Article: Op-Ed Rejected? Don’t Give Up!

Article: Op-Ed Rejected? Don’t Give Up!

Robert M. Kaplan, PhD, SBM Past President


At the end of 2018, as part of my service to the SBM Board of Directors, I had the good fortune of participating in an op-ed writing workshop. With almost no experience writing for the general public, I needed direction. Since the workshop I have placed about 40 op-eds in a variety of venues. Like most experiences in academia, successes have been punctuated with stinging rejections. The experience has been both exciting and humiliating. Here are a few lessons learned.

Opinion pieces need to be short, sharp, and well-focused. Many outlets will not look at submissions longer than 800 words and some newspapers encourage 600-word contributions. To achieve these short lengths, multiple rewrites are the norm. The best pieces are centered on one well-focused argument.

Your work may be most influential because you were trained as a scientist. When offering opinions, stay close to the evidence. Data supporting your arguments should be referenced using hyperlinks.

Be prepared to bounce back from rejection. Op-eds are very hard to place and justification for rejection is rarely provided. The reason for rejection may have nothing to do with the quality of your work. Editors have told me their decisions are influenced by space available or whether they recently covered a similar topic. If you have confidence in your piece, promptly move on to the next venue.

Finally, if you are in the academic track, be sure to maintain a balance between popular writing and traditional scholarship. Despite the reach achieved through op-eds, promotion committees remain focused on peer reviewed papers.

Robert M. Kaplan is a faculty member at Stanford University's Clinical Excellence Research Center, a former associate director of the National Institutes of Health and a former chief science officer for the U.S. Agency for Health care Research and Quality. He is an SBM Past President and has served as editor-in-chief for the Annals of Behavioral Medicine and for Health Psychology.


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