Column | Jan. 9

How to write an effective opinion editorial*

An actual guest submission to ‘the Prince’ – a guide for the public by a concerned Princetonian:

Tucked away behind the news headlines and sports back covers op-eds are the hidden gems of The Daily Princetonian. Aside from providing a much needed, and often humorous, respite from the droll of the news, op-eds serve an important function within our school community. By touching on controversial issues surrounding our Princeton lives, they not only provide unique insight, but also provoke a constructive, eloquent debate in the comments section of dailyprincetonian.com. In this regard, the ability to write a meaningful op-ed should be an essential part of every Princeton student’s skill-set.

Admittedly, writing an op-ed isn’t easy. However, by gleaning what I can from the writings of the wordsmiths that make up the opinion section, I believe I have uncovered their recipe for writing engaging pieces of journalism. By following this tried-and-true set of steps, I find that every student will be able to create op-eds worthy of the Princetonian.

The first, and perhaps most important, step is choosing your topic. Without a solid topic, it is difficult to construct a compelling argument, which will ultimately result in a poor article. While your first instinct may be to tackle certain hot-button issues such as the Syrian Civil War, or the tensions on the Korean peninsula, the ‘Prince’ has shown me that you are much better off cycling through the same few topics. Bombed a test you only kind of studied for? Write a piece commenting on all the possible drawbacks of grade deflation. Did you strike-out particularly badly on that cute girl in Cloister? Go on a tirade on how the Princeton hook-up culture doesn’t foster meaningful relationships between the men and women of campus. Feeling particularly proud of yourself for donating $10 to Doctors Without Borders? Make sure to let everyone know how insular and self-centered the Princeton community by not being as “involved” as you are. The possibilities are endless, and in the end, a few choices are all you’ll ever really need to be a great op-ed writer.

Moving on, the next step involves your introduction. Without a proper introduction, you will lose your reader’s interest and your piece will ultimately fall flat. While there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to capture every reader’s attention, I’ve found that the best way to start your paper is to establish your credibility in being able to write it in the first place. By starting your paper with “Ever since I was young, I’ve always wondered …” you are demonstrating just how introspective you really are. By demonstrating this type of thoughtfulness, you can take the chance and delve into topics away from the few I mentioned above. For instance, by letting the reader know that you’ve “always wondered about the economic inequality in America,” you legitimize yourself in their eyes, and make it more believable that a student attending the premier university in the United States actually has a deep understanding of the inequality that pervades the nation.

Finally, now that you’ve chosen your topic and established your credibility, it is important to make sure that your paper maintains the readers’ interest throughout. While this may take many shapes and forms, such as peppering certain key terms like, “Princeton experience” or “Orange Bubble” throughout your work, it seems that adding a dash of melodrama to your writing works best. While your point-by-point criticism of grade deflation may qualify you for a Pulitzer Prize, it will never entice a reader unless you make sure to comment on how it has the potential to ruin the Princeton experience itself. By framing your topic in such a way, your argument becomes exponentially more important and your logic decidedly more sound. Furthermore, dramatization can be useful to uncovering truly interesting and important issues. Admittedly, I had first read the Susan Patton letter as a failed attempt of an alumna now serving as a matchmaker for her son; but because of the fully devoted energies of the Opinion section, I now know that this was an egregious mistake. Indeed, if the section hadn’t responded so dramatically to the letter and spent so many editorial sections doing so, the student body would never have known the extent of the power and influence Ms. Patton’s opinion actually held over the lives of Princetonettes everywhere.

Substantial as they are, these three steps only touch the surface of the genius of the opinion section. Although it seems like an insurmountable task, I ask that both present and future generations of Princetonians continue my work, and try to decipher the techniques of the opinion section. While we may never succeed, any pearls of wisdom we can extrapolate from these writings will bring us one step closer to disseminating both original and engaging works.

* Just in case you’re a reporter for The Daily Caller looking to dig up dirt, please note that this article is part of The Daily Princetonian’s annual joke issue. Use discretion before citing.

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