Be Careful What You Wish For

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From Dr. Jerz’s “Editorials”:

“Whine, whine, whine! Anybody can churn out a list of complaints against topic X.  It's another thing entirely to come up with a solution, and then make a public statement in its favor.”

Editorials move us closer to my comfort-zone.  They seem very much like a mini-academic essay to me.  In fact, I am going to make a list of the similarities:



The list could probably continue too.  There are many similarities between the two.  You don’t have to avoid subjective language quite so much, which is certainly a difference from other news writing. 


However, there are key differences as well.  For one thing, you have a lot less space to work with, which could provide some very real challenges.  Sorting through the data and points you have and prioritizing which are the most important and compelling can be tough.  In such cases, it makes it tempting to avoid what the other side might think.  It is very important not to do this though.  As soon as you omit rational references to the other side (if another “side” truly exists, pardon my digression, but linguistics is invading my mind.  The author of our linguistics textbook, Hayakawa, suggests that most things in life do not have two sides, but many.  Things usually are not clearly right or wrong, but exist in shades of gray.  This is all the more reason why we should not overlook or write off the other “side” too quickly.  Chances are, the other “side” is not completely wrong or bad and could have some merit to it, if we manage to shuffle off our presentiments and realize this), it will appear as if you have close-mindedly ignored all other possibilities.  You need to show your readers that you have considered other alternatives.  So despite space constraints, don’t eliminate your dealings of opposing arguments.  Also related to this space issue, is paragraph size.  As Dr. Jerz mentions in his explanation, it is important to keep paragraphs short, or the reader will get discouraged and bored and stop reading. 


The other significant difference between editorials and academic essay writing which I wish to mention is the scope of the two.  Yes, it is possible that if you write an academic research essay and it gets published at some point it could have a far-reaching impact.  Nonetheless, it is far more likely that a common person will read an editorial, than an essay.  Therefore, we should be extra mindful of what we write.  The audience who reads it (whether they agree or disagree with what you wrote) could be incited/moved to action because of it.  This could be a good way to cause reform when change is necessary, but at the same time, you need to be aware of the effects what you’re writing could have.  The people reading your opinions are not academics sitting peacefully in their offices that will carefully reflect and consider before acting.  While these people may also read a published editorial, other less discerning people will also read it, and they may not be so hesitant to act/respond without careful meditation.  People could take you up on that “solution” you suggested, whether you truly intended them to or not.  People may listen, so be careful what you wish/write for.    


Read more about editorials.      


Derek Tickle said:

Okay, Greta, so you wrote a very lengthy blog that is filled with great information and I like it. I am going to specifically talk about your chart that you composed. I think that it is a great way to show the similarities between the two types of writing. I, honestly, never thought about an editorial in relation to an academic essay. Why are they so similar? And not so different? I think one major difference is that an editorial is usually on 300 words whereas an academic essay is longer and contains many more words. I also love how you talk about acamdeic essays having more of an impact on people and I think you're right. An academic essay will spread quicker than an editorial because of the type of writing that it is. Hmmm...why? I think that it depends on who reads it and what the topic is. I am going to write my reflection on your entry - thanks!

You bring up a good point, Greta. Editorials have a wide-ranging audience, and this could include people who are apt to become more emotionally moved by a piece of writing rather being engaged with it on an intellectual level. I think that's why Dr. Jerz cautions to not write as if you're yelling at someone who enrages you; that would be inviting the people who are reading the column to respond in a similarly emotional way. If you look at both sides of the issue and put forth your point of view in a rational, thought-provoking way, you're encouraging the readers to examine their beliefs in a more complex manner. I think it's definitely more ethical to work toward creating a world where people are able to communicate intelligently with each other without being insulting, than to try to create more chaos by writing polemical diatribes against the opposing side.

Josie Rush said:

Greta- Great point about the difference in readers for both media. It's a journalist's responsibility to remember she is writing for an audience that ranges from the erudite to the ignorant. The information must be all-accessible, something that is not much of a concern in a scholarly essay, as the writer can assume her readers have prior interest and knowledge of the topic.
It was very interesting that many of the points in your chart were the same/similair. I think this again conveys that writing is writing; the basic principles of the practice remain the same: We write for a reader. We write because we have a point to make. We write knowing that our statements need support.
Very insightful post. Thanks for your thoughtfulness.

Greta Carroll said:

Derek- I’m glad my blog helped and that you liked it : )

Matt- You put an interesting spin on the idea by relating it to ethics. I really like how you said, “I think it's definitely more ethical to work toward creating a world where people are able to communicate intelligently with each other without being insulting, than to try to create more chaos by writing polemical diatribes against the opposing side.” There is already plenty of chaos in the world as you pointed out, why should we want to add more to it? Furthermore, if we want others to interact with us in intelligent ways we need to present ourselves in an intelligent manner. Again though, I think this relates to an academic essay. I mean if you write an article and submit it to some academic publication and you just rant, it is not going to get published, you will not garner any greater respect, and you won’t have added to our ever-increasing knowledge-base. I think it’s not only ethically important, but we owe it to ourselves not to just angrily whine. If we do this we are robbing ourselves from a chance to intelligently converse with others. We hurt ourselves and others by not being rational.

Josie—I like your point about how writing is writing. I think that is really what it all comes down to. There are unique little twists to each, but they are at the heart all the same. It’s kind of like the analogy I used in Linguistics about Universal Grammar. Pretend you just bought a house in a housing development. All the houses in the development have the same floor plan, but you get to pick the specifics inside the house—the carpet, tile, wall colors, countertops, furniture, etc. At the foundation, all writing is writing and the format is similar in almost any type. However, there are little differences depending on the audience, the goal, etc.

Wendy Scott said:

Your post really gives many points of view on editorials. I like the chart idea. I like how you pin pointed the difference in the acdemic essays and the basics of an editorial. Your similarities helped me understand the overall topic alot. Great information I agree with Derek.

Derek Tickle said:

Thanks, Wendy! I think that Greta, also, provided a lot of helpful information that shows many comparisons between editorials and academic essays.

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