Writing Editorials

Originally from Suite101 University, a free ecourse posted a few years ago. I’ve saved the information here because there is a lot worth keeping and I don’t know what will happen to all of it now that Suite101 is closing this area of their site.

Writing Editorials

By Jason Reeher

Introduction

Welcome to the Suite University course on writing newspaper editorials. In this course, you can learn effective techniques for writing letters to the editor, then submit your opinions to everything from your local newspaper to national publications. Valuable for anyone interested in public affairs, current events, and pop-culture, this course will help the student to develop a writing interest, as well as hone argumentative and persuasive writing skills. This course is great for beginning writers, as well as those interested in scientific disciplinary writing, print journalism, editorial processes, and public policy discourse.

Writing newspaper opinions is a great way to gain expression for your writing. With relatively little time invested, you can learn to produce concise, effective and persuasive editorials on a regular basis. Perhaps the most exciting element is that YOU can choose your subject based upon public interest and current relevancy. By learning what subjects are most important to your target community, whether it’s local property taxes or “American Idol,” you become part of the public discourse when your opinion is published. This course can help you get there.

There is no greater satisfaction, for a writer, than seeing your work in print. Why not start with a letter to the editor? The first time someone approaches you in public, and says, “about that letter you wrote…” you’ll be hooked on op-ed writing and all that it entails. Learn the satisfaction of a well-written opinion; it’s all inside this course.

The course covers the subject very well and then springboards you off toward your goal, wiser and more confident for having taken it.even if you don’t want to pursue writing for newspapers, the course can show you how to condense and focus your opinions in order to present them more effectively…and, therefore, more persuasively. Genia G. Butcher

 

Lesson 1: Lesson 1: Getting ready to write

What are you interested in? This is a broad question, to be sure. However, if you have a specific interest, chances are, somewhere, at sometime, your local newspaper has run a story on just that topic.

If you’re not entirely sure what topic might interest you, there are several steps that you can take to ensure a solid foundation for a compelling opinion piece. Take a look at the homepage for Suite 101; what do you see? The “communities” section of the homepage provides a wide variety of interesting subjects, from gardening and homemaking, to technical sciences and politics. There is something for everyone. That’s probably part of the reason you joined Suite 101 in the first place.

It is important to realize that, like Suite 101, newspapers are part of a community as well. As such, newspapers must stay focused on what is important to members of the community. Just as Suite 101, as a website, finds a broader audience by addressing many topics, so must a newspaper address the broad topics of its demographic readers.

Another attractive similarity between the website community and the newspaper is that both are interactive, to some degree. While websites like Suite 101 are fully interactive, a newspaper has an editorial page, designed for feedback from the consumer. Because newspapers are nothing without readers, editorial boards spend considerable amounts of time choosing letters for publication, which we will see later on in the course.

This is where we come in. If we are to write effective opinion pieces, and get them published in a newspaper or other periodical, we must understand what is important to the community. How can we do this?

In this lesson, we will learn to target a newspaper, learn a philosophy for writing, and devise a strategy for publication. Resources for this lesson will include two of my favorite newspapers, the Pittsburgh Tribune- Review, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, plus Suite101 resources and tips from experienced authors like Jodi Brandon, Jonathan Ball, and others.

 

Targeting a Newspaper

First, it is vital to become familiar with our target newspaper. What kinds of stories do they publish, and on what subjects? News is, by definition, current. So perhaps a better question to ask is, what kinds of stories is our newspaper publishing right now?

**By examining the same newspaper every day for about two weeks, we can get a good idea what is important to both the editors and the community.**

Although this first principle of opinion writing may seem somewhat elementary, you would be surprised how many people defy this simple logic; editors are constantly receiving letters from “readers” who aren’t reading the paper all that much. This means that plenty of would-be essayists are wasting their ink, by firing off hasty opinions that aren’t very well-planned, focused, or researched. This we will avoid at all costs.

As we get ready to write, then, we should examine a daily paper, for perhaps 20-30 minutes each day, for the next week. Many of you may get a daily paper already, which is fine. For others, I will suggest the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, which publishes many of my own opinions, but also because “the Trib” is widely known for excellence in the Op-Ed format. Their website is www.pittsburghlive.com . You can use any daily paper you like, but for the sake of consistency and timing, it should be a daily, and one which is accessible to you, as we will later make a submission to this “target paper.”

Two major things are important to remember as we examine our target paper: –What kinds of articles are being published, right now? –What kinds of editorials and letters to the editor are being published?

