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TU Writing Guidelines and Editorial Procedure


This document describes the writing process of The Undercurrent, including both procedural elements and the nature of the content.

Elements of a good article

 A good article for TU should be:

  •  Relevant to TU’s distinctive audience

TU’s writing is aimed primarily at college students, but also the educated public in general. To be relevant to this audience, a topic should relate to the lives and values of the reader in some way. This includes most current national and world issues and broader cultural trends, but may also include questions of special ongoing interest to students (e.g. the student loan crisis, the culture wars in higher education, etc.).

Topics to be avoided include anything that is too narrow or obscure for the reader to identify with. For example, the general reader would not be able to grasp an article making a technical philosophical point.

  •  Timely

Readers are drawn to articles to read analysis of current political or cultural events that they are hearing about or experiencing in their daily lives. So timeliness is important for relevance (see above). It is also important for showing the versatility of your philosophical ideas: if these ideas can be shown to apply freshly to the events of the day, this shows the ideas are living, breathing things.

  •  Self-contained and delimited

This applies to all good writing, but is particularly important to our articles.  An article should be delimited in its scope so as to be easily digestible to the reader and therefore effective. In other words, a writer should limit himself to making at most a few points that can be argued effectively in a relatively short op-ed style article (as against an essay). Some points are too controversial to assert in the space of a small article. It is easier, for instance, to illustrate how some religious idea leads to destructive self-sacrifice, than it is to argue that there is no God and that religion is essentially irrational.

An article is not intended to substitute for a complete philosophical defense of any subject. Rather, it should attempt to make a limited point, and make it convincingly.  If the reader comes away with a better understanding of just that point, the article is successful.

  •  Expressive of a distinctly Objectivist viewpoint

TU’s purpose is to provide commentary based on Objectivism. That is the unique value that distinguishes our content from other sources. Thus, a good article in this context means that it makes a uniquely Objectivist point, as opposed to an argument that is valid but is not distinctive from other sources of commentary.

As an example, consider two possible approaches to social security. One is that the current social security system is financially untenable due to the projected increases in recipients, and that therefore social security should be dismantled before it causes a bigger budget deficit. Another approach is to argue that social security is based on the idea that some individuals should be forced to provide for the needs of others, and is therefore an immoral violation of their rights. The first argument, while valid, does not address the fundamental moral issue involved and is therefore much less effective and distinctive as compared to the second argument, which does.

A good rule of thumb here is that if an article could be written easily by a conservative or a libertarian—and if many such articles have already been written—it’s probably not an article for TU.

The process of writing for the blog

To make the writing process easier to understand, it is helpful to break it down into steps. 

1. Choose a topic (what you want to write about)

There are a wide variety of good potential topics that are timely and relevant. A common approach is to find an interesting article or news story online, then link to it by way of introducing the topic.

2. Choose a theme (what you want to say about it)

Think about the subject and try to identify the one or two essential points you’d like to make about it. Remember, it is easy to try to tackle too much.

Example theme: “Because it forces some to support the lives of others, social security is an immoral system.

3. Develop an outline

Identifying the basic structure of your post before beginning writing will help make the writing process easier and result in a better article. An outline should consist of simple but full declarative sentences that together in sequence describe the basic argument toward the theme.

An example outline on social security:

  1. Many recent news stories have discussed the looming financial problems of social security (provide brief background facts and link to a relevant article)
  2. Supporters of social security say that it is needed in order to provide a safety net to the nation’s retirees.
  3. But everyone has the moral right to decide for themselves how they spend the money they earn. Forcing some people to provide for the well-being of others violates that right.
  4. Since social security is morally unjustified, we should seek not to reform it, but to abolish it.

4. Send your one-sentence theme and outline to TU editors (editors@the-undercurrent.com)

The editors can provide valuable feedback before you begin writing.

 5. Draft

Use the outline to write a draft. Keep in mind that this begins the editing process, so avoid the mental expectation that the first result is a final piece.

6. Do a basic self-edit

Do a quick edit for grammar and readability. Then read over your post projecting the mindset of yourself before you knew the argument you are making. What did you need to know to become convinced of this point? Does the argument show rather than tell? Does it count on specialized knowledge that the general reader doesn’t have.

7. Send the draft to the editors to begin editing process (editors@the-undercurrent.com)

The editors will provide comments back on the draft. You will be able to revise and accept or reject their proposed changes. Several rounds of editing may be required, depending on the complexity of the piece. Please resubmit after each revision.

8. Get published!

Once a final draft is approved, the post will be published.  The post can be attributed to you, or if you prefer you can provide an alias or publish as “guest.”