Distinguishing Characteristics of an Op-Ed or Column Partly, a column is defined by where it appears, but it shares some common characteristics:• Typically, it is short, between 750 and 800 words.• It has a clearly defined point.• It has a clearly defined point of view.• It represents clarity of thinking.• It contains the strong, unique voice of the writer. Questions to Ask Yourself When Writing an Op-Ed or Column• Do I have a clear point to make?• What is it?• Who cares? (Writing with a particular audience in mind can inform how you execute your column. Who is it that you are trying to convince? Why are you targeting that specific reader?)• Is there substance to my argument? Topic and ThemeEvery successful op-ed piece or column must have a clearly defined topic and theme.• Topic: the person, place, issue, incident, or thing that is the primary focus of the column. The topic is usually stated in the first paragraph.• Theme: another level of meaning to the topic. What’s the big, overarching idea of the column? What’s your point? Why is your point important? The theme may appear early in the piece or it may appear later when it may also serve as a turning point into a deeper level of argument.ResearchWhile columns and op-ed pieces allow writers to include their own voice and express an opinion, to be successful the columns must be grounded in solid research. Research involves acquiring facts, quotations, citations, or data from sources and personal observation. Research also allows a reader to include sensory data (touch, taste, smell, sound, or sight) into a column. There are two basic methods of research:• Field research: going to the scene, interviews, legwork; primary materials, observations, andknowledge• Library, academic, or internet research: using secondary materials, including graphs, charts, and scholarly article opening the first line of an op-ed is crucial. The opening “hook” may grab the reader’s attention with a strong claim, a surprising fact, a metaphor, a mystery, or a counter-intuitive observation that entices the reader into reading more. The opening also briefly lays the foundation for your argument.DFEndingsEvery good column or op-ed piece needs a strong ending that has some basic requirements. It:• Echoes or answers introduction• Has been foreshadowed by preceding thematic statements• Is the last and often most memorable detail• Contains a final epiphany or calls the reader to action There are two basic types of endings. An “open ending” suggests rather than states a conclusion, while a “closed ending” states rather than suggests a conclusion. The closed ending in which the point of the piece is resolved is by far the most commonly used.
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