By determining the subjects that are vital to the community AT THIS MOMENT, you will have an excellent chance at publication later on. Remember, although headlines and front page news make the most racket, they also invariably draw the most comments from readers. For this reason, I asked you to think about what you are interested in; an editor would rather publish a well-planned, researched opinion on the gardening story on page H-8, than a long-winded and unfocused diatribe about the “hot topic” of the week.

You needn’t be a “headline hound” in order to get your opinions published. If gardening, to stay consistent with our example, is your interest, get yourself familiar with that section of your target paper. The important thing to remember is that editors LIKE BREVITY and CRAVE CONTENT. If you can give them these two things, your chance at publication goes up considerably, regardless of the subject, and provided it is something that the newspaper has previously covered in some manner.

 

Lesson 1: Lesson 1: Getting ready to write

Prewriting Philosophy

Another solid strategy for pre-writing your opinion is to examine two or more sources for the “angle.” If you are using the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, you might visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (www.post-gazette.com) as well. Reviewing several sources works particularly well on matters of public policy, and by looking at several articles, you can absorb the main facts of the event.

Finally, we should SET A STRATEGY for publication, with some basic philosophies. Examine the link www.apa.org/science/editorialtips for background, then incorporate the following tips:

–First, we will write with QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY, in mind. One great letter has a vastly better chance of publication than twenty poorly planned ones.

–Second, we WILL NOT BE DISCOURAGED if we are not immediately published. At first, just the act of writing the opinions themselves is the important thing, and practicing excellent initial technique will bring eventual success to our opinions.

 

Lesson 1: Lesson 1: Getting ready to write

Home offices, portfolios, and journaling for better editorials

To get started, realize that the writer’s immediate surroundings cannot be underestimated. Making a space conducive to writing is vital. For tips about getting started, try the excellent article by Suite 101’s Jodi Brandon, “Setting Up Your Home Office,” at www.suite101/article.cfm/17919/101839 . If you are working in an efficient space, you will be an more efficient writer; this is especially important to those of us who are very busy, or have a primary job – which is most of us, I imagine.

In general, if you like to use, say, a large fountain pen and a yellow legal pad to write with, go for it. Experts say that being comfortable with your writing instruments are important in forming solid ideas. Further, many beginning writers cannot “compose at the keyboard,” and thus they must first write things down in longhand. This, too is fine; I only recently – within the last four years or so – developed the ability to compose directly into Word.

You will probably want to organize your writing into a portfolio. I personally separate the finished articles from the unfinished, and the published pieces from the unpublished. Finally, I have separate folders for different subjects; for instance, I have written extensively on the steel industry, which has its own folder of over 30 published articles, plus some unpublished ones, as well as some secondary resources.

For a great primer on building your own portfolio, you must check out Suite101 author, Jonathan Ball’s “Building a Portfolio: Breaking Into Print and Staying There,” at www.suite101.com/article.cfm/16610/91556. Especially helpful are Jonathan’s pointers on “editorial feedback,” so check it out.

Another final powerful tool for editorial writers is journaling. I have found it most beneficial to write ‘whenever the mood strikes,’ which is pretty often. Since editorial writing is dependent on the news of the day, you should try to develop journaling habits; this will strengthen your ability to proffer an opinion on demand. See Janet Kay Blaylock’s solid article, “Journal Writing – the Beginning,” for some excellent basic tips on journaling form and technique. (www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3768/100686)

 

Lesson 1: Lesson 1: Getting ready to write

Excercise and Bibliography

EXERCISE: To utilize this lesson, DETERMINE A TARGET NEWSPAPER of your choice; EXAMINE it every day for at least a week; DETERMINE the important stories therein; REPORT these findings in an outline.

Now, you are ready to write your first letter.

Points to Consider

How are the daily events of your LOCAL COMMUNITY important to you, and your family? Further, is writing about these events, policies, and procedures beneficial to your understanding of current affairs?

-What is your opinion of your local daily newspaper? Do they “slant” stories, or do you think that they play it straight?

-Select two subjects about which you may write, that both have a tangible effect on your community.

Bibliography:

-Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, newspaper. www.pittsburghlive.com -Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, newspaper. www.post-gazette.com

-American Psychological Association, website, www.apa.org/science/editorialtips

-Suite101 references:

“Setting Up Your Home Office,” by Jodi Brandon. www.suite101/article.cfm/17919/101839

Jonathan Ball’s “Building a Portfolio: Breaking Into Print and Staying There,” at www.suite101.com/article.cfm/16610/91556.

