The Basics of Opinion Writing

posted by Angelisa Belden on Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Why write an Op-Ed/LTE/guest column?

Your voice is important. As a concerned citizen and voter, your thoughts and opinions carry weight with decision makers, community leaders, and professionals. Sharing your thoughts in a public forum (other than social media!) gives decision makers direct proof that people in their community care about a particular issue and want to see it addressed. 

Just like calling or visiting your legislator is the most efficient and effective way to impact policy, writing an opinion piece for submission is an impactful way to share a concern with a large audience.

Types of essays

Letter to the Editor

  • Short – 200-300 words max depending on the publication
  • Typically more timely - written in direct response to an article, editorial, or other item recently printed in a publication
  • Must provide your name, where you live, and a contact email or phone
  • Usually published more quickly

Op-Ed or Guest Column

  • Longer – 400-600 words max depending on the publication
  • Can be written by yourself or with co-authors, such as a professional in the field you’re writing about, a colleague, or another interested party
  • Typically scheduled in advance with the opinion editor – sometimes several weeks or a month or two in advance – but you can also submit and follow-up to discuss a publication date
  • Must provide name, contact information, and links to back up any claims or facts included in the piece. Sometimes a one to two sentence bio and a headshot may be required.

Do’s and Don’ts

DO create a concise argument. State your opinion, share your expertise or reason for caring about the issue, provide supporting points, and close with a call to action. Keep your language simple and action-oriented – this will help keep your argument clear and help with length.
DO make it as timely as possible. Find a way to connect your submission to something happening now or that happened recently.
DO be ready to back up your statements with facts if the media outlet requests them.
DON’T submit your piece to multiple outlets in the same area at the same time.
DON’T submit your piece with typos or factual errors. Triple-check and have a friend take a look as well.

Submission Links

Below are links to details and submission forms for central Iowa papers. Stay tuned as we add other regional papers across Iowa!

Des Moines Register

Ames Tribune -

Iowa State Daily -

Nevada Journal –

Perry Chief -

Adel News -

Winterset Madisonian -

  1. beach advisories
  2. harmful algal blooms
  3. water quality

About The Author

Angelisa served as IEC's Communications Director from 2018 to 2024.

Previously, she worked in membership and marketing for WTTW, Chicago’s PBS station. Angelisa grew up along the Turkey River in Fayette County, Iowa, and earned her B.A. in Communications and Journalism from th ... read more