Ten Tips For Better Column Writing and Article Writing
A Few Introductory Remarks
What is it they say about opinions? Something about opinions are like as$%&#$, that we all have one? Well it’s true, we all do have opinions, and most certainly writers all have topics to write about and their own personal slant with which to write. Opinion articles, and columns, are wonderful genres that allow us to speak out on issues that we feel strongly about. However, it is not enough to simply state your opinion. For a writer, it is equally important that we follow some guidelines so that our opinion is heard and considered. Otherwise, we may just as well go down to the local tavern, pull up a stool, and share our opinions there over a couple of beers.
I read a piece once by Robert L. Haught, a columnist for The Oklahoman. In it he said that he tries to follow the 4-S Formula:
- Make it short….consider that the attention span of your average reader is slightly longer than a fruit fly’s attention span. Add to that the fact that many magazines and newspapers demand, because of shrinking space, that an article be no longer than a 1000 words, and you have ample reason to make your article or column piece reasonably short.
- Make it simple….Do not write beyond the intelligence of your average reader. You might be dazzled by your intelligence, but if your readers cannot understand your language then you wasted time and effort.
- Make it sound….Make sure that what you write will stand up under scrutiny. In other words, have all your little ducks in a row.
- Make it sing….Use your voice and make your piece a work of art, or in this case, music. Remember that the competition is tough and growing daily. Your article or column must stand out from the crowd.
Let me share with you some other tips that you may or may not find helpful. Take what you need and leave the rest for someone else. That’s how it works here at Billybuc’s House of Writing Tips.
WRITE WITH POWER AND CONVICTION
Writing opinion pieces requires that you strongly believe in your opinion. The strength of your conviction should be apparent in your writing. This is no time to straddle the fence. If you feel strongly enough about a subject to write about it, then sell your viewpoint with strong statements.
KEEP YOUR FOCUS
Make your article about one thing and one thing only. The more you stray from your message the more your message is watered down. Keep your focus throughout the article so that you make a strong impression on your readers.
BE AWARE OF OPPOSITE VIEWPOINTS
In order to sell your point of view you need to be aware of the opposing point of view. Anticipate what will be said against you so that you have arguments ready to combat the negative comments. As you write, respond to objections before they are made. In other words, be proactive and convincing rather than reactive and wishy-washy.
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Few readers want to wade through endless facts and statistics. However, if you can’t back your opinion up with some facts then you are just another loudmouth spouting nonsense. Your opinion must be based on some fact, right? Then use that fact, or facts, in your article so your argument carries weight with the reader.
USE SIMPLE ANALOGIES
Many times, readers will associate better with an example from real life, especially if you are writing about a somewhat complicated or technical subject. Use a simple analogy to drive your point home. Your readers will appreciate it and be much more willing to sign on to your point of view.
NAME REAL PEOPLE AS EXAMPLES
Nameless concepts and policies mean very little to the average reader. Naming a celebrity who they recognize carries much more weight. If you are doing a controversial piece, don’t be afraid to name real people and criticize them. Just don’t be too critical or you run the risk of sounding a bit deranged and obsessive.
If I am doing a piece on the homeless situation of American veterans, I would have no problem criticizing President Obama for not doing nearly enough to ease the problem, just as I would single out and name a police chief in a city where sex trafficking is occurring on a large scale.
Tips on article writing
Tips on writing a column
BE A REPORTER
The more research you do the better informed you are, and the better informed you are the more credibility you will have. If possible, get out in the community and conduct interviews, but at the very least you need to do some responsible online research. Remember, you are trying to be taken seriously, and you will be taken much more seriously if you actually know what you are writing about.
LOCALIZE AND PERSONALIZE
If you are writing an article or column for a local publication, then whenever possible make sure that you give it a local angle if possible. Instead of the national homeless issue, make it the homeless issue in your hometown.
Also, tie your focus or topic into a personal experience that everyone can relate to. In my case, I have been homeless, so I would make sure that I mentioned that in my article about being homeless. Again, I gain credibility if I can show that I understand the issue from firsthand experience.
Column writers, or opinion article writers, must be passionate. Nobody wants to hear a vanilla opinion piece. This is your stage so shout it out and sell your point of view. Your job as a writer is to excite the reader. You can’t do that unless your passion shines through.
PROVIDE A SOLUTION
Last, but not least, all the whining in the world about a problem is worthless unless you provide a solution to the problem. Readers read opinion pieces because they want insight and answers. It is your job to provide both. Complaining is meaningless unless you can stand on your convictions and suggest intelligent alternatives.
A writer has the power to persuade. A writer has the power to lift up the downfallen and give hope to those who sorely need it. Writing opinion articles and columns should be a noble calling. You feel so strongly about a topic or problem that you feel compelled to write about it, and that compulsion and conviction should scream from your piece.
This is not a time for soft, foreplay background music. This is a time for slam, bam, thank you ma’am, tubas and trombones and cymbals crashing in the night as you drive home your point.
Now you know what to do. Take these suggestions and wrap them around an opinion piece that will make me proud. Take these suggestions and wrap them around an opinion piece that will make you proud.
2013 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
"Helping writers to spread their wings and fly."
Questions & Answers
How many paragraphs must a column writer do?
I honestly don't know. Seems like each assignment would be different in length according to need, but I may be all wrong on that.