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SCIENCE COMMUNICATION:
HOW TO WRITE AN OP-ED OR LETTER TO THE EDITOR

The Basics

Writing an opinion/editorial (“op-ed”) piece or letter to the editor gives you the chance to raise awareness of or promote/defend Earth and space science and its contributions to society. An op-ed allows you to draw attention to an issue in your community that may not have already been covered. A letter to the editor allows you to respond to an article that you’ve just read—either supporting or countering it.

Typically, letters to the editor are much shorter than op-eds, so be sure to do your research and visit the outlet’s website to understand their submission policies and guidelines, such as word count. Most outlets have specific requirements and you can usually find the information you need in the opinion or letters section of the website. If not, check the “contact us” section to find information for the opinion editor.

If your piece is published, amplify it further by sharing it with your networks and sending a copy to your legislator or other affected parties in your state.

Writing an op-ed

Often, op-eds are written in reaction to a specific event or seasonal occurrence. It’s also a good way to make yourself visible in your community as an informed, engaged, and accessible expert on scientific issues.

Make sure to emphasize both your expertise as well as the importance of the issue, especially as it relates to the news outlet’s readership. For example, “Hurricane season is beginning on 1 June. As a scientist who studies hurricanes, I understand both personally and professionally the threats hurricanes pose and the importance of research that improves hurricane prediction and allows us to issue the early warnings that can protect our health, homes, and communities…”

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  • Quick tips to writing a successful op-ed

    Have a hook. Make clear in your submission email and in your piece why people should care about the issue. One way to hook the reader is to be relevant and local. Include specific examples related to your work and the local impacts of the issue

  • Be sure to stay under the word limit and follow a simple format. Your op-ed should have an introduction, supporting paragraphs, a strong statement of your key message, and often a request that the reader take action.

  • Include your affiliations and contact information. At the end of your op-ed, include your personal information (title, university or other affiliation, means of contact and physical address). Please mention you’re an AGU member.

  • Consider working with the publication information officer (PIO) at your university or institution. PIOs can offer unique insights and tips on the preferences of your local outlets.

  • Don’t be discouraged. If one outlet declines to publish your op-ed you can submit it to another one. Many outlets will not accept an op-ed if you have submitted it elsewhere and it is pending acceptance. Never submit an already published op-ed.

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Writing a letter to the editor

Writing a letter to the editor (LTE) brings your voice and expertise to bear on an important issue has been lacking representation or needs support in the news.

Letters to the editor can be submitted by anyone, although the outlet cannot publish every submission. Your letter should offer a strong, personal opinion on a specific issue that has been covered by the outlet. Our tips are similar to those for op-eds with a few important changes.

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  • Quick tips to writing a successful letter to the editor

    Be timely. One of the most important tips to getting a letter to the editor published is your response time. Typically, you need to submit an LTE no more than 48 hours after the article you’re responding to has been published.

  • Have a hook. Make clear in your submission email and in your letter why people should care about the issue. Include specific examples related to your work and the local impacts of the issue as a way to be relevant and local.

  • Be sure to stay under the word limit and follow a simple format. Letters to the editor often have a word limit of 150 words. Yours should be composed of only a few sentences, including an introduction, a few supporting examples, and a conclusion.

  • Include your affiliations and contact information. At the end of your letter, include your personal information (title, university or other affiliation, means of contact and physical address). Please mention you’re an AGU member!

  • Don’t be discouraged if your letter isn’t published. Outlets can only publish a few of the hundreds they receive weekly. Your LTE may be published next to one with the opposite opinion, as newspapers typically publish LTEs on each side of an issue.

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