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How to write a feature article

September 5, 2008

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.

More Tips

  • 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

Wikihow suggests:

  • 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:
  1. Tell your readers what you are going to tell them. This is your introduction.
  2. Tell your readers what you promised to tell them.
  3. 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:

  • Thoroughness
  • Accuracy
  • Fairness
  • Transparency

(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.)

WikipediaWictionaryChambers (UK)Google imagesGoogle defineThe Free DictionaryJoin exampleWordNetGoogleUrban DictionaryAnswers.comrhymezone.comMerriam-Webster
WikipediaWictionaryChambers (UK)Google imagesGoogle defineThe Free DictionaryJoin exampleWordNetGoogleUrban DictionaryAnswers.comrhymezone.comMerriam-Webster
WikipediaWictionaryChambers (UK)Google imagesGoogle defineThe Free DictionaryJoin exampleWordNetGoogleUrban DictionaryAnswers.comrhymezone.comMerriam-Webster
WikipediaWictionaryChambers (UK)Google imagesGoogle defineThe Free DictionaryJoin exampleWordNetGoogleUrban DictionaryAnswers.comrhymezone.comMerriam-Webster
WikipediaWictionaryChambers (UK)Google imagesGoogle defineThe Free DictionaryJoin exampleWordNetGoogleUrban DictionaryAnswers.comrhymezone.comMerriam-Webster
WikipediaWictionaryChambers (UK)Google imagesGoogle defineThe Free DictionaryJoin exampleWordNetGoogleUrban DictionaryAnswers.comrhymezone.comMerriam-Webster
WikipediaWictionaryChambers (UK)Google imagesGoogle defineThe Free DictionaryJoin exampleWordNetGoogleUrban DictionaryAnswers.comrhymezone.comMerriam-Webster
29 Comments leave one →
  1. September 5, 2008 4:24 pm

    a very informative post…:) well i think if we write for yourself there will be no problems😛

    guess so!🙂 – nita

  2. September 5, 2008 5:10 pm

    Cool!!!

    🙂 – nita

  3. September 5, 2008 5:13 pm

    I think the so called news organizations need to read this post as a refresher in how to write.

    well, thanks Brian!🙂 – nita.

  4. September 5, 2008 5:26 pm

    Nita, Thank you for a very informative piece on writing tips. I am clipping this for future reference.

    thank you too! – nita.

  5. jottingsnmusings permalink
    September 5, 2008 5:29 pm

    Thanks! I always wondered if I could write a journalistic piece… I am going to try one sometime with the tips you’ve offered.

    anyone can write a journalistic piece. It’s actual writing that’s tough, I mean creative writing!

  6. September 5, 2008 5:53 pm

    This is excellent Nita! I’ll share this post with my friend, By-Line Woman, and already know she will concur with all your points. G

    Hope so!🙂 – nita.

  7. chirax permalink
    September 5, 2008 7:30 pm

    Bravo, This is a “Must Read”.

    🙂 – nita.

  8. September 5, 2008 7:31 pm

    First of all, thanks a lot for heeding my request.

    You have answered most of my questions. Earlier on I used to get frustated thinking that i am not able to get things right at my first attempt. I wrote the same sentences numerous times to get it write. You have just layed down what every writer goes thru .

    Nita, when you talk about objectivity in writing..does that mean a journo’s role is limited to provide all perspectives about an issue? What if something is clearly discernible(wrong or right) how should journalist handle that?

    you are welcome priyanka. And no, a journalist’s role is not defined so strictly. It all finally depends on the subject doesn’t it! I mean on some issues, controversial ones, providing difference perspectives is important, on others it isn’t! – nita.

  9. September 5, 2008 7:57 pm

    wow awesome … loved the post..

    Use simple language because yours is not a literary piece, it’s a method of conveying information and at times an attempt to persuade.

    well said.. i have read some posts in whihc ppl deliberately put difficult words just to flaunt their english ..😛

    and u need lot of patience for all this ..😀

    wonderful post..
    loved it …

    thanks! – nita.

