top of page

What's a Column?

BLUF: A column is a written piece in a publication that typically represents an individual perspective. Whereas news articles usually remove the writer from the story by reporting facts and objective analysis, columns embrace the writer’s voice.

Although definitions are fluid, opinion columns are generally categorized based on whose opinion they present.

  1. An editorial column, usually shortened to “editorial,” is typically approved by the full-time editorial board of a publication and often represents the views of the publisher.

  2. An op-ed, so named for its location “opposite the editorial page” in newspapers, typically presents the writer’s opinion, not the publisher’s. The writer may be employed by the publisher or freelance.

Unless I specifically mean one or the other, I’ll try to stick with the overarching term “column” when referring to opinion columns. (There are different types of columns, but we’ll get to those later.)

Style Overview

Opinion writing is writing for an audience that can quit at any time. Therefore, good column writing is inherently persuasive. Even without a strong call to action, or a series of hard-hitting political statements, you are persuading the reader to keep going.

To this end, there are a few general principles:

  1. Columns are short - Columns typically range between 750-850 words. Every publication will have its own guidelines.

  2. Columns have a clear topic and theme

    1. The topic is the primary focus of the piece. The subject about which the author will be writing.

    2. The theme is the overarching idea that the author is presenting. What conclusions are they drawing? What greater questions are they asking? This is critical and gives the reader a reason to read.

  3. Columns are in the writer’s unique voice - Columns are not news. They may teach and inform the reader, and they may include a lot of research, but ultimately a column is a presentation of the author’s thoughts in their own voice.

Why do I focus on Columns?

Columns are the perfect bridge between fiction and scholarly work. It allows the author to write truthfully yet purposefully. They are short, forcing the writer to cut maliciously and focus on a single idea per piece. They are everywhere, with thousands of potential avenues for publication.

In the military, professional writing is heavily focused on scholarly work. We encourage Soldiers to “steward the profession” through research and publication, but a 5,000-to-10,000-word research paper is a non-starter for those who don't already write regularly. Column writing is an achievable first step. A multi-month research project isn’t always feasible between work, family, the field, and deployment. Columns can help you build a writing habit so you can improve form, get repetitions and gain confidence.

Some Additional Tools:

The Op-Ed Project is an excellent resource for improving your op-ed writing. Their Community Resources page includes information on pitching, submission guidelines, free tools and tips, and more.

Columbia Climate School has an excellent overview of the process, including why opinion writing is important and what effects it can have.

1 Comment

Gina Minica
Jun 17, 2023


I have read I think over half of your postings. (And will read all, as time allows ...which I think will take place this coming week). I wasn't looking for any information on any of your topics, I was just browsing. But almost immediately, you struck a cord with me and I knew I had to read more. And as it turns out, I will be applying some key principles by use of main aspects in style from the Military, which is mandated in law- how fascinating, I had no idea that this was so defined and required use for all Military communications. One of my skill sets and social work I am involved in deals with State U…

bottom of page