Workshop course

Opinion Writing Workshop for Graduates

Coming this fall: Op-ed writing workshop for graduates

by Chloe Siao
|June 9, 2022

Sample op-ed piece co-authored by Jason Bordoff and Meghan O’Sullivan of Columbia’s Center on Global Energy Policy

With the proliferation of guest essay columns, the world of opinion writing is open to the public like never before. Publications from The New York Times to The Atlantic and CNN.com solicit ideas from their readers and viewers.

Columbia University alumni, professionals working in their respective fields, often have strong views on sustainability and climate, but lack the journalistic skills to make their voices heard. Additionally, there is a very high bar for writing about climate and sustainability topics; they are often quite technical and writers have to go the extra mile to communicate the complexity in a popular format. The media may be more open than ever to the work of non-journalists, but citizens need to know the forms and conventions that will allow their work to be printed and pixelated. An opinion writing boot camp can help.

This fall, a five-week non-credit workshop will help School of Climate alumni and School of Professional Studies affiliates hone their opinion writing skills. The class, taught by Claudia Dreifus, takes place on Wednesday evenings from 6:10 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET.

Dreifus is a science journalist and professor in Columbia’s MS in Sustainability Management program. For more than 20 years, she has written a series for the New York Times science column called “A Conversation With,” which focuses on her interviews with health and science leaders, such as Jane Goodall and Stephen Hawking. Prior to joining the Science Times in 1998, Dreifus began working as an editor for The New York Times Sunday Magazine in 1992. In addition to her work at The New York Times, her writing has also been featured in the Smithsonian, The Nation, The Chronicle of higher education and The New York Review of Books. Dreifus has also published two books on the art of the interview: “Interview”, published in 1997, and “Scientific Conversations: Interviews on Science”.

In 1997 Dreifus began working at Columbia’s School of International Affairs as an adjunct professor. One of his best-known courses, titled “Writing About Global Science for the International Media,” pioneered journalism courses for scientists in the United States. The five-week workshop will be a lighter version of this course. More information and a tentative schedule are below.

Who can register? Climate School Alumni + SPS Affiliated Programs

The platform: In person

When? Wednesday evenings (6:10-8:00 p.m. ET)

Provisional calendar

First session: What is an editorial or a short personal essay? Which columnists do you read and like? Homework: Write a 750-word opinion essay on a sustainability or climate topic that matters to you. Deadline: one week.

Second session: What are the rules and special elements that make a successful opinion essay? We will read several topical opinion pieces and dismantle them forensically. We will also analyze some student submissions. Some students will be asked to rewrite their work according to the guidelines offered in this discussion.

Third session: All opinion pieces aim to make a persuasive argument. In this session, we will discuss how to build a successful argument on a public policy issue. Workshop members will debate the pros and cons of various climate and sustainability issues that are currently in the news. Students will be asked to present the best arguments and resources they can find for positions they may disagree with. Research methods will be discussed.

Fourth session: Market your opinion pieces. Which publications accept them and how to get your work considered – a submissions course. An editor will make an appearance to talk about what she responds to and what she passes on. Assignment: Students will be asked to submit their editorial to an appropriate marketplace they have selected.

Final session: Blog posts, tweets and letters to the editor. How do they differ from opinion essays? What are the rules for producing successes?

Readings:

  • “Writing to Persuade”, by Trish Hall
  • “Understanding Science: Separating Substance from Spin”, by Cornelia Dean
  • “The Byline Bible: Get Published in Five Weeks”, by Susan Shapiro