By David Woods, HOC editor

During my eight year editorial tenure at the Canadian Medical Association Journal, I churned out some 200 articles, editorials, and reviews. One of the editorials was entitled ‘What is an editorial?’In it, I noted that an editorial is a signed expression of opinion, and quoted an example from its then-editor, Dr. Arnold S. Relman, in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Relman pointed out that an opinion piece represents purely and simply the views of its author, and that the Journal takes no ‘official’ position on any issue, nor are the opinions expressed in it those of the Massachusetts Medical Society, its owner. He went on to say that editorials are selected by the editors on the basis of originality, interest and readability.

I’m not sure I would have used the word signed, since the unbylined opinion pieces in The Economist are as pungent as you will find anywhere. But certainly a good editorial should be forceful without being shrill, and persuasive without beating the reader over the head.

So, if you plan to write an editorial, first do your research into the pros and cons of, say, government-sponsored versus private enterprise healthcare. Start with an attention grabbing lead paragraph, and possibly set up the arguments against your thesis. Then build a steadily stronger case for your thesis. At the end of the editorial, you might restate your case and offer a ‘what’s next’ – a proposed course of action, say, based upon your proposition.

If you’re submitting a one-off editorial to a publication dealing with your profession or speciality, make sure that you follow its guidelines for contributors. These might include preferred word count, style for references, and even warn against overuse of ‘in’ jargon or an over-sprinkling of acronyms. If you’re called upon to write regular articles for the same publication, be sure that your arguments are consistent – or make it very clear why you’ve changed your mind, as I did in paragraph 2 of this piece.

Writing editorials can be a wonderful release from the quotidian business of news items or research reports. They offer you a pulpit, a soap box from which to deliver your arguments… and a greater chance that you’ll invite response.