By Louise Segreto, Chapter Historian
Editorials can be powerful tools for environmental advocacy. We all have strong opinions on environmental issues and policy, but when was the last time you wrote an editorial to a newspaper or on-line news service and got it published? Now is the time to step out of your comfort zone on a topic or issue that you are impassioned about and spark a conversation in a public forum.
Here are 7 tips for writing editorials from Andrew Rosenthal, former New York Times Editorial Page Editor from 1997-2016:
1. Take a Clear Position. Choose an issue/topic that you have a strong opinion about. Know what you want to say and say it. Be bold in your declaration. You are stating your opinion and trying to persuade others to see the issue from your perspective. Capture your readers’ interest by opening with something that makes them want to read more. Be timely and current with the topic you chose to write about.
2. Be Concise. Laser in on what you want to get out. Get rid of fluff, useless information and archaic language. Anticipate “yeah but” arguments and preemptively refute them. Limit your editorial to 500 words or less. Consider your audience in crafting your writing. Remember that most people’s attention spans are very short. Further, there is limited space allocated to an editorial page.
3. Either Propose a Solution to a Specific Problem or Express a Clear Opinion to an Issue. These are the two most published types of editorials.
4. Research Your Facts. You must prove up your claims and position with credible sources. Triple check your facts. There is nothing that will undermine your writing more than facts that are wrong.
5. Good Writing. Editorials do not need to be in overly formal language, but there is no excuse for poor grammar, misspelling, run-on sentences, or misused punctuation. Do not use slang. Use examples and analogies to support your position. And, avoid writing in the first person; try not to use “I” in stating your opinion.
6. Get an Editor. Every writer needs an editor. Give your editorial to someone you trust to read. Take their suggestions and criticisms to heart.
7. Be Prepared for a Response. A well-thought-out editorial is bound to solicit a response and discussion. So, be ready to defend your position in a respectful and positive way. There is never a reason to be rude. And, insults are counter-productive and not at all persuasive.
The biggest challenge of writing a great editorial is compressing your thoughts into a persuasive argument that others can easily understand. Editorial writing is not for shrinking violets! Most editorial editors require that writers identify themselves by name and provide address and contact information. And, depending on the publication, you may or may not have the ability to submit an image or a headline for your editorial.
The next time you find yourself pontificating to your friends and family about an environmental or climate change related issue, instead consider sitting down and writing an editorial. Well-reasoned and respectful discussions about how to solve complex environmental problems that confront our world are the first step towards solving them. Why not write an editorial and be part of the solution? Not ready to write an editorial? Contact your elected representatives on current important issues that are important to you. They are there for you and need to hear from their constituents.