In this article, we are going to take a look at writing a news story. news stories are written very differently from other types of work and have their own set of rules. We hope that by the end of this article you will have a comprehensive knowledge of the subject.
The difference between a News Article and a Feature Article
There are distinct differences between the way you write a news article and a feature article. These are the two most common types of stories you will write, and understand what type of story you are writing will help you write a better article. It is surprising how many experienced writers fail to distinguish between these story types. The three main differences between the two types of stories are as follows.
A news story is time-sensitive. The publisher wants the article published as soon as possible after the event. Feature articles are not time-sensitive and can be written anytime after the event has occurred.
News articles are much more direct and get straight to the point, using less than 400 words. A feature story will have a different structure, with up at least 2,000 words.
A news story will tell the main points within the first couple of lines. A feature story will build up a narrative that tells the story over the complete article.
In this article, we will be looking at how a well written news article is constructed.
What is News?
It is of the utmost importance that you set your focus on the facet of the story that will have interest for the audience. The factors that make a story into a news article are
- the importance to the reader
- The emotion that the story generates
- The impact on the reader
- How relevant the story is to what is happening now
- How interesting the subject matter is
If a story only has an impact on a small number of people, or involves a small number of people, it is less likely to qualify as a news story. Timing is an important element of a news story. What may be a news story today may no longer be considered such in a few days.
Who, what, where, when, why, and how?
Journalists first starting their careers are always told that the basics of a good news story must include the following elements
- Who is the subject of the story?
- What happened?
- Where did it happen?
- Why did it happened?
- How did it happen?
In almost all cases, these five elements should appear in the headline and the first paragraph.
Write the news first, and only then write the background
The news is the most important element of the story. Some people may not want to know the background, so we should provide the news before moving on to more detailed background information. If you’re writing about dielectric testing, keep it on dielectric testing – no background information. When writing news stories we are not in the business of forcing readers to keep reading until the end. When reviewing your story, a good test is to ask whether you just read the headline and the first couple of lines, or even just the headline.
Be objective, stick to facts, avoid opinion
When writing a news item, you should remember you are writing a factual item. It is not supposed to contain your personal opinions. Your opinions of an event may be vastly different from the opinion of the reader. Your writing is simply there to convey facts. If you must write an opinion as part of the item, it should be attributed by name to the individual who made the statement so that people will understand whose perspective the opinion represents.
Keep all news short
Your writing, in a news article, should be phrased as succinctly as possible. Do not pad out a story with unnecessary prose. The maximum length of your news article should be restricted to a maximum of 400 words. The optimum length should be between 250 and 300 words. Keeping the content engaging and at the same time keeping it brief is an important requirement, as is including all the required facts.
You are not creating a literary work so it is preferred that you keep the language used to easy readable, simple language that avoids overly complex language. Keep the text punchy and factual and do not include information that is not relevant to the news item.
Simple language requires short sentences that deal only with one idea, with a maximum of 25 characters. Use everyday English, avoiding technical phrases or academic styles.
When writing a news item it is wise to write as if the reader has no prior knowledge of the topic.
If your news story contains any acronyms, the first time they are used they should be written in full with the acronym in brackets immediately after. If repeated later in the article, it is then acceptable just to use the acronym.
Most publications or websites that distribute news stories have a “house style.” This consistent style of writing is used in all stories and the style becomes part of the publication’s branding.
Regular readers of new from multiple sources can often identify the source of articles simply from the house style.
You do not matter
Readers will typically not know who wrote a news item, and in most cases, will not care. Avoid referring to yourself by the use of “I” or “We” when writing. If a reason arises that requires the author to be mentioned, a full name should be used, or if more relevant, your team department’s name.
Exclamation marks are not used in news articles except in very limited occasions. It is better to do without them completely if you are able.
Your headline is the single most important part of the item
A snappy headline that is both informative and appealing will attract a reader to look at the article, There has been research that reveals 80% of readers will only read the headline and then skip the article. Your headline, containing between four and eight words, should ideally tell the story. Experienced writers will typically write the headline after they have written the article. They are then able to condense what they have written into this short phrase that tells the basic story.
A Picture is worth 1,000 words
When writing the news story, is it possible to accompany it with a picture? A single image can convey a great deal of supplementary information. If an actual picture of the event is not available, a stock photo (as long as marked as such) may be an alternative.
Review your work
When you feel that you have completed your news article, it is time to take a short break and come back to the article with a fresh pair of eyes
Does it make sense?
- First – look at the headline, does it tell a story? Would you understand what article is about? If it does not, then is there a way you can improve it?
- Do the first two lines of the story fill out the information missing from the headline to give you a clearer idea of the story?
- Read the entire article and check you have a complete understanding of Who, what, where, when, why and how.
Could the article be clearer?
- Have you used language that someone with no prior knowledge could understand?
- Have you kept the language as simple as possible, using short sentences and no jargon? If you have used acronyms, have you explained what they mean?
- Does the structure follow a logical order that tells the story as concisely as possible? If it could be improved, then rewrite it. Sometimes when viewing a complete article it occurs to you how the story could have been told better.
Is it accurate?
A news article should be factual. There is no room for embroidering the story and filling in the parts you do not know with supposition. If you write news stories that are not accurate, you will soon lose your credibility. A news story is simply there to relate facts to the reader and they must be able to rely on those facts being true.
Have you repeated yourself?
In some other writing types it can be acceptable to emphasize elements within the article by repeating them, perhaps phrased slightly differently. In news stories, because you are trying to be concise, repetition is something that should be avoided. It is very easy to repeat yourself when writing and this is why you check your work on completion and read it through.
Is it written in plain and appropriate English?
Look at the English you have used when writing the article. Is it easy to read, understandable, and appropriate for the type of topic? Writing frivolously about a serious topic could be seen as very offensive. The style of writing must match the tone of the event. In some circumstances you may be writing for different publications, make sure that you have written in the correct version of English; International English, or American English.
Are all the facts correct?
Make sure you check the dates and any numerical data has been entered correctly. Once you have done this, check all other facts, such as place names and unfamiliar words.
Some