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Saturday, September 23, 2023


Voicing your opinion

During the fall semester, something you see in this paper or in your daily life may compel you to submit an opinion editorial to us.

We here at The Daily Cougar encourage students, staff and faculty to submit columns. The process is easy. Columns should be around 400 to 700 words, in Microsoft Word file format and be submitted to opinion@thedailycougar along with your name, major and classification.

For those who have something to say, but are skittish about writing because they may not know how to organize their thoughts into a proper opinion column, the following is a basic how-to. Credit has to be given to adjunct journalism professor David McHam, from whose thorough handouts much of this information came.

The first thing you should do after you realize you want to write a column is to sit back, relax and distill exactly what you want to say. Break down your argument into its most simple statement: "Metro should lower their fares," "the presidential election lacks real debate" or, my favorite, "not another tuition hike."

When selecting your subject, make sure it’s fresh. Don’t approach an issue late, such as criticizing a politician two weeks after their name was last in the news. If you look closely, most news stories have what’s called a "life span." It varies depending on importance, but try to get your column in within this window.

It is important to note here, that while we support a diversity of opinion, what we won’t print is a column advocating an individual during an election. We might reconsider if we also had a column about the opposing candidate, but that’s left to the discretion of our editors. All submissions are subject to the same editorial review as anything else that goes in the paper, and the final word lies with our editor in chief, John Arterbury.

Next, you should take a look at opinion columns in a variety of newspapers to get an idea of what it should sound like. The Houston Chronicle, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are all quality newspapers you can find at your local Borders or Barnes ‘ Noble. Read these carefully, review their Web sites and their archives and make note of the column’s "tone." Imagine what your column would sound like if that columnist had written it.

Now it’s time for a little research. For Daily Cougar columns, we like it when submissions cite at least two outside sources. That is, citations of facts supporting your argument. While two is the minimum, your overall research should be considerably more, with articles corroborating information you read in previous ones.

It’s important to note here that some of the best editorial ideas were killed by a little research. That’s just how it works. During your research if you find that your argument no longer holds up, it’s time to head back to the drawing board. Whatever you do, don’t cherry pick facts, or skew them to support your argument. Our readers are pretty smart, and they’ll spot a stinker from a mile away.

When you sit down with your good idea and all your supporting research, remember that you are writing for an audience that both supports and disagrees with your position. Supporters will generally read your article in its entirety. Those who disagree usually won’t unless it is either well written or absurdly offensive. Shoot for the former.

There is no right or wrong way to write an editorial. If it works, it works. But it is important to remember that there are a few guidelines to follow.

Start strong. Grab the reader with an interesting first few sentences that both identify the issue at hand, as well as your argument. You should spend a fair amount of time on the first two paragraphs of your story. They are the most important, as it will determine whether anyone reads any deeper.

Present detail, but don’t inundate the reader with it. You have limited space, so give just enough facts to prove your point. If you stray too far, you’ll lose the reader. What’s more, it’s not a news article, so there’s no need to report the facts. Just use them to support your argument.

Your tone should sound conversational. Try not to sound high-and-mighty as it turns a lot of people off.

Make sure you are always clear in your argument. The worst thing is to have your opinion misinterpreted. Avoid industry or insider terminology. As many people as possible should be able to follow what you are saying.

It’s not important for you to argue both sides of an issue. It’s your opinion, so phrases like "on the other hand" or "not everyone agrees" aren’t necessary. Self-referencing terms such as "I think," or "I believe" are unnecessary. Just say it.

Editorials should be prepared to offer direct criticism, but they shouldn’t be rude or preachy. Tempering your argument with a little humility will go a long way toward swaying people to your way of thinking.

One thing that should go without saying is that plagiarism isn’t tolerated at The Daily Cougar. It’s rare here, but if you get busted -†which is likely -†you won’t be able to write for the paper anymore, and the heads at your individual college may be informed of the violation. Here, just like everywhere else, it’s not worth the risk.

It’s not too hard to write a column for us; usually it takes about two hours, tops. Remember, this is your newspaper -†we are a service to the student body. The quality of The Daily Cougar is directly reflected by the amount participation from everyone here at UH.

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