DIY: How To Write A Commentary

DIY: How To Write A Commentary

YOUR VOICE. YOUR PERSPECTIVE. Commentaries offer an opportunity to bring your unique experience and thoughtful opinion to an issue of your choice. With a commentary, you can speak for yourself and on your own terms, while representing a wider community whose genuine voices, insights, and realities are left out of the national debate.

How can you help people relate to an issue everyone’s talking about, in a new way? Or maybe there’s an issue no one’s paying attention to–and you’re convinced we need to. If your take on that issue is personal and grounded in your own experience, the commentary is a way for you to drive the national conversation forward.

Characteristics of a Commentary

  • Pick an issue that inspires passion in you.
  • Write from your own point of view and draw on your personal, lived experience with plenty of detail. 
  • Assert a clear point of view/opinion.
  • Connect your story to broader social themes. 
  • Use concrete examples and stories in your writing. Replace general statements with concrete examples that bring readers inside moments of your life. 
  • Include opposing points of view, arguments and/or research.
  • Write conversationally, like you speak. 
  • Fact-check! Everything in your story has to be true. 
  • Use humor. 
  • Think about the rhythm and pacing of the piece–go back and forth between moments you can describe to bring us into your life and analysis of why these events are important to your issue. 
  • Keep it brief. Commentaries are short. From 200-700 words.

Background: Identifying The Components Of A Commentary

Most commentaries are made up of a few standard parts, defined below:

Tease/Lede: The part of the commentary that “hooks” you, grabbing your interest so that you want to keep on listening. It’s usually the opening to the commentary. Effective ledes use narrative techniques, such as humor, intrigue or controversy, to draw the listener in. If your opening makes people say, “Ooh, tell me more about that,” then you’ve accomplished your goal.

Example : “Growing up as a young, black male in America is not easy. Sometimes it feels like I’m walking on eggshells just to walk a straight line…”

Example “I was 16 years old when I found out that I had been diagnosed with high-functioning autism.…”

Tag: This is the part of the commentary where the speaker identifies him or herself. This can occur as part of an intro or at the end of the commentary, depending on the outlet.

Example: “Jill Smith is a senior at Oakland High School and writer with YR Media.”

Scene: Good storytellers know that a little description goes a long way. Describe specific moments, interactions, or scenes you’ve been a part of that apply to the point you want to make. This will help listeners understand who you are and where you’re coming from.

Example: “I often catch myself smiling whenever I’m in conversations with upper-class white folks, so they won’t feel threatened by my presence. There’s been times when I’ve walked down the street and seen car doors lock and purses tucked tighter.”

Example: “I was sitting in my tenth grade class and my special ed teacher was going over an interesting article about different types of ‘learning disabilities.’ She stopped and told the class that we were all on the autism spectrum. Immediately, my heart dropped.”

Argument/Evidence: Your argument is the “point” or take-away message of the commentary. It should be firmly based in the writer’s experience. The writer will use evidence, like examples or statistics, to persuade the listener or reader that the argument makes sense.

Example: “I worry a lot of being misinterpreted as a thug, even at my classes at the college of Alameda. I never ask questions, so that other students wouldn’t hear how I speak and associate my language with a thug. All that changed when I recently was recruited to join a class that’s specifically for men of color. We learn professional and public speaking skills and how to be leaders and improvise in tough situations.

Example: “Music came easy to me. I could replicate any rhythm, even if I had only heard it once. In class I would drum on the desks. When there was no furniture around, I’d tap on my head and stomach and chatter my teeth. In high school I started producing my own music. Unlike some of my peers, I never got tired of working on my beats. I found out later that people with autism tend to have a keen interest. I started thinking autism might not be a disadvantage after all. When it comes to music, it feels like a superpower.”

Conclusion: The conclusion wraps up the commentary, giving listeners a sense of closure. There are many ways to conclude your commentary — examples include a witty line, a memorable statement or image, or an answer to a question or ending to a story proposed earlier in the commentary. Note: there is a tendency to end commentaries with some version of “How will things turn out?  It remains to be seen…” We get the temptation to go for that conclusion, but we ask you to avoid it. We want you to have a powerful final word. 

Example: “We all come from different backgrounds, but we all share the same desire, to get a college degree. I believe this class will help me become more comfortable and confident, and help me change other peoples’ opinions of all young black males in America.”

Example: “Eventually, I started to tell people close to me that I am autistic, and they seemed okay with it. Instead of judging me, they told me that’s part of what makes me unique.”

Other Examples of Commentaries (for radio and print)

Student at Harvard Defends Affirmative Action

My First Encounter with Racism

For a Moderate Conservative at Berkeley, a Battle on Two Fronts

Understanding Singular They

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Invest in the diverse voices that will shape and lead the future of journalism and art.
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