Janet Kay Blaylock’s “Journal Writing – the Beginning,”. (www.suite101.com/article.cfm/3768/100686)

 

 

Lesson 2: Lesson 2: Writing a Letter to the Editor

Now that you have built a basic foundation for your opinion, it is time to write your first letter. If you’ve found an accessible paper, and researched the local “hot topics,” then it is time to move on to the actual writing of your letter to the editor. By using a basic formula, you will design a concise and compelling opinion paper, which will be attractive to any copy editor. Your letter will require very little editing, if you use the techniques from this lesson.

In this lesson, you will use daily newspapers, and national publications like Time Magazine, to determine a scope and target for your letter. Also, you will utilize pointers from online sources like Web English Teacher and Student EB, as well as super ideas from Suite101 writers such as Jonathan Ball and Kate Hilliard. Additionally, you will be given a proven formula for letter-writing success.

Targeting a local publication

For our purposes, we will continue to use the example news daily, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, available online at www.pittsburghlive.com. Click on the “opinions” link. What do you see? Almost invariably, the Trib’s Op-Ed page, which is indentical on-line and in print, contains several consistent elements, including several editorials; some letters to the editor; a cartoon; and perhaps a syndicated column.

Although we will further examine some of these aspects later, let’s focus on the letters to the editor section. The Trib normally publishes anywhere from one to six different letters per day; that’s a lot of opinions! The consistent thing about these letters is that they are CONCISE. The average letter seems to be about 150-200 words, and is only about three or four paragraphs long.

Let’s then use the following rules, at least for our first few letters: –No longer than 250 words, as many newspapers stipulate this length as a general rule –Four paragraphs, maximum.

 

Lesson 2: Lesson 2: Writing a Letter to the Editor

A formula for success

Remember, it is the opinion, and not the length of the letter, that counts. In print media, space is equal to money; the shorter a letter is, provided that it conveys an effective persuasive argument, the better shot it has to make the cut. Editors are often overwhelmed with unfocused, rambling diatribes from writers who don’t understand the media. We must avoid this mistake.

To do so, perhaps the following basic outline will help you. More advanced writers will probably not need this formula, but even the experienced essayist can benefit from an outline which is proven for publication. Here it is:

–First, introduce your topic –Provide background –Provide your opinion –Close with a forceful statement –Editing and Submitting

Remember, you don’t need involved research in order to present an effective opinion. You simply need to know what is happening with, say, the local school board meeting, and some persuasive wording. For an excellent primer on persuasive and argumentative writing techniques, see the link, (www.webenglishteacher.com/argument). Then, we will examine each of the formula components is closer detail.

First, we should INTRODUCE OUR TOPIC. This paragraph tells the reader what subject our letter will cover. This initial paragraph need not include any opinion from you; rather, it should simply contain pertinent details about a happening, such as the previously mentioned school board meeting.

Secondly, we must PROVIDE BACKGROUND. To continue with our example, the fictitious school board meeting, you could provide further details about the most recent meeting, compare the school board’s decision to a similar decision in a nearby community, or focus on one aspect of the meeting. Providing background will build the case for your opinion.

Thirdly, we will PROVIDE OUR OPINION. That’s the whole point, right? Using some of the pointers from the web english teacher site, state how you really feel about the subject in question. If the school board is making a big mistake, for instance, say so. Don’t’ mince words. Editors like strong opinions, provided they are not libelous, and they are fit for a “family newspaper.”

Finally, we will CLOSE WITH A FORCEFUL STATEMENT. This will allow the reader to remember our opinion, and provide an eloquent close to our letter. Developing the closing “zinger” sentence takes practice, but it will dramatically drive your point home.

In the EDITING AND SUBMITTING phase, you should generally let a manuscript “get cold” for a day or so before editing it. For some great tips on editing and submitting your own work, see Kate Hilliard’s super article, “Turning Pro,” at www.suite101.com/article.cfm/hobby_writing/69611; she has some good pointers with particular attention paid to making “multiple submissions.”

Using our formula, and our fictitious school district, this is how a concise letter to the editor might look:

**I recently attended the Naw School District board meeting, where board members proposed a new middle school building. I observed that six of the nine board members made comments in favor of the building proposal.

However, during the same meeting, board member Deborah Curtis brought up the recent strike at Joy Division Tube, where a strike has left 2000-plus Naw residents out of work. Ms. Curtis was concerned that a lack of school funding could be the result if the strike is not resolved, and Joy Division goes out of business.

My feeling is that Ms. Curtis, though clearly in the minority, is right. The strike has impacted our community, so any decision about a new middle school building should wait until the strike is decided.

