10 Myths about Editorial Writing

10 Myths about Editorial Writing

9/28/08

Kenneth Burchfiel

 

  1. Opinion writing is boring. “Editorialists” get to voice their own opinion and speak out about issues that matter to them. Personal feelings and thoughts are not discouraged, but encouraged. Besides, the topics one gets to discuss are usually relevant and important to them.

 

  1. Editorial writers have it easy. Columnists and opinion writers are under more pressure than just about anyone on the paper. The stronger piece they write, the more criticism they will receive. If just one statistic or fact comes out wrong, people will let them know. In addition, groups negatively singled out by a piece will make sure the writer hears their rebuttal.

 

  1. Columns should be written in five-paragraph form. There is no specific form for writing an editorial, though it’s expected of writers to include some sort of opening, persuasive evidence and a fitting conclusion.

 

  1. Opinion pieces don’t need any facts or quotes. If an editorial piece is to gain notice and be taken seriously, it must include factual evidence, whether in the form of statistics or quotes. Without such a base, the piece is nothing but a rant.

 

  1. Writers shouldn’t mention the opposite position. One of the main points of an editorial is to persuade readers with a difference viewpoint to change their mind. Thus, in order to connect with disagreeing readers, editorialists are expected to acknowledge the viewpoint opposing their own—often in the very beginning of the story.

 

  1. Editorials (should) (should not) use first person tense. It depends. If one is writing a column, they are free to use “I” as often as you want. Regular opinion pieces see the usage less often, though first person tense is certainly not prohibited.

 

  1. Everything important should go in the first paragraph. If a writer tries to fit all of their opinion into a one-sentence lead, their piece will read like an academic essay—if it’s even read at all.

 

  1. Editorials have to criticize something. Opinion pieces can be in praise of something, too.

 

  1. It doesn’t take as much work to write a column. On the contrary, developing, organizing, condensing and communicating one’s opinions is one of the hardest things a person can set out an editorial. It’s easy to write a sloppy editorial, but extremely time-consuming to make an opinion piece good.

     

All of the above is correct. This guide is nothing but the opinion of the writer. There is no authoritative guide to writing an opinion piece. In the end, everything is up to the editorialist.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “10 Myths about Editorial Writing

  1. I’d just like to comment on a few of these… with a bunch of opinions of my own with no facts or data to back them up…

    “Opinion writing is boring”: I don’t know who has argued this; judging from the amount of flames, etc., on the internet it seems many people love nothing more than to give their opinions. What does suck is to be forced to write an opinion piece about something on which you have no opinion, little interest, etc.. This can happen in writing courses, unfortunately.

    “Editorial writers have it easy”: I agree this is a myth, but not for the reasons you state. I imagine that many full-time editorialists relish all the hate mail they get. Unlike politicians, who have to carefully tune every word so as not to offend one group or another, journalists seem to have no such practical restraint. Of course, it depends on who is writing the piece, for what purpose. If the writer represents any sort of organization, corporation, or government, then perhaps the issues mentioned apply. But if he is a professional journalist/columnist, or a strictly private citizen, he has a lot of freedom.

    But as you point out in some other sections, there are many things that make writing a good editorial difficult. Especially points #1 and #1 :-P

    “Opinion pieces don’t need any facts or quotes”: Right on, brother! I love how you refer to the fact-free pieces as “rants”. Sadly, there are many outlets out there that don’t have terribly high standards for factual accuracy — and many readers who aren’t as interested in getting good info as they are in reading a column that will tell them what they are already thinking.

    Continuing in this vein, I’d like to look at the “myth” that “Writers shouldn’t mention the opposite position”. Mentioning the opposition’s arguments, then shooting them down, is rarely a bad idea. However, if you go so far as to praise or concede any aspect of the opposing position, the sad reality is that you will lose some of your audience. Some people are more open-minded, and will see even-handedness as a sign that you are truly thinking for yourself, not blindly following/parroting some ideology or promoting a personal interest, and that you therefore merit more serious consideration. Many other readers, however, have very little tolerance for that sort of thing; if anything you say disagrees with them, then the first question to pop into their heads is “whose side is he on, anyway?” So I’d argue that it comes down to who your audience is.

    So yeah, writing an effective editorial is hard. And you know what else is hard? Writing intelligent comments on a writer’s blog.

  2. Kenneth Burchfiel

    Wow–I think that’s the longest reply I’ve ever gotten on this site! Thanks for your insight and commentary.