Editor’s note: I updated this post on Feb. 16, 2021 to include updated examples and wording.
It’s that time of year. Ugh!
Many students are feeling stressed as midterms loom. Ugh!
The student government met this week. Double ugh!
These are just a few examples of leads from the one type of writing that has plagued every student editorial board I’ve advised—editorials.
Editorials don’t have to be difficult to write and they shouldn’t be boring to read. Here’s some advice for writing editorials worth reading.
What is an editorial?
An editorial is an unsigned statement written by a publication’s editors. The short, argumentative essays are meant to convince readers of a specific point of view.
An editorial should give the reader added value about a subject. This means it requires actual research, reporting and quotes from real people, not just web references.
What an editorial isn’t
An editorial is not a reserved space for student editors to rant and complain. It also isn’t a piece of copy that should be submitted after deadline when the editor finally decides to sit down at the computer and vomit their feelings through the keyboard and onto the screen.
What should an editorial worth reading do?
In addition to being planned, an editorial worth reading should do three things:
1. Stimulate – the writing should make readers consider a topic in a way they had not previously, igniting discussion. This means including a “jolt” or “juice” paragraph, catching the readers’ attention by explaining to them why they should care.
2. Explain – the writing should explain issues in a way that adds a new dimension. This may include writing further information about a news item covered elsewhere in the publication and/or a nutgraph explaining why the editors are addressing the issue at this time.
3. Advocate – the writing should contain a strong stance and call the readers to some type of action or way of thinking.
Editorials need to ignite people. They should make your reader think, want to discuss the topic and, perhaps, want to respond to you.
How to generate ideas for editorials worth reading
An editorial can be written about anything that interests your student body, but there needs to be an obvious reason for publishing it at this time. In other words, it should have a news peg.
Choose your editorial by reviewing the story budget for a particular timeframe and discussing the biggest news planned for that publication.
Editorials don’t have to be about something happening on campus. Local, state and national news topics also can make great editorials, but you need to ask yourself what your editorial board can add to the discussion. What can you write that will accomplish the three goals above? It could just be taking a stance from your unique student body’s perspective.
Sometimes editors may choose an editorial topic to go with a news story and the story falls through. If that happens to your board, determine whether you should move forward with the editorial or hold it. If you hold it, you’ll need to identify another topic for the editorial.
Another topical issue that sometimes occurs is that a bigger story/issue comes up before the editorial is published. If it’s something your editorial board wants or needs to take a stance on, make it happen.
Agreeing on an editorial stance
While discussing the editorial topic, it’s important to identify what stance your ed board wants to take on the issue. Since the editorial is from the board as a unit, everyone needs to support the argument. A hearty, respectful discussion is always worth the time it takes to come to a stance the editorial board is united on.
If your editorial board can’t agree on a stance, consider whether you want to have a “majority rules” approach to voting on a view. You also could choose another topic that the ed board agrees on, but you don’t want to get into a situation where seemingly every idea is rejected for one reason or another.
The best way to write a weak editorial is to water down your stance. Once you agree on the lane to drive in, stay in it!
Who writes the editorial?
Who is responsible for writing the editorial seems to be as common a problem as determining the topic. There are different ways to approach writing the editorial. They include:
- Having the EIC write all of the editorials. This approach works, if the EIC writes good editorials, represents the board well in writing and doesn’t mind doing them all.
- Rotating the assignment through the ed board. Assign writing the editorial to a different member of the ed board each week. This means each editor will write a couple of editorials a semester. This approach works, as long as the voice and tone of the editorials is consistent.
- Choosing depending on the topic. Let whichever editor is most interested in the chosen topic will write the editorial. For example, if your editorial is about the importance of getting flu vaccinations, which some students are strongly against, but your web editor is super “pro flu shot,” ask her if she’s willing or let her offer to write the editorial.
- Writing as a team. Some ed boards write the editorial as a team effort, with one editor writing the shell and the others filling in.
It really doesn’t matter who writes the editorial. Anyone on your ed board should be capable of doing so. It’s more important that you know who is responsible for writing it so you don’t get to a deadline and realize it isn’t done.
Agreeing on the final editorial
Once the editorial is written, each editor should have an opportunity to read it before it’s published. After all, it is meant to represent the views of the board as a unit. The editors then should discuss concerns and agree on any substantial changes before publication. At the very least this means a handful of people or more have edited the copy before it runs.
Writing editorial worth reading
I hope this post has helped you think more strategically about how to generate editorial ideas, agree on a stance, determine who will write them, and understand how to do this writing well. The most common problems I see with editorials is that they contain no original views or research, and/or they don’t include a strong stance on the issue. These two problems are easy to solve when you begin to think strategically about your approach to editorials, and take planning and writing them seriously.