As a community, we cannot separate the fate of Naw’s largest employer from the needs of our children.**

This is a very concise letter, about 145 words or so, and one that any editor would be glad to examine for publication. Using our formula, we have created a brief, but very pointed opinion piece, with the necessary details and background for critical consideration. Check out the link, (school.eb.com/student/passport/op_ed.pdf), for more details on how editors select submissions for publication.

Of course, you can play with the formula; some writers like to give their opinions right up front, for instance. But the four-part approach works, and we can use it as we attempt to get our first letters published. Give it a try today!

Lesson 2: Lesson 2: Writing a Letter to the Editor

Going National

Perhaps, instead of writing a letter to a local newspaper, you will want to target a national audience. If so, here are some things to keep in mind.

An important aspect of targeting a national publication is determining a topic which will have nationwide importance. This may be a challenge, since so far in this course, your topics have likely coincided with state and/or local issues, or subjects of concern to a limited audience. “Going national” is the next logical step for the successful essayist, although remaining a big fish in a little pond is always tempting.

If you do decide to attempt national publication, the first time that you see your work in print can be an unmitigated thrill. I was first published nationwide in Rolling Stone magazine in 1994. Although that letter to the editor was only a couple of sentences long, poking fun at the actor, Brad Pitt, I was no less overjoyed at seeing my name and hometown in the legendary bi-weekly music magazine.

Naturally, an easy way to target a theme of national merit is to examine a news magazine, such as Newsweek or Time (www.time.com). These publications have the national interest at heart, and it matters less which one you choose, than what subject may have appeal over several weeks or months, as your letter will take that long to make it into print.

In May of 2003 for example, Time published an extensive cover story on medical malpractice insurance, with particular emphasis on how the crisis has effected doctors in many different states. This type of story – national implications, multi-layers of public policy decisions, and ramifications for the average individual – is perfect fodder for the court of public opinion. As such, it is a prime subject for a letter from anywhere in the country.

Another important aspect of targeting a national publication is determining the length of opinions published. This can vary greatly. For instance, Time publishes only very brief letters, as does the USA Today (www.usatoday.com). By contrast, the Washington Post solicits lengthier Op-Ed pieces online (www.washingtonpost.com).

Located as it is in the nation’s capitol, the Post is very much focused on country-wide issues, and prints many opinions of public policy, not surprisingly. I haven’t managed to crack it yet, but the Post is certainly at the highest level of political discourse; as such, it’s a great goal for the would-be national essayist.

An important thing to remember is that you DO NOT HAVE TO WRITE LENGTHY PIECES in order to appear in a national publication. On the contrary, many magazines especially gravitate toward snappy, 3-4 sentence comments, so long as they are timely and adhere to current subjects. For more on writing concisely, see the solid link, http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/teac… by the orderly writer, Kelly M. Rubben. I especially like Kelly’s techniques for orderly paragraphs; this is a must for any editorial writer, so do review her article.

 

Lesson 2: Lesson 2: Writing a Letter to the Editor

Excercise and Bibliography

EXERCISE: Using the formula described in Lesson 2, submit a concise letter to the editor. You can use one of the following fictitious scenarios, or create one of you own, or use a real topic; it’s up to you.

–The Naw school board has voted on the middle school proposal, and decided 6-3 in favor of the new building. One week later, Joy Division Tube, the Naw school district’s largest employer, shut its doors for good, creating a tax base void. Write a letter (supplying your own details, such as names of board members, etc.) telling of your feelings about the school board’s decision.

–Newsblurb Magazine, a weekly publication, has just published a cover story on the proliferation of PixieHead Fish in the nation’s water fresh lakes. An endangered species, the PixieHead is nonetheless very dangerous, as it eats people who comb beaches for seashells. Write a short letter to Newsblurb (3-4 concise paragraphs) telling of your feelings on federal policy to round up the PixieHeads.

Points to Consider

Can you put yourself “in an editor’s place?” What strategies do you find effective when writing persuasive pieces, and how can your own voice convince an editor, whom you’ve never met, to publish your work?

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

-Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, newspaper. www.pittsburghlive.com

-“Two sides to the coin,” by Jonathan Ball. www.suite101.com/article.cfm/professional_writing/95646

-www.webenglishteacher.com/argument

-“Turning Pro,” by Kate Hilliard. www.suite101.com/article.cfm/hobby_writing/69611

-school.eb.com/student/passport/op-ed.pdf

-Time Magazine, www.time.com

-USA Today, daily national newspaper, www.Usatoday.com

-Washington Post, daily newspaper, www.washingtonpost.com

– “Teaching with Style,” by Kelly Rubben www.Suite101.com/article.cfm/teaching_with_style/41406

 

Lesson 3: Lesson 3: Constructing Long-form editorials

Long-form editorials – “forum” articles, for our purposes – are the next logical step after mastering the letters to the editor format. Although forums require a lot more work, mainly in the form of research, and a little luck to get them published, these types of opinions, which generally run between 400-600 words, can be vastly rewarding.

