If you ever think that column writing is an outdated – and maybe even forgotten – part of news writing then you only need to open a newspaper, magazine or any online news outlet to see all pages practically littered with them. Op-Ed Columns, Sports Columns, Personal Advice Columns – these are but a few examples of the vast variety of newspaper – and online (we do live in the digital age!) – columns, read and revered by faithful readers worldwide.
Almost all of us regular readers have a favourite columnist (or many), whose next installment we await with baited breadth. ‘What for?’ some may ask. Most often it’s because we can’t help but relate to their words in the sense that they reflect our own views about the world at large. Sometimes it may even be because they show us a completely different understanding of something we’re quite already familiar with. Other times, it may just be because they offer us the desired information.
Regardless of the reason, there’s no denying the power of a well-written column and its effect on the readers. However, to be quite truthful, there’s no guideline for writing a column. It takes a lot of time, effort and dedication to start and maintain a regular column.
Keeping all this in mind, we have compiled a list of tips on column writing that budding writers can take notes from.
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1. Study And Understand The Genre
Columns usually don’t exceed 1000 words, and the format asks for tight writing, meaning there’s no space – or need – for frivolous phrases that only add to your word count. While the word limit may be a bit lax in case of online publications, if your column is to be printed, then take it to be gospel. If you can say what you want to in lesser words, do so.
Their subject areas also deal with predictable topics like politics, sports, advice, gardening, etc. But that doesn’t mean that the content should be predictable as well. Your readers eagerly await your column because they want fresh and insightful content which they won’t get anywhere else. So be thorough while researching your genre and spin the information in a creative way.
2. Serve The Readers
The only thing that makes a column successful is dedicated readers who come back for more. Readers can make or break a column. These people could be doing anything else in the world, but they chose to read your column because it fulfills a particular need for them. So be certain to give your readers what they came for – be it advice, information or just a laugh! Columns generally attract a niche readership as they are targeted at a particular group of people. Identify their key characteristics and needs well, and you’ll do a greater job of satisfying them by being more relatable in your writing.
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3. Do Your Own Thing
All of us have our own unique style and way of thinking. This is even more pronounced in writers because we tend to be distinctive even in the way we write, or try to get our message across. Use this to your benefit. Don’t be a copycat. Successful columnists possess a literary signature that’s instantly recognizable and sets the greats apart from the crowd. Create your own signature and let your individuality be reflected in your words. Remember, your thoughts and words are the personality of your column. Play it right and you’ll charm your readers.
4. Fact Check. Always.
Writing a column often involves relaying information or making certain claims. Make sure all your facts are correct. A wrong move can be devastating for a growing or established column. When you’re writing a column, you’re the authority on that topic. A wrong fact, or even a grammatical error, can lead to backlash and shatter that image of authority. The Internet is merciless, and the vultures are always ready to sweep in with claws bared. So develop a thick skin and be prepared to defend yourself as well as your opinions.
5. Have A Strong Voice
While this may seem a reiteration of Tip 3, it deserves to be elaborated upon. Develop a strong viewpoint and the courage to put it across. Have and express your opinions. Columns can also be seen as you having a conversation with your readers and the tone of your column can differ from being informative, contemplative, observant to humorous, reportative. The possibilities are endless. But the basic idea is the same – whatever the tone, your voice should be strong. A good idea would be read your column out loud and see if there are any weak areas to be corrected.
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6. Learn From The Maestros
In every subject area of column writing, there are countless established columnists. Read the work of the masters in your chosen specialty area and observe their writing. Reread the works of your favourite columnists to learn key tricks of the trade. A well-crafted column successfully weaves in statistics and quotes, all the while expressing the opinions of the columnist. Study the works of established columnists to see how they do that. Observe and try to identify the unique “voice” of each of them. Use what you like and discard what you don’t.
Column writing involves a lot of hits-and-misses before you land on your perfect formula that appears to work well for you and your readers. But that doesn’t mean you follow it to the ‘T’ every time. If your column becomes repetitive than you will lose readership, which as we’ve already established is crucial to the success of a column. Keep on tweaking things so you can surprise your readers each time. This way they’ll have no choice but to come back for more!