Write Your Own Op-Ed
One way you can take action for your campaign is to write or recruit an advocate, volunteer or stakeholder to write an op-ed for your local newspaper, magazine, blog, community or school newsletter. An op-ed is a written opinion editorial published in a local, regional, or national media outlet. Look for an advocate who is credible on the topic and well-known in your community to sign your op-ed, as they will likely draw in more readers for the publication. A recognized person in the community, a person with a strong personal story, or an expert in the issue area is a good place to start.
Some op-eds tell a personal, emotional story—other times the facts are presented straightforward. Many people like to read op-eds because community ideas are important, and they can’t get those same opinions in objective journalism. When you write about your cause publicly, you’re spreading awareness to decision makers, journalists and members of your community, giving them the chance to learn more about the issue, form their own opinions about your cause, and, ideally, take steps to get involved.
Before you get started on your own story, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The best op-eds make both emotional and rational appeals to readers.
- Emotional appeals encourage readers to care about what the author cares about and use personal touches to emphasize why this is important to the signer. An op-ed can express the urgency of the issue by using words like, “can’t,” “refuse,” “never,” and “now.”
- A rational appeal often includes statistics and logical explanations for why your issue is important. An example sentence for this kind of appeal is below:
“Water is a basic human need and is essential for our children’s growth. Drinking water helps keep kids growing bodies hydrated and can have positive impacts on children’s school performance. Despite this, over half of the kids in the U.S. don’t drink enough water.”
- A strong headline is concise, gives the readers a preview of what you’re going to say, and also makes them curious enough to read your op-ed. You should include a great headline but know the paper may choose its own.
- When choosing an influential signer, try to identify someone who is well known in your community and credible on the topic, like someone from the city or county public health department, a doctor, researcher, or elected official, and who can help you gain attention or earn a placement in a high-profile publication. Make sure to include the signer’s contact information—name, title, organization (if needed), email, and phone number—in case the editors want to contact you/the signer.
Tips for Writing Op-Eds
- It’s important to make your key points early and often so your readers understand why this is meaningful for them.
- Where you can, be sure to include your state, town, county or the specific community you want to reach.
- Remember to include a link at the end of your piece so your readers know how to join your movement or create a campaign of their own.
- Before you begin writing, check the word-length parameters of the outlet. These can vary. It’s best to keep your op-ed to 500 words or less so your important points aren’t cut during the editing process.
- Write an op-ed to a specific paper. If they don’t accept it you can think about another target, edit and try again but do not send the same op-ed to more than one paper.
Do you think your community is ready to learn more about water access in schools and the issues you’re working on in an op-ed? Let’s get started by breaking down the sample op-ed below.
Ex. Making Sure Children Have Water at School
Ex. Janis Smith
It’s important to make your key points early and often so that your reader understands why this is meaningful for them.
[INSERT MOMENT IN TIME/NEWS HOOK ABOUT WHY THIS OP-ED IS TIMELY] Water is a basic human need that none of us can live without. For children, having clean drinking water available to them at school is essential. All children, no matter where they live or what grade they’re in, deserve to go to a school that provides clean drinking water at no cost.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. A national survey published in 2015 showed that more than half of school-aged children did not drink enough water. Black children are less likely to drink enough water compared to white children. Right here in [TOWN OR CITY], [ONE OR TWO SENTENCES DESCRIBING THE PROBLEM].
Where you can, be sure to include your state, town, county, or the specific community that you want to reach.
Water makes children healthier by helping their muscles, joints and tissues develop properly; improving their digestion; and keeping their growing bodies hydrated. Healthy children learn better, perform better academically, and behave better.
When children don’t have enough water to drink, their health and their performance at school may suffer. Children who are dehydrated often have a harder time concentrating and remembering school lessons they just learned.
And, when water is not available, children tend to have more sugary drinks, like sports drinks, fruit-flavored drinks with added sugar, energy drinks and soda—all of which contain empty calories that can contribute to excess weight gain.
Because children spend so much of their waking time at school, having fresh, clean water available on campus is important. School-day breakfasts, lunches and snacks are all opportunities for students to drink water, and sports and recess times should be too.
There are many ways schools can increase access to drinking water.
Remember to include a link somewhere in the piece so that your readers know how to join your movement or create a campaign of their own.
[Tailor this section based on who the audience for the op-ed is.] Schools can ensure that water fountains are clean and properly maintained; install water fountains, dispensers and hydration stations throughout the school; and allow students to have water bottles in class or to go to the water fountain when they are thirsty. [and/or]
School policies should make it easy for students to stay hydrated throughout the day. Federal school nutrition standards require schools to make water available at cost during meal times where they are served. [and/or]
Local officials should ensure that drinking water at all our schools is clean and safe. For example, local officials can review state plumbing codes and school building construction requirements (for drinking fountains).
We all want our children to grow up healthy. Access to clean water is part of a healthy school environment that helps set children up for a bright future. Let’s make sure that all our children can get the water they need to thrive in school and in life.