broken into three different sections:

  1. The unsigned editorials that represent the position of the paper on issues
  2. Letters to the editor
  3. Commentary articles by syndicated and guest columnists. (Commentaries are sometimes called op-eds, shorthand for “opposite the editorial page” where they are often placed.)

The editor of the editorial page oversees all three areas. At larger papers, there will often be associate editors assigned to each of the three editorial sections; at smaller papers, the editor may handle all three areas.

Targeting your audience

Your first task is to target the newspaper you want to send your commentary to – a local or regional newspaper or one of the major dailies like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or The Washington Post. If you decide to send it one of these big dailies, they require exclusivity. You can only send it to one newspaper at a time, wait to hear their reply, and then try the next one if they turn you down.

Getting started

Virtually all newspapers have websites and most of them will have a place explaining how they handle guest commentaries.

See if you can find out the name of the editor or the commentary or “features” editor so you can communicate with the editor directly.

  • If you can reach an editor by phone to introduce yourself and alert him or her about the article you are writing, that is a plus.
  • You can also send a query note describing the article that you plan to write and asking if they would be interested. It is particularly useful to do this when an event or anniversary or other “news hook” is on the horizon. Editors like to have – and plan for – articles that connect with current events. They particularly like to run articles by people who have a particular expertise in the area they are writing about.
  • You also can plan to send your completed article to them directly by e-mail, mail, or fax. If you do that, the article will have to introduce itself. It is still best to start with a short introductory note about who you are and what you are writing about. Please include your telephone numbers and e-mail address in this cover note so the paper can contact you with any questions.

General guidelines

Limit your commentary article to 750 words or less. The shorter it is, the better your chances of getting published. (Letters to the editor should be much shorter – usually 200 words maximum.)

  • Make your lead as jazzy as possible to capture the reader’s interest and also tell them what your article is about.
    Don’t save the best for last. The editor likely won’t ever get there, and your article will quickly be relegated to File 13.
  • Include your name, mailing and e-mail addresses, and affiliation at the bottom of the article for identification purposes. This will likely be published so readers can respond to you directly.
  • From there on, please make your article as information-filled and relevant as possible. Write tightly, use quotes from experts and facts from research, and make your case through facts rather than opinion. A good summary conclusion also is a plus.Virtually all papers will notify you if they plan to run your piece. If you don’t hear from them after a few days or a week, give them a call to see if they have made a decision yet. Editors are generally buried in submissions and often don’t have time to respond to everyone. Your job is to make your article stand out so they will want to publish it.Don’t be discouraged if you aren’t published at first. Try again another time. Most great authors have succeeded as
    much because of their tenacity as their writing and research skills.And good luck!