28 Oct 2009 [ Prev | Next ]

Ex 6: Editorial

Book banning? Library budgets? Bookstore prices? Copyright and intellectual property rights?

Write an 800-word editorial on an issue related to literature -- broadly speaking. Submit by uploading to Turnitin.com. (You are welcome to blog your editorial, or submit it somewhere for publication, including The Setonian.  Most publications have "submission guidelines" that will help increase your chances of being published.)

An editorial is a form of journalism. Write shorter paragraphs than you're used to writing for academic papers. Feel free to interview experts and people on the street.

Prefer current events and widely-known examples to old, obscure ones.  (If you want to write about freedom on Huck Finn's raft, can you somehow tie it to lessons we've learned from Balloon Boy's box?  If you want to write about the fool in King Lear, can you somehow tie it to Saturday Night Live's recent spoof of Obama?)  This does not mean you should dumb down your thesis, but it does mean you are writing for the general reader, one who has not sat through the lectures and seminars you've sat through.

About Editorials

The editorial persuades, informs, and/or entertains. It has an informed point of view, it does not simply raise a topic for discussion. It has a clear thesis.  (Your academic thesis will mostly refer to textual evidence from literary and scholarly works, but your editorial will have to draw on other evidence -- factual, experiential, emotional -- because  you can't assume your reader has read the work you're quoting from, is motivated to look it up, or even has the critical skills to see how the quote you just mentioned actually helps to prove the point you're making.)

That point of view is informed. It is not unfair to the opposition, and it sources its claims just as carefully as a news article.

A lot of editorial writers try to get by on their writing or their outrage, and not on their reporting. That just doesn't work. You've got to have facts. In an article, you use them to inform. In an editorial, you use facts to persuade. --Michael Gartner, Ames (Ia.) Daily Tribune (See more tips from Poynter)

The lead editorial in a newspaper is usually an unsigned essay, on page two (on the back of the front page).  It represents the opinion of the editorial board on an important current issue. The assumption is that the reader has just read this paper's front-page news story on this issue, and is now ready to engage with educated opinions.

Usually on page 3, the "Op-ed" page, we find a guest editorial. "Op-ed" is so named because "opposite" means "on the other side of the page" -- the point of view of that editorial may agree with or disagree with the lead editorial, or it may be on a completely different subject.

Tips for Writing Editorials

Write tight. Make a single point; political editorials written by working journalists run about 300 words, but guest editorials, written by an invited expert, can tackle a more complex subject, and may be 800 or even longer. (I'm asking you to write an 800-word guest editorial.) 

Write short, journalism-style paragraphs -- two or three sentences, not the page-long monsters you construct for academic papers.
  • Start with your main point.
  • Avoid "There are many ways that X has been important in recent weeks. One such way is Y." 
    Instead, try "X forced itself upon us for the third time this month, when Y happened."
  • Finish strong. Don't just repeat your thesis -- bring the reader somewhere.
Pick a topic that emerges from the news. (That is, your paper is already running a news article on this topic, and you are adding your opinion to the coverage.)

Avoid vague references to "some people say" or "research shows." Name names. Interview sources yourself.
  • If you're writing about a national issue, you probably won't get a quote from President Obama.
  • You might, however, get a quote from a member of the University Democrats or the College Republicans -- there are SHU chapters of both on Facebook.
Presume that your opponent has good reasons for disagreeing with you. Talk to people on the other side, and include some of their eloquent, well-argued points. Carefully and respectfully explain why your position is nevertheless more accurate (or ethical, or practical, or inspirational, or whatever).
  • Avoid trying to make your opinion seem stronger by distorting the other side, either through exaggeration ("Animal rights groups would rather millions of people from cancer than have one animal die during a scientific experiment") or by using unflattering labels ("nicotine addicts who oppose my right to breathe fresh air..." "reactionary tea-baggers whose pathetic world-view is threatened by Obama's heroic economic vision..." ).
  • I don't mean that you can't use strong language; I do mean that you can't make the whole purpose of your editorial be to call people names. Advocate something positive, and spend more time talking about why it's worth doing, rather than complaining about what someone else did.
  • Making "the other side" look evil or stupid may fool people who don't know what you are talking about, but people who do know something about the subject can (and will) write a letter to the editor correcting your misrepresentations.
Don't think of your goal as picking a fight with people who enrage you, or firing up people who already agree with you.

Instead, try swaying the opinion of a reasonable person who sees the merits of both sides.

Write for something specific (not just against something)

Avoid simply listing complaints, or attacking a silent opponent with a series of aggressive questions that you have no intention of researching. 
Why is the salad bar so expensive this year? For the past several years, the cost of a large salad has gone up 10 cents each fall. This year, it jumped almost a dollar.  Is a salad really worth $3? For just a little more, I could get a hot meal. Why are our food prices so unfair?
Whine, whine, whine! Anybody can churn out a list of complaints against topic X.  It's another thing entirely to come up with a solution, and then make a public statement in its favor.

So, instead of just whining about the high price of a salad, I might instead contact the dining services, and actually ask why the price went up. I might hear the manager tell me that customers had frequently requested more chicken salad and other expensive meat dishes.  My editorial becomes an opportunity to inform, as I explain the reason for the price increase, and make a sensible suggestion -- $2.00 greens-only option.

(Two from my blog, one from an online newspaper. Feel free to comment if you wish.)

Additional Readings

A great series from Poynter Online (a craft-centered journalism education website)


Leave a comment

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          
    1 02 3 04 5
6 07 8 09 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      
        1 02 3
4 05 6 07 8 09 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31
1 02 3 04 5 06 7
8 09 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30          
    1 02 03 04 5
6 07 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30 31