Columns are those short but smart pieces of text that leave you exhilarated. A writer can send a subtle message with a column, make a reader laugh out loud or astonish him with great use of language. I read many columns and wrote quite a few myself too. I re-read the columns that my readers liked the most and looked for common characteristics. Here are the results, presented in three steps!
A. Think of an analogy
A lot of good stories make their point by comparing a rather small event with a bigger more relevant one. In my most successful column, I compared an engineers view with a childrens view on the same toy. By means of this comparison, I was able to point out the clear differences between an engineering study and other studies. It resulted in many comments from engineering students. They stated I had hit the nail on the head.
B. Think of the beginning and the end
The single most important parts of a column are the beginning and the end. A columnist of a Dutch news paper once put it like this during a training: a good first sentence will grab the readers attention and, ideally, the second sentence is just a little better. This should be enough to get anyone reading. As the end is the last thing one reads, and remains most fresh in our memories, it should be good too. Preferably it has some relationship to the first sentences. This creates a feeling of wholeness.
C. Fill it up
Of course just creating a beginning and the end isn’t enough. The body should be quiet good too. You’d best focus on being clear and being understandable. Some of the columns I wrote where the result of a lot of reasoning. Pitifully, the readers didn’t really catch the message because I didn’t put as much time in trying to explain it. Finally, applicable for every text: erase as much as you can. The shorter, the better.
If this doesn’t work right away for you: keep practicing. It takes quite some time to get a feeling of what the public loves to read. But once you know, you’ll be able to leave them exhilarated with just a piece of text.