In this lesson, you will learn some basic research techniques, review organizational strategies, and understand query letters and submission processes. Resources for this lesson will include several internet search engines, such as Yahoo and Altavista, plus articles by Suite101 writers like Paul Dragutsky, Flora Brown, and the ever-present Jonathan Ball, plus great tips from Bev Walton-Porter’s enlightening interview with the editor, Janet Fox.

Doing effective research

Remember our fictitious school district in Lesson 2? Let’s say that after following the plight of that school board for several weeks, you subsequently become interested in property taxes, in general. You know that many people are upset about property taxes, and that not a week goes by when there isn’t a local article about the subject. How can you construct a forum article on such a subject?

Forums are much harder to get published than are simple letters to the editor. Generally longer and always more detailed, forums often are limited to two or three spots, per week, in most daily papers. But you can break into the forum market, if you follow some simple rules.

Organization is key to a strong forum article. For some superior pointers on undergoing a major writing assignment, see Jonathan Ball – obviously one of my favorite Suite writers – and his article, “Building Your Story: How to Plan for a Major Project,” available at suite101.com/article.cfm/16610/97387. Although Jonathan’s tips are directed at fiction writers, the same principles can be successfully applied to long-form editorials, with particular attention to his ideas about outlining.

Contrary to popular belief, you needn’t be an academic expert in order to write an editorial. The beauty of the internet, and the Information Age in general, is that it is easy to access a myriad of reputable information about any subject.

Most writers, having successfully conquered the realm of letters to the editor, will want to take the next step, and attempt a forum article. The degree of difficulty, however, goes up sharply; where should we start?

Let’s continue with our example, the fictitious Naw School District, and the problem of school funding, and property taxes. If you wanted to research property taxes in my home state of Pennsylvania, you would want to start with a general search. Because this technique is good practice for any subject, we will make this the First Rule of forum writing:

-Do a general topic search on a search engine, like YAHOO (www.yahoo.com) or ALTAVISTA (www.altavista.com)

Doing an effective topic search is key to writing a good forum. Because forums RELY ON TECHNICAL INFORMATION, a layman’s knowledge of your subject won’t suffice. The main difference between letters to the editor, and forum articles, is the amount of technical knowledge, use of statistics, and in-depth reporting that starts with a good information search.

During this initial phase of pre-writing, it is helpful to keep two things in mind: One, you want to make the search specific enough so that it filters the information to an effective level; Two, you must be sure that the information is current. See the following link, http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/sear… by Paul Dragutsky, for more tips on search engines.

For our example, you could enter the phrase, “property taxes and Pennsylvania public schools” into the search engine. If you are writing about public policy, you should keep in mind that policy is formulated at a specific level of government, ie., federal, state, or local. This is helpful when doing a search. Property taxes, although levied at the local level, are governed by state laws; this is an example of something I learned through an effective search for information on the subject.

Another important rule of forum writing is that you will want to CITE YOUR RESOURCES in the text of your forum article. “Plagiarism,” or the unlicensed borrowing of someone’s ideas without recognition, is to be avoided at all times. For a primer on ways to avoid plagiarism, see the excellent link, “The Plague of Plagiarism,” written by Suite101’s own Rebecca Kojetin, http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/teac…

It may helpful to remember to use simple citation phrases, such as “according to,” and “in a study conducted by,” etc. Posting a list of citation phrases near your workspace can be very effective.

Lesson 3: Lesson 3: Constructing Long-form editorials

Analyzing the evidence for opinion formulation

Once you have done an effective search, it is time to examine the material. What is relevant? Statistical evidence, especially that which has been ANALYZED BY AN EXPERT, is often the best place to start. Statistical research can provide a great opening line in a forum article. By offering concrete numbers, you set the tone for your opinion. See the superb link, http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/libr… by Gillian Davis, for links to great research sites.

