How to write a feature article
This how-to-write-an-article post is about writing feature articles, not about what makes a good writer (for this you can take a peek at this post). I am also not writing about how to become a good blogger because there are many styles of blogging and the journalistic kind of blogging is just one of them. But even while writing a journalistic-type blog the blogger will not usually write an “article” – he/she will personalise it. This is what makes a blog different from an article in a newspaper or magazine. It’s personalised and may not present all views.
An article is a presentation of information in as unbiased a manner as possible. True objectivity is not possible, but the journalist needs to try, or at least makes his background known to readers, so they can judge for themselves.
This post is also not about how to write news reports, which are more fact-based.
Here are my points. They might seem very basic and obvious to some. In that case sorry to have wasted your time.
Step 1: Who are you writing for?
Are you writing for a crime magazine, a business newspaper, a daily which specialises in sensational news, or a health paper? And who is your audience? Is there an age-group, a particular economic group or a specific gender? You need to tune in to your readers, your style needs to suit them.
Step 2: How to get those ideas
It’s best to enter a field that you know most about. For example a person familiar with sports could try sports journalism. This is how you get the best ideas…by being familiar with the territory.
And once you are there, catch yourself thinking…your own views will shape your article. Talking to people about your subject, observing their concerns and trying to find solutions will provide the ideas.
If you are working for a publication, it is likely that someone will do the thinking for you and tell you write about a particular subject. But you can always write it with your own (fresh) angle. The common mistake that people make, specially freshers, is that they do not give enough credence to their own thinking. So they try to write an article the way it is written somewhere else. Editors do this too at times. Use a tried and tested formula, re-hash the same thing, in the same way. But originality suffers and I don’t recommend it. I just hope I am not doing it with this post!
And remember, you need an “angle” to whatever you are writing about, as writing a general treatise on any subject is not what makes an article. It will become an academic paper.
Step 3: Research
Even if you know a lot about the subject, research is essential. Much more research than your article requires. If you need to quote five people in an article, talk to at least 7-8. If you want to quote two references in your article, get at least 5. This is not just to validate your points, but to increase your understanding of the subject. What you know is never enough. The only thing that can stop you researching is the time contraint…but quality can suffer. The more research you do, the more depth your article will have. By depth, I mean depth, not width or length. Just because you have spent hours researching something, it doesn’t mean it has to go in your article. It may not fit, but it would have given you a different perspective, a better understanding of the subject. Also, the research will throw up differing viewpoints, something you need if you want to write objectively. That’s the first thing you need to learn as a journalist – handling differing viewpoints and writing objectively. That’s what makes a good journo in my opinion.
Once your research is done, the words flow easily.
To achieve clarity, you need to first understand the subject thoroughly. Good sentence structure also helps clarity.
There are no short-cuts.
Step 4: Write out your points
Write out each point separately, in separate paragraphs. At this juncture, don’t worry too much about which point goes first. This is necessary to avoid the jumbling up of ideas. Cross-check the accuracy of facts. The importance of accuracy cannot be over-stressed. Your newspaper or magazine could be sued if you make a mistake or ruin a reputation.
Step 5: Write the introduction but make it brief
The introduction will comprise of what you intend to say. If your points are written out, this should be easy. Many people make the mistake of trying to write the introduction first. This never worked for me. I don’t know whether how they teach it in journalism school, if they say write the intro first. Something tells me that they don’t.
Step 6: Get to the point straightaway
Take the most important point, or rather the main point, and start off with it right away, because in the initial stages you need to hold the readers’ interest. Very often the writer doesn’t get to the point (which is in the title of the article as well) and people stop reading mid-way. They feel let down as the title and the introduction has sucked them in.
Once you have got to the point, you can explain it further as you go on. In news reports (not feature articles) there is no introduction, you start off with the meat. But I have seen that in many news reports in Indian newspapers the main point is in the last few lines of the piece. A pity.
Step 7: Sew it together
The structure should fall into place now. You need to decide which paragraph/point comes next and then link all paragraphs to each other. You are writing an essay, not some piece in bullet form. A lot of re-writing needs to be done at this stage to get the flow right. The more experienced you are, the quicker you will be able to do this. Write it, leave it for a few hours, then come back again…and again. The hardest work is already behind you.
Step 8: Sum up in a nutshell
A brief conclusion, summing up the points, gives tells the reader what he/she has read. It’s important, for clarity, and also because readers tend to skip paragraphs in articles. The conclusion should be brief, and in a discussion piece should weigh the pros and cons. In an article the journo does not rant about his/her own opinion. Different views are what enables the reader to make up his own mind…only editorials are opinion pieces.
- Use simple language because yours is not a literary piece, it’s a method of conveying information and at times an attempt to persuade.
- Present a “clean” copy to the editor. While a journalist/reporter has an editor who reviews his piece and checks for grammatical errors, no one likes a copy full of mistakes. If you make the sub-editor re-write your piece, you will be the loser. On another note, some editors have this awful habit of re-writing everything and murdering your unique style.
- You need to write to deadlines. But speed comes with practice. My recommendation is, don’t sacrifice quality, not if you want to impress your boss.
There is more information on how-to-write articles on other sites which I am adding here. You will find that some of the points have been mentioned by me. There is more detailed information on their sites.
About.com recommends that to write a good article you need to have:
- Speed and accuracy
- News judgment
- Spelling and grammar skills
- Interpersonal skills
- Figuring out who your audience is.
- Doing your research. How well do you know the topic? Is it something you can write easily about with little or no preparation, or do you need more information from experts in the field?
- Deciding on the length of the article.
- Writing either an outline or a summary of your article.
- Writing the rough draft of the article as follows:
- Tell your readers what you are going to tell them. This is your introduction.
- Tell your readers what you promised to tell them.
- Tell your readers what you just told them.
- Double-checking facts
- Checking for grammar and spelling errors.
- Rewriting the article as often as it takes.
Masternewmedia.org tells you to keep in mind:
(Photo copyrighted to me)
(Note: I have resisted writing a post on “how to write articles” even though several readers have requested me to do so over the past year. I have avoided it for two reasons. One, I have not studied journalism (to know my educational background you can read my “About” page). Secondly, I was never an “editor” – why, I was unable to remain in one job for more than couple of years at time, sometimes even less. I’ve have spent many years free-lancing as I was keen on being with my children. However a reader (Priyanka) has been particularly persuasive and finally I decided to write this post.)