  10. September 5, 2008 9:10 pm

    Ok I think i’ll pdf this post and save it for future guidance if I ever write any article in life! Wonderful post! I admire your patience!

    Thanks Reema. – nita.

  11. September 5, 2008 9:12 pm

    @ Nita:

    Interesting post!

    Reading about writing is one of my favourite kinds of reading although those books do not – nor does this post – lend themselves to ‘book reviews’🙂

    I suppose, just like in cooking, one just has to get on and do the actual work. The process of writing polishes itself with practice. Being paid helps too😉

    As you said, practice makes perfect. – nita.

  12. September 5, 2008 11:27 pm

    like reema, i admire your patience too!!🙂 but i’ve mentioned that before. well done.

    being paid really helps, shefaly.😉

    🙂 – nita.

  13. September 6, 2008 9:29 am

    It’s great how you break down the process of writing a journalistic style article. So much work! What really amazes me is how many articles you write on your blog, and I’m thinking these posts are only part of what you write.

    Sorry I’ve been absent here for so long. My friend and I are starting a poetry and art journal, and it’s been very time consuming. I’m looking forward to catching up on your articles.

    yep 99% perspiration! and look forward to seeing you here more often christine! – nita.

  14. September 6, 2008 11:26 am

    Oh..! I think drawing cartoons is much easier🙂

    for you, not for me!🙂 – nita

  15. September 6, 2008 11:31 am

    As usual, a great post!🙂 i don’t know whether i will write an article ever in my life, but one never knows!!🙂 i then, if i ever treid, this is certainly going to help!!🙂

    thanks sakhi. while these guidelines are for articles, I think there is something everyone can take home, for all kinds of writing. – nita.

  16. September 6, 2008 11:33 am

    Nita, Your about page hotlinked in “Note” footnote is calling me Tiger… easy tiger, pay $200 for wildlife etc.

    Anshul, the link was broken, thanks!😀 – nita

  17. amybradneygeorge permalink
    September 6, 2008 12:49 pm

    Hey, I saw this one the wordpress homepage and thought I’d have a look. You’ve covered almost everything that I do when I write features, and the information and way you’ve written it is really easy to follow.

    I would also say that another important part of writing features is the talent, or people you interview. They can really be integral to how the angle of the article is shaped, and the tone and mood of the finished draft. Quite a few journalists I’ve met have said things like “let the talent tell the story, and use your words to compliment what they say”, and while that’s not always good in features, it’s a good perspective to keep in mind. Quotes are a really important part of features because you’re going into an issue in-depth and I think readers always appreciate getting to know the people involved.

    I also just wanted to say that I think anyone who wants to write features as a freelance writer might want to start with what interests them, and develop a story from there. I’ve found that if you have an interest or passion for the topic you can often pitch it to a publisher more successfully – they respect the genuine interest.

    Anyway, I just thought I’d drop by and share my thoughts. Thanks for the interesting read!

    Amy

    Thanks for your feedback Amy. True what you say, the meat of the article does depend on the quotes. – nita.

  18. September 6, 2008 1:30 pm

    Interesting read!! Thanks for sharing.🙂

    welcome! – nita.

  19. September 6, 2008 8:20 pm

    Thanks for writing this Nita. There is something for everyone to pickup from here🙂

    thanks. – nita.

  20. September 7, 2008 2:46 am

    Absolutely great post, Nita!
    You won`t believe, but I was just wondering the other day how you go about your blogposts🙂 And here is the answer… exllent tipps, 1000 thanks!

    thanks Axinia. – nita.

  21. September 7, 2008 5:43 pm

    Thanks. Interesting read.

  22. September 7, 2008 6:40 pm

    Good one… Stumbled!

  23. September 7, 2008 7:13 pm

    Brava Nita!

    This is a good guide.

    I would love to have you as a guest writer once on MasterNewMedia

    Thanks Robin. I appreciate your feedback. – nita.

  24. September 15, 2008 1:36 pm

    Wow…
    thats informative :))

  25. September 22, 2008 7:15 pm

    I am saving this on for future reference , very useful. Thanks.

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