How to Write an Editorial
A well-written editorial presents objective facts organized to support a particular point of view on an issue. To get a feel for how it's done, read the editorial pages of established newspapers. You'll find a common structure: Editorials start with a description of an issue or problem, lay out a view they disagree with about it, strive to demolish that view with evidence and argument, and propose what the writer believes to be a better solution or a better way of looking at the situation.
How Editorials Are Born
At some publications, the point of view an editorial takes is chosen by an editorial board, a group that decides together what slant the article will take. At small community newspapers, the editorial board may consist of the publisher or editor and possibly even her significant other or the people she has lunch with. This position of being the publication's "official" voice is what separates an editorial from an opinion piece with a specific writer's byline. Editorial boards choose the candidates a publication supports during an election. In theory, editorial boards are free of any influence from outside forces and especially from advertisers; throughout publishing history, this has not always been the case.
Preparing to Write Your Editorial
Compose a simple, strong statement of the point you intend to make. "If the city council does not change its dysfunctional communication style, taxpayers will suffer." "Our school district needs to offer mindfulness meditation training to all stakeholders." Research the topic in depth, using primary sources; read the minutes of the city council meetings or find scientific studies of the uses of mindfulness in the classroom and its impact on community health. Read what others have had to say on the subject, especially those who hold the opposite opinion.
Beginning Your Editorial
Start with your summary sentence, stated as if it were objective fact. The rest of your introductory paragraph should be straight news reporting, as if you were writing an article lead: Tell the reader who, what, when, where and why.
Smalltown City Council members have hired and fired three city managers in the past five years. In two of the cases, lawsuits have been settled out of court and details have been withheld from the public.
School districts all over America have been reporting that a simple mindfulness education program reduces fights and suspensions and raises test scores, and students report feeling calmer and more able to concentrate. Meanwhile, Smalltown schools have been experiencing unwelcome national attention after a school bus bullying incident went viral on social media last November.
Skewering Your Opponents
Make sure you fully understand the point of view of people who disagree with your argument. You can't just call them shortsighted or ignorant and expect to change anyone's mind. Present their point of view and then demolish it with facts.
Mayor Joe Jones has repeated, as recently as last week, that everything is "just fine." But these words ring hollow in the mouth of a man who has been implicated in two civil actions for wrongful termination and is currently under a restraining order that forbids him from contacting former manager Sue Smythe.
When the idea of a mindfulness program was raised at a school board meeting last week, trustee Brian Brown argued that such programs are "New Age malarkey" and might violate the law against promoting religion in public school. But modern mindfulness practice is a simple behavior, not a belief system, and its benefits are backed up by an increasing body of solid scientific evidence.
Making Your Point
State a strong point and back it up with objective evidence. Continue with an even stronger point and do the same, saving your strongest argument for last. Let solid research, revealing anecdotes and sound logic speak directly to the reader. Keep your tone authoritative and reasonable; avoid sounding arrogant or shrill.
The current city council is failing to keep up with road maintenance. Oak Street has become impassable since the sinkhole opened up in January. Worse, taxpayers are on the hook for $200,000 in settlements and legal costs. But most disturbing of all are the allegations made against Jones by Smythe, which if proven in a court of law will result in a felony conviction.
Wrapping It Up
Conclude your editorial by restating your main premise, using an especially powerful quote or anecdote that supports your point of view. Tell the reader how your suggestion solves the problem, and urge her to take or support action that will make it happen.
Smalltown's children, parents and educators deserve a safe, supportive environment in which to live, learn and work, and a mindfulness education component is a proven and fiscally responsible way to make it happen. As sixth-grader Richie Rich told the board at its last meeting, "I don't understand why people have to be mean to each other." It is time we helped our children understand that there are better ways, and time the adults led by example; Smalltown citizens who care should contact board trustees and the school district, and attend the March 3 meeting in support of the Mindfulness Initiative.
- State University of New York at Geneseo: Writing an Editorial
- NewYorkTimes.com: The Learning Network: For the Sake of Argument: Writing Persuasively to Craft Short, Evidence-Based Editorials
- WashingtonPost.com: Newspapers in Education: Talk of the Town
- Purdue Online Writing Lab: Logic in Argumentative Writing: Using Logic in Writing
- The New York Times: Opinion: New York Times Editorial Board
- University of North Carolina: Learn NC: Reading Newspapers: Editorial and Opinion Pieces
Anne Pyburn Craig has written for a range of regional and local publications ranging from in-depth local investigative journalism to parenting, business, real estate and green building publications. She frequently writes tourism and lifestyle articles for chamber of commerce publications and is a respected book reviewer.