When writing an article for on-line or print publications, a knowledge of the fundamentals of style and layout will stand you in good stead in making sure your piece stands out from the crowd.
If you look at a newspaper report or press release, you will notice that the whole piece is summed up in its opening paragraph. This gives the reader enough information to know whether the topic is interesting enough to read further. In addition, you can expect to find five key issues explained during the course of an article: Who? What? When? Where? How?
Following the introductory overview it is common practice to name who is involved in the story. This does not necessarily mean actual names but could relate to a group of people, a political party, residents in a community or even whole nationalities.
Next comes the part concerning why the article is being written in the first place. What has happened / is happening to the people involved? Always try and write in a way that enables the reader to feel he is involved by making the article relevant to them. This is vital so that you can engage the reader in the story you are trying to tell.
The ‘when?’ is particularly important if writing a news report as a newspaper needs its information to be as up to date as possible. In periodicals which are published less frequently, facts such as precise times become less important so time of day i.e. morning rush hour would be sufficient. The exception to this is when publicising an upcoming event.
If this is a news story on a past event or is concerning something that is going to happen soon, the location is very important. The detail is again dependent on the audience you are writing for so you will need to write accordingly. Remember that statements like, ‘the incident took place opposite the Town Hall on Lutterworth High Street’ will only mean something to people who know the area. If you are writing for a national publication there will be those who won’t even know where Lutterworth is, let alone the Town Hall. In this instance it makes sense to quote the county (Leicestershire) or broader area (East Midlands).
With any reported incident there is more to it than just the event itself. If there was a fire, what caused it? If there have been job losses what reasons can be attributed to the company having to make the cuts? There is always a back story so explaining the possible reasons as to what happened will give the reader a better understanding of the story as a whole.
Adding credibility to your story
It is always worth getting supplementary information such as an eye-witness account or quote from someone involved. However, if the article involves legal proceedings you should be absolutely certain that you can a) name them and b) be certain of the facts of the case. The last thing you want is to risk legal action to be taken against you or your publication.
Any article should also be backed-up with relevant statistics to give the story some context. If you can compare it with previous events you will provide a greater understanding of the impact of the story unfolding.
One aspect of article writing I haven’t discussed so far is the title or headline and I have deliberately left that till last – as should you. By writing your article in full first, you will get a fuller flavour for the story and it will become easier to sum up the piece in a few simple words. Remember that this is your hook to attract people in so don’t rush it – make it the best you can.
This article, like yours, should end with a summary and a general comment of what the implications are going forward. You can include a call to action to encourage the reader to make a follow-up. This could be a letter to the publication or contact details should they want to know more.
The notes above are merely the basics which can be adapted to any written article. If you follow them you should be able to write more targetted articles for your readers that will keep them engaged to the end of the piece. Good luck!