As the Associated Content Ambassador for the opinion/editorial page-I do not know, for some reason I’ve earned this reputation around here for being opinionated or something-I feel it’s part of my job to provide a little advice on writing for the editorial page. It’s a tricky thing, of course. More so than any other part of Associated Content, the editorial page should be excluded from too many rules. This is the spot where you should don’t be afraid to express yourself in practically any way you want. However, like the old saw about free verse poetry, it’s not a big deal of a challenge playing tennis without a net.
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I have neither the need nor the capacity to tell anyone how to voice their opinion. You should find your own style. But an opinion that exists in isolation is of no value to anyone but the person expressing it. In other words, if you’ve got a lot of opinions to share you wish to make sure your readers come back for more. You cannot expect to keep getting lucky with your topics. A good writer can turn even a boring subject into a fascinating editorial.
Some professors merely want a dispassionate, objective research paper and they simply do not care what the views of the student-writers are. Although arrogant, the professor’s predilections must be known before writing the paper. Personal opinions on delicate topics can affect grades! There are few ‘academic saints ” in the Ivy League community that can honestly divorce personal preferences from objective grading when it comes to student opinions. When in doubt, avoid personal opinion.
The first place to begin when writing an editorial or opinion piece is to find out what you’re talking about. Too many writers want to get their articles read so they write about whatever the hot topic lies at the moment. That does not mean you cannot write about a topic because you are not a fanatic about it. Take, for example, a very popular topic around here and the Internet in general, American Idol. Many writers have decided to write an article about American Idol because they know it means a certain instant level of page views. Me, I could not even begin to write an article on American Idol from the standpoint of knowing who sang what, or what the judges think about who, or anything unique to the program. However, I am more than capable of writing an article about American Idol that looks at the show from a broader cultural perspective. For instance, how the whole talent show concept is changing the way the music industry is run. Or how American Idol represents an effort to bring society together around the campfire again in the era of 150 channels. See what I mean? I am incapable of writing an opinion piece about the actual show. However, that does not mean I have to prevent the subject altogether.
Before a writer can write, they have to get a topic to write about. If a person is lucky, they’ll obtain assignments from the site that they’re writing for. I must admit that coming up with ideas is as difficult as writing itself.
On the other hand, do not play fast and loose with stats and facts. Don’t just grab facts out of mid-air and for God’s sake do not go to a single source for them. (Especially if that source is Wikipedia!) You aren’t a journalist writing for the NY Times, so you can get away with simply saying thousands of rockets were sent into Lebanon by Israel. What you cannot get away with is repeating something as fact that ‘everybody knows. ‘ To give you an example, ‘everybody knows’ that the first man-made structure visible from the moon is The Great Wall of China. Guess what? It’s not true. Check your facts, but even better advice is make wise use of facts.
You can gather the facts before the film or after. However, for either audience there are some basic facts about the picture that you really want to know and consider writing about.
Probably the most important advice I can think to give when writing an opinion piece or editorial is to keep in mind that an editorial is just like any other piece of writing. It should have a beginning, a middle and an end. I cannot tell you how many editorials I’ve read here at Associated Content that offer some really good information, but in such a shapeless and formless way that it provides no incentive to go to the end. Or else, there just is no end; the article simply stops. Basically what I’m really talking about is build-up. Don’t shoot your wad in the opening paragraph. Ease into the real meat of your opinion by starting off with something that either makes a universal topic more personal or a personal topic more universal. And while you are at it, while the opinion is about something intensely personal, try to expand it to a wider audience. An opinion or editorial piece kind of suggests that you need only give your own opinion on a subject and be done with it. But a truly outstanding editorial considers the alternative viewpoint as well, weighs the pro and cons, and trying to convince the reader which is the better. In a way, then, an opinion piece should at heart be an argumentative essay. It’s simply not sufficient to say that Pres. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was wrongheaded, you have to comply with the opposition viewpoint squarely in the face and show the errors. In that particular case it’s fairly simple. However, other subjects topics are not quite so easily argued.
There have been some fine editorials published on this page that have presented the two sides of such currently raging debates as the illegal immigration issue, the gay marriage ban, and the Israel / Hezbollah war. Regardless of where you stand on any of those questions if you’re going to write about it your article can not be improved by engaging with the side against which you’re arguing. For instance, just writing down your opinions that gay marriage is wrong because it is immoral from a Christian perspective adds nothing to the discussion because it’s too simplistic, it’s already been done to death, and no matter how well you write it’s probably not going to convert anyone of the opposite opinion. You can therefore flesh out an editorial to give it more depth. By going beyond your own moral qualms over the issue you’ll probably expand readership by expressing how what you consider the immorality of homosexuality impacts everything else that marriage touches upon. Marriage is not simply a religious ritual, it has social, economic, political and legal components. Your editorial will only benefit if you are able to make a link between your concerns regarding the immorality of homosexuality and how it will affect the nation’s social fabric, economic basis, or the legalities associated with the marriage contract.
This advice is surely not intended to be comprehensive and as I continue to read more and many of the submissions to the op/ed page at Associated Content, I hope to find out more about what separates an adequate opinion piece from a truly outstanding opinion piece. But I think it is important for those who plan to consistently use Associated Content as a soapbox for furthering their own messages to realize that too often writers take the idea of simply writing an opinion as a pretext to get a little lazy. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with merely writing down what you think, if you want readers to keep coming back to read whatever you have to say it is up to you to take opinion writing as seriously as if you were writing a college paper or an article advising people about the dangers of eating raw food. Construct your editorials with a beginning, end, and middle. Really work your piece toward a final statement, a summing up of what you believe and why. Nothing will bring readers back to your next submission more than a solid ending that gives them pause to think.
Humanities majors at Harvard fell to 20% in 2012 from 36% in 1954. And the trends are similar at colleges across the country. Meanwhile, more incoming freshman are opting out of so-called softer subjects, placing their bets on STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) majors instead. Harvard sophomore Shannon Lytle considered majoring in history but will opt for computer science instead. ‘We do have to worry about living after graduation. I don’t want to be doing what I love and be homeless,” he told the …