Hi there, readers of Lydia’s blog! I’m back guest-posting on here, this time with a selection of top tips when it comes to writing news and feature articles.
You might be readers of mine and/or Lydia’s blogs as you’re interested in the content we post about journalism — perhaps you’re a journalist or aspiring journalist yourself and enjoy reading content about the industry. However, if you’re specifically looking to hone your skills when it comes to writing the two main types of journalistic articles, then perhaps these ideas might be of use to you!
The first tip I have when it comes to learning how to write news articles — though the same does also apply when it comes to feature articles — is to read, read, read. Reading different types of articles will teach you so much about the individual journalistic article forms and how they’re structured, as well as improving your spelling, grammar and vocabulary so that when you come to write your own pieces, the process will be so much easier. If you’re wanting to learn how to write news articles, a local paper will be full of examples of articles of this sort.
If I’m honest, because of the fact I’ve now written so many articles, the structure of different pieces comes to me quite easily — although that’s not to say I always find writing articles easy! However, when I write a news article, I subconsciously use the “inverted pyramid” structure: the most important information comes first, with information of less importance, or with less of a need to be included in the piece, placed later on. News articles normally feature a paragraph break after every sentence (though of course, there can be exceptions depending on the context and house style of a publication), so your first sentences should really be focused on communicating to people the bare bones of what they need to know about a story. Essentially, the question in the back of your mind should be: why is this a story?
When you’re writing a news article, think back to primary school literacy lessons and the idea of who, what, when, where and why. Readers need to know what the story is, who is involved, when it occurred/will occur and where it occurred/will occur, as well as, potentially, reasoning or background behind it. Remember that news articles should be impartial — they are written in the third person, not the first, and this is not the time to start giving your own personal views about the subject. Also, be sure that you have a knowledge of media law and what can and can’t be printed in a piece — you don’t want to land yourself and/or your publication in hot water.
If you’re finding writing a news article a struggle, here’s a tip for you: most news articles contain at least one sentence worth of quote from an individual, so put the quote(s) down on the page first and it may help you get off the ground.
Feature articles are very different to news articles in that there isn’t an automatic “go-to” structure like with the inverted pyramid structure for news articles. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn more about how to write them. As previously mentioned, reading different feature articles in different publications for starters — from interviews to general longform pieces — will give you a much better idea of how to write longer articles.
Of course, writing up an interview in prose style is arguably much easier than writing a non-interview feature, as you’re usually being lead by the questions and answers from your interview — perhaps you might choose to use your answers in a certain order as it will make for a good piece, or perhaps you’ll just be writing up the answers to your questions in the order that you asked them. However, if you’re writing a non-interview piece — a feature looking into a specific topic — I have tips that I reckon will help you write it better.
Features often explore an issue in more detail and offer some kind of finding(s), so if this is the kind of feature you’re writing, be sure that the research that you’ve done (be it conducting interviews, looking things up or finding statistics) matches up to the angle that your piece ends up taking. It’s great if an idea for a fantastic angle for an article you’re working on strikes you before you even begin researching, but if your research throws up different results or a different situation to what you thought you’d discover, don’t try and shoehorn things into your final piece to back up your original viewpoint on the topic. Comment pieces, of course, are better places to offer your own view on a topic, provided that everything you say is within the confines of media law.
As for how your features start and end, I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rules (although I am terrible at finding ideas for good conclusions for my features). Like with my news articles, I often work with structuring my features in an instinctive way, so I tend to follow how I feel a particular article is leading me (which sounds a bit wishy-washy, but it’s true). However, when it comes to starting a feature, here’s one idea: I once watched a video about writing good features from an editor of a UK women’s magazine, and I think she suggested that you could start by taking your readers in one direction and then completely flip things on their head.
There’s so much more that can be said about writing news and feature articles, but I hope that these tips give you more of an insight into how to write these different kinds of pieces. If you’d like to read more from me, I blog over at Kate Jones 50.