For our example, you might start with the following sentence (keeping in mind that these example figures have no actual basis in reality, of course):

**In a recent survey, 68% of Mercer County, Pennsylvania residents polled said that eliminating or greatly reducing property taxes should be the number one goal of elected officials. This is according to a 2002 survey conducted by the research firm, Pumpkin, Pixie, and Flip.**

You can see that this statistic, backed by a cited resources, is a powerful opening. To make it even more compelling, you could continue with an open-ended, or “rhetorical” question, like this:

**If Mercer County residents dislike the property tax, then, how might we fund our public schools in an alternative, equitable manner?**

Starting with this type of “1-2” combination is a very effective and persuasive formula. It allows the reader to absorb two things: that your opinion will be backed by documented evidence, and that you are addressing a subject of legitimate public concern. Keeping both these points in mind will give you a very good chance of publication.

Throughout the body of you forum, and always remembering to cite you resources, you will use the evidence you have found to support your own opinion. Build the body of your article around statistics, definitions, and quotes. Remember, we are shooting for 400-600 words here, so the more evidence you have, the better. Just don’t make the mistake of using too many numbers, or “cold statistics.” Instead, back statistic statements with your own comments, assessments, and advice. For more persuasive writing techniques, see the link, http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/coll… by the excellent Flora Brown.

Finally, close your article with a CHALLENGE to your readers. This drives the point home, and makes the reader think hard about what you have written. The entire point of writing opinion pieces is to make people think, if not to change their minds entirely. Closing with a challenge, often in the form of a question, is most effective, and a common technique employed by editorial writers. See the link, www.townhall.com, for the “big-leagues” of political editorial writing, including articles by such heavyweights as Robert Novak and William F. Buckley. They often close their essays with a challenge to readers; for our example, we might close like this:

**In spite of all this evidence, however, the Governor, as well as our own county commissioners, have taken the property tax issue off the table. If elected officials won’t address what is clearly the number one issue of public concern, then perhaps we should send them a message in the fall elections, and turn the poll results of so many studies into clear results at the polls.**

 

Lesson 3: Lesson 3: Constructing Long-form editorials

Excercise and Bibliography

EXERCISE: Research one of the following example subjects, or one of your own, and write a forum article of 400-600 words.

-The medical malpractice insurance crisis

-The next likely target of the War on Terrorism

-Is reality TV harmful to our health?

-Whose legacy is the greatest: Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, or Tiger Woods?

-Are ‘Big Box’ retailers good or bad for the economy?

Points to Consider

What constitutes a BIG ISSUE to you, and how can you determine what your local newspaper will print, in terms of forum articles?

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

-Jonathan Ball, “Building Your Story: How to Plan for a Major Project,” suite101.com/article.cfm/16610/97387.

– Altavista, search engine, www.altavista.com

-Yahoo, search engine, www.yahoo.com

-“Search and Metasearch Engines,” http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/sear… by Paul Dragutsky

-“The Plague of Plagiarism,” by Rebecca Kojetin, http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/teac…

-“How to find statistics online,” http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/libr… by Gillian Davis

-“Thinking Critically: Easier Said Than Done,” http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/coll… by Flora Brown.

-Town Hall newsgroup, www.townhall.com

– Heather Greene’s “Query Letters,” suite101.com/article.cfm/16508/92723.

– suite101.com/article.cfm/freelance/17742. This is Bev Walton-Porter’s conversation with a newsletter editor, Janet Fox, “Editor Janet Fox helps writers scrounge for writing markets.”

 

Lesson 3: Lesson 3: Constructing Long-form editorials

Query letters and Editorial processes

Sending a query letter can expedite the publishing of your opinion. By sending a concise outline of your article beforehand, you save yourself time and wasted effort. Heather Greene’s solid article, “Query Letters,” is at suite101.com/article.cfm/16508/92723. Pay particular notice to Ms. Greene’s emphasis on editorial selection and processes, and you will do yourself a great favor.

A query letter can be – in fact, should be – extremely concise and to the point. Most editors are very constricted by time; therefore, the more “to the point” you can be, the better. By outlining what your proposal covers, as well as how it might fit into the newspaper or magazine that you have targeted, is tantamount to getting a forum published. Although most publishers will not require a query letter, it is good practice to write them, particularly for the writer who wants to turn professional.

In understanding editorial processes and selection, it is very important not to feel as if you are telling the editor “what to do.” Remember, editors are crunched for time by deadlines, breaking news, and changing copy. Anything that you can do to make their job easier will be much appreciated, and you will stand a much better chance at publication for each time you do an “editor’s job for him,” or send a forum that needs very little, if any, copy editing.

Finally, a better understanding of editors and how they function is vital for any opinion writer of merit. Some of the best submission tips that I have seen are available in the text of an interview, at suite101.com/article.cfm/freelance/17742. This is Bev Walton-Porter’s conversation with a newsletter editor, Janet Fox. Of note here is how Ms. Fox suggests that writers MUST know the guidelines for their submissions; this applies to forum articles as well, as most newspapers stipulate everything from word count and subject matter, to contribution frequency and the use of citizen’s last names. Knowing your stuff before you write is key.

