MIT Technology Review is about the biggest discoveries and ideas in emerging technology. We’re keen to hear from people with interesting, provocative, and well-argued opinions on technology and where it’s taking us.
In most cases, opinion pieces should be tied either to a recent news event (and by “recent” we usually mean “in the past day or two”) or to a topic that’s generally important and on the public’s radar. Timeless ideas might get through too, but they’ll need to be pretty original.
There should also be a compelling reason why you are writing it–usually, that you’re an expert in the field.
How to pitch an opinion piece
Opinion pieces can come in many forms, but most often their job is to make the public aware of an important problem and say what you, as an expert, think the solution should be.
We most commonly reject an idea for being either too general and obvious (“We need to do more about climate change” or “We need more open government data”) or too niche (it fails to explain why the broader public should care). It should be a problem specific enough to be interesting, yet relevant to non-specialists, and with a solution plausible enough to take seriously.
Generally speaking, it’s better to make one point very well than to argue several points at once. Decide what evidence you need to make your best case and include that information in your pitch. Don’t try to be comprehensive or exhaustive–just focus on presenting your strongest argument.
Email us your pitch at [email protected]. If you have a piece already written, you can send that. Otherwise, send us three or four paragraphs outlining your argument and why you’re qualified to make it. Include a one-sentence summary of your argument in bold that could serve as the headline. (If you can’t come up with one, your idea probably needs more work.)
The guide below should help you with crystallizing your pitch as well as writing the piece itself.
How to write an opinion piece
Try imagining you’ve just been introduced to some friends of friends who know nothing about the subject. How would you hook them and then keep them listening long enough to make your point? What’s obvious to you and not obvious to them? What’s plain language to you and jargon to them? What’s interesting to you but unnecessary detail for them? Imagine that conversation. Then write as closely as possible to the way you’d speak.
Here’s a suggested structure. You don’t have to follow this, but it may help organize your thinking.
Begin by describing the problem. Minimize preamble. If the topic is well known, get straight to the point: “More and more people are saying Facebook needs to be broken up.” If not, consider starting with an anecdote. It’s easier for readers to get a mental grip on a story that exemplifies the problem than an abstract statement of it.
Next, give some context to the problem. First of all, unless it’s a very well-known one, why should our readers care about it? How does it affect them and the people around them?
Second, unless it’s a completely new problem, why are we reading about it now? Has it become more acute or urgent, or changed in some other way? Are there potential solutions now that weren’t possible before, thanks to new technology or a political or economic shift?
Third, if there have been previous attempts to solve the problem, why have they failed? Or if other solutions are currently being tried or proposed, why won’t they work?
You’re now ready to present your solution to the problem. A common pitfall here, though, is to not be specific enough. Avoid vague terms (“digitization” or “optimize”) that leave a reader wondering what, exactly, you mean. Provide enough detail for a reader to understand what needs to be done and who should do it.
Next, anticipate objections to the solution. Perhaps some of the steps you’re proposing seem easy or obvious; if so, explain why they’re harder than they appear or what’s been preventing them up to now. Alternatively, they may seem naive or overly ambitious; if so, explain why you think they can be achieved nonetheless.
Don’t shy away from difficulties here. Tackle the biggest ones head-on, and if necessary, concede that something really big would need to change for your proposal to work. It’s no crime to be an idealist, as long you’re a realist about your idealism. Maybe there’s also a more practical compromise; mention that too, if only to highlight how much less satisfying it would be.
Finally, a clear, snappy ending is essential. An argument that peters out or ends in platitudes loses much of its impact. This can sometimes be the hardest part to write. Here are a few approaches.
One is to re-emphasize what’s at stake and describe the consequences if the problem isn’t solved. That alone can be dispiriting, though. More inspiring is to say why the problem is in fact more tractable than it seems–as long as you believe that, of course. Or, if your argument is that a particular person or organization has a clear responsibility to act, you might end by challenging them to do it.
Regardless of which approach you take, it’s a bonus if you can also give your readers a way to act themselves. Can they change a personal habit, put pressure on a decision-maker, or do something else to influence the outcome? Too many opinion pieces leave the reader feeling helpless. Ultimately, the point of your writing this piece is to argue that the world can be made better. That will be true only if people believe it.
Standards and guidelines
As you write, watch out for long sentences and paragraphs. They’re harder to comprehend than shorter ones. To avoid wearing readers out, break lengthy passages into shorter sentences or paragraphs where possible.
Most opinion pieces we publish are between 800 and 1,000 words. It’s best to keep your first draft as close to that length as you can. Provide evidence to support your point of view and use hyperlinks (not footnotes) to cite your sources.
We don’t accept opinion pieces that promote a product, company, or service. If you want to do that, please contact our sponsored content team at [email protected].
We also won’t publish pieces denying climate change. We don’t have many red lines, but this is one of them.
We generally pay only people who make their primary living from writing. If you want payment, let us know when you pitch. Either way, we’ll ask you to sign a contract that gives us exclusive publication rights for an initial period. After that you’ll be free to republish it elsewhere.
We will work with you to edit the piece into shape, but we reserve the right to reject it if we think it will take too much effort to get it there.
You must tell us of any relevant vested interests or conflicts. These probably won’t disqualify you, but they’ll need to be disclosed with the piece. Failure to disclose something that later comes to light will reflect very badly on you and on us.