How to of column writing 2 – The structure

Grilled-Chicken-Teriyaki-KebabHave you ever eaten a kebab? If you haven’t, you should! It’s delicious, visually appealing, and it’s versatile – you can make it whatever you want it to be, catering to your own tastes! The form of the kebab is always the same: it’s composed of a mixture of meats and vegetables on a stick, usually secured on both sides with a sturdy vegetable or piece of meat that keeps it all tied together!!

This a good way to start thinking about the structure of an opinion piece. A structured column follows the well-established formula: the lead/the beginning, the body/telling the story, and the summary/the ending. Whereas the body can be composed of a mix of arguments and facts (arranged to your own heart’s desire), the lead and the summary are usually the elements that tie it all together.

The Lead: How to begin?

A columnist depends on a strong lead to capture audience’s attention. The four to six lines of your opening paragraph will be crucial for your audiences to decide if they should spend time reading further. A  lead serves two objectives: 1. introduces your subject (the central theme) and the direction you are taking; and 2. it captures the attention of your readers. Thus, it should catalyze the ‘conversation’ by being odd, provocative, different, etc. Take a cue from the movies: Write cinematically. But, be brief!!

 “Type the point of your column in one sentence without a comma. If you cannot write it in one sentence, then you are not ready to write,” Derrick Jackson, The Boston Globe  

The body: Telling the story

The role of the body is to elaborate on your arguments and present your facts. The goal is to make your readers care about what you have to say and understand your point of view. The lead introduces an idea, each subsequent paragraph should build on that idea.

Elements of a nicely constructed body:

  1. Focus: What is the column’s purpose? How do you want the reader to feel? What do you want the reader to remember the most?
  2. Organization: Who, What, When, where, How, Why?
  3. Imagery: For each line written you ask: Does this sharpen the focus of my story? Each description must serve a purpose!
  4. Smooth transitions: It’s like a GPS, a tool to show your readers signposts and their own location. They serve to connect the beginning, the middle and the end.

The ending: summarizing with a kick

 A good ending must do three things (Bruce DeSilvia, Associated Press):

  • Tell the reader the story is over
  • Nail the central point of the story to the reader’s mind
  • The reader should hear it in their head when he puts the newspaper down. It should make the reader think!

If the leads are like “flashlights that shine down into the story,” then endings are “eternal flames that keep a story alive in a reader’s head and heart,” Standring (2008)

OK, now it’s time for dessert. Who wants some Oreo?

OREO graphic


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