Guidelines can be as varied as the media itself. In my experience, most newspapers are only permitted to take one submission, per non-staff author, per month. Although this can vary according to ownership and editorial board policy, it is the general rule.

Also, forums must never attack people, but only challenge ideas; this is a must for any strong editorial writer. The only exception to this, is the criticism of particular columnists, as newspapers expect, and even anticipate, that their best staff opinion writers will find themselves “under fire” from a wired-in public. The occasionally negative flurry of comments only underscores the effectiveness of the opinion writer, so don’t be surprised if your own forum draws the ire of another!

Using the previously discussed pointers, techniques, and formulas, and backed by solid statistics and armed with expert opinions, YOU can write convincing and persuasive long-form editorials. Now, get to it!

 

Lesson 4: LESSON 4: Writing film reviews and critiques

One of the most basic applications of editorial writing techniques is the creation of reviews and critiques. Most often used to proffer opinions on art forms, such as books, music, and movies, reviews and critiques are very much in demand, particularly in the Internet Era. Since they have such a well-defined marketplace, reviews and critiques are perfect for those with an interest in the arts, whether that interest takes place in the realm of Harry Potter Books, Impressionist paintings, or free-form jazz.

This lesson will teach some basics of review writing, as well as looking at a formula for writing critiques of films, in particular. Resources for this lesson will include an examination of the great film critic, Roger Ebert, plus a look at some would-be Eberts and their opinions, including Suite101’s own Sean Gallagher, and Rob Hardings, and others.

 

Learning from two Suite reviewers

The great thing about writing reviews is that it allows you to combine your writing talents with something that naturally interests you. Since I was a little kid, and sometimes to the chagrin of my parents, I have always like rock music. Therefore, rock album reviews became a natural for me: I knew a lot about the subject already, and had years of background in reading rock publications, so it was easy for me to write about bands.

There are many schools of thought where critiques are concerned. Art criticism is involved, and there are numerous techniques and variations. For our purposes, we will be concentrating on film reviews. Two excellent Suite101 film reviewers are Sean Gallagher and Rob Hardings, whose work is available at www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/movies_90s ; and www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/classic_movie_reviews , respectively. Check them out for a great assortment of opinions, as well as their individual styles.

I find much value in the musings of Mr. Gallagher, and Mr. Hardings. In particular, each has several writing strengths worth noting here. Gallagher’s organization, and Harding’s style of juxtaposition, are both instructive to the beginning reviewer; let’s look at each author in a bit more detail.

Gallagher is a master of concise organization. By compartmentalizing films into fun, readable categories, Gallagher is drawing on one of the greatest strengths of a film reviewer. Many people like to watch films of one category, or “genre.” Therefore, when Gallagher reviews three horror films together, or three thrillers, the author is utilizing the natural interests of the reader. This is not only a lot of fun, but an effective way of comparing films in a category.

One of my favorite things about Gallagher’s reviews of films from the 1990’s is the writer’s ability to inject humor into a genre review. Entitled “Don’t trust anyone,” Gallagher’s pointed observation of the yuppie family gone haywire is an effective look at a hackneyed film genre from a bygone – albeit not all that long ago – era.

For his part, Mr. Harding’s work is marked by a very unique perspective as well. By juxtaposing the legendary director, Woody Allen, with the up-and-coming young star director, Wes Anderson, Harding makes use of an all-too rare but effective film technique, or that of comparing different eras.

So often we are caught up in pop culture to the degree where the here and now is all that matters, but Harding’s analysis of two great, neurotic directors and their work shows that influences, where are is concerned, will always transcend the trendy. As Mr. Harding points out, directors, like other great artists, don’t have to know each other to have a protégé-mentor relationship; they simply must be familiar with each other’s work, as Allen and Anderson surely are.

 

Lesson 4: LESSON 4: Writing film reviews and critiques

Suite’s Kelcey, and “Insomnia”

In particular, we can note the FORM, TECHNIQUE, and WORDING used by the prolific Suite101 film author, Kelcey. This author is a masterful film reviewer; from the format to the description, and all the details in between, the mono-monikered Kelcey is very talented. Let’s look at Kelcey’s review of the excellent film, “Insomnia,” which I happened to see in the theatre in 2002.

I found “Insomnia” to be compelling, as the principle actors played against type, and the tension was high. Also, the directing, by the up-and-coming superstar, Christopher Nolan, was first-rate.

But how would Kelcey review this critically acclaimed, but little seen film? Let’s examine this Suite 101 author’s article, at www.suite101.com/article.cfm/crime_films_tv/92291.

First, the reviewer gives background on the film, such as the actors, the director, and the basic plot. This is a solid start to any review, as it notifies the reader of the intentions of the writer. Here, Kelcey is using a classic format. Yet our reviewer has also let a bit of opinion seep into the first paragraph, and this will intrigue the reader to read on.

Next, Kelcey discusses the actors involved. In many cases, major studio productions will use well-known Hollywood actors, and “Insomnia” is no exception in this regard. By discussing the past roles of the actors Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hillary Swank, Kelcey is setting up an opinion: the reviewer believes, we can infer, that “Insomnia” is worth seeing primarily because of the actors’ great strengths. By tying this film to past accomplishments by the players, Kelcey has piqued our interests yet again.

Finally, the reviewer proffers an opinion regarding the recommendation of the film. This is the cornerstone of any review, and the reason that a reader would examine such an opinion in the first place, as we shall see. Kelcey, by recommending the film, cements the review with solid imagery and a reason to see “Insomnia.” Kelcey is an excellent reviewer, with concise, idiosyncratic perceptions, and a solid understanding of cinematic design. We can learn a lot from the style of this reviewer.

 

Lesson 4: LESSON 4: Writing film reviews and critiques

Who’s the Master? Ebert is.

Movie reviews are a lot of fun for many people. Since we live in a pop-culture obsessed society, and Hollywood is immensely influential, there are plenty of outlets for writing – and reading – reviews. You don’t have to be Roger Ebert to get published, either, although his superb website, and his classic, no-frills style can be instructive. View the pioneering reviewer’s website, at www.suntimes.com/index/ebert.

For our purposes, we won’t get too involved with academic schools of thought on criticism. Instead, let’s focus on a basic formula that will work well for many different subjects. We will use two different parts:

–First, we will write a PLOT SYNOPSIS. –Second, we will offer OUR OPINION about the film.

Let’s say that you have just seen the movie, “Killer Pixies from Pluto,” starring Joe Jacoby and Naomi Homely. You can’t have actually seen it, of course, because I just made it up; that’s the beauty of being an instructor.

For the most part, readers WILL NOT want to know key plot details, and this can prove to be tricky when writing a review. However, a good rule to follow is never to reveal much more than you might see in a film preview commercial, or “trailer,” or what might be printed on the back of a video box. Actors names, the parts they play, the director and screenwriter, and the general gist of the story will suffice for our Plot Synopsis.

Most people need to know SOMETHING about a film before they become interested in seeing it. You are not giving your opinion at this point in the review, but simply describing basic details.

In the second part of the review, you can give your opinion on why you recommend the film – or perhaps why you do not recommend it. Often, the best and most memorable film reviews are either glowingly positive, or completely dismissive and negative, although plenty of reviewers give “middling” , or “mixed” reviews.

When starting out, it is probably best to stick to films about which you have a strong opinion, pro or con. For his part, Mr. Ebert ALWAYS makes a recommendation about a film, and his gladiator-era “thumbs up/down” is universally recognized. Roger Ebert gives the reader guidance, as this is the entire point of the review format.

Our review formula is simple but effective, and will work for any area of interest, including album reviews, art exhibits, and stage performances, to name just a few. It is important to remember, readers of such media as newspapers and search engine portals probably don’t know any more than you do about a film or record. All things being equal, therefore, your opinion will resonate, if proffered correctly. The formula that I’ve presented will help to guide you as you get started, or until you develop your own critiquing style.

 

Lesson 4: LESSON 4: Writing film reviews and critiques

Excercise and Bibliography

Exercise: Remember our example, “Killer Pixies from Pluto?” Make up details about the film, actors, director, and plot, then write a review, using your imagination as a springboard. Or make up your own fictitious film, rock band, or art show; or use a real one, it’s up to you. Let your mind go, and have fun!

Points to Consider

What is the best movie that you have seen, within the last year? The worst movie? Use some adjectives to describe both (remember, this is a family site; I saw some pretty bad ones myself, but take it easy!)

Bibliography:

-“Movies of the 90’s,” by Sean Gallagher, www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/movies_90s

-“Classic Movie Reviews,” by Rob Harding, www.suite101.com/welcome.cfm/classic_movie_reviews

-“Insomnia: film review,” by Kelcey, www.suite101.com/article.cfm/crime_films_tv/92291

-Roger Ebert’s Film Reviews Website, www.suntimes.com/index/ebert

 

 

 

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