Op-eds are basically just essays but if you’re used to academic essays, you may need to forget much of what you learned. A good op-ed gets to the point right away and then builds a case to support it. Remember: people did not evolve in spreadsheets; numbers carry less emotional weight than anecdotes. You want to foreground emotionally resonant stories and then provide data to make it clear these stories are representative. The truth doesn’t land unless it feels true. In terms of length, your op-ed should be about 400-500 words, though the outlet you submit it to may have more specific requirements. The op-ed should include a byline: the author or authors claiming credit for the piece. The person(s) appearing on the byline need not actually have written it — many op-eds are ghostwritten. Whoever is the byline must have standing to discuss the op-ed’s subject matter, whether because they’re a professional expert on the topic, personally impacted by it, or possess power to make decisions that affect the issue.
First, do your research: learn which news outlets are most likely to consider posting your op-ed. It helps if their editorial board has a similar view on the op-ed’s topic as you do. Many outlets are willing to post opposing viewpoints but consider whether reaching those outlets’ audiences accomplishes anything for you. Also, be careful: some outlets (especially tabloids) will publish an op-ed they disagree with only to pair it with an editorial ripping it apart.
Most news outlets have an email address for submitting op-eds, sometimes the same one as for Letters to the Editor. This can usually be found on the Contact page of the outlet’s website. If you can’t find the appropriate email, try calling the main phone number and asking to be connected to the editorial department. Before submitting an op-ed you should make sure it meets the outlet’s requirements for length (if any). Some outlets will suggest edits to an op-ed before they accept it — or even make edits themselves. This is normal and, unless you have a problem with the specific changes, not usually a cause for concern.
Letters to the Editor, or LTEs, must be short: about 150-300 words. Some outlets will be clear about their length requirements, make sure you check. With such limited space, you need to focus. Ask yourself what the LTE’s goal is and write exactly and only what accomplishes that goal. Typically, the goal for an LTE is to respond to existing content at the news outlet you’re sending it to. Unlike an op-ed where the author should have some public standing, LTEs are more impactful when they come from “ordinary” people. Some news outlets even use their LTEs to gauge public sentiment (however unrepresentative a sample that may be). LTEs are also more effective when sent in numbers so it helps to organize multiple people to each send in their own. News outlets generally have an email address for submitting LTEs, usually found on the Contact page of the outlet’s website.