We had our third lesson today. The number of students seems to be shrinking, which is good for those of us who are still attending the class.
Some students brought columns to the class, and the teacher read them out. I printed out several columns including ‘Obama has delivered on one of his promises‘, ‘Stupid journalists‘ and ‘Another tube strike‘. I eventually chose ‘Another tube strike’ because I thought it was quite topical (there was another tube strike on Monday).
The teacher said that my article was more like a ‘letter to the editor’ as opposed to a column. I was writing about how the tube strike was affecting me personally, and not how it was affecting my fellow commuters. She told us we have to choose a certain point of view when writing about something.
Point of view
We have to place ourselves in the article. For example, if you are writing about the Commonwealth Games, say something like “As an amateur cyclist…”. You have to remember that your readers probably don’t know who you are. Placing yourself in the column will give you some ‘authority’ on the subject. If you want to write about lots of different topics, then you have to keep changing your point of view.
What’s YOUR opinion?
When you are writing a column, you should determine what your own opinion is, and you should find someone who shares your opinion. Afterwards, you should find someone who has the opposite opinion. Our teacher showed us how we could do this without interviewing lots of different people.
Let’s take the tube strike, for example. If you want someone who disagrees with the strike, walk up to a commuter and say “You’re late to work, aren’t you? It’s terrible what’s going on!” The commuter may then say “Yeah, I’m running late! This is so annoying!”
If you want to find someone with the opposite opinion, walk up to a commuter and say “You’ve got to agree with what these guys are doing. Fighting for their rights to hold on to their jobs”. The commuter may agree with you.
If they disagree, or say something you do not want in the column, you must not make quotes up! This is just a fast way of getting the quotes you need for your column. The quotes have to sound natural. You must never coerce the person you’re interviewing into saying the words you want to hear.
Former student’s secret formula
We looked at a column that had been written by Catherine Paver, a former student of the teacher. She had entered a competition for writing columns in the Times Education Supplement (TES) and she won. She is now a regular columnist for the TES.
Our teacher asked her how she did it. Catherine said that she looked at some the previous columns in the TES and counted the number of words in each one. She looked at each paragraph, and made a note of how many words were in each sentence. She also made a note of the words at the beginning of each paragraph. She based her own winning entry on the pattern of these columns, or on the “song” of each column (as she likes to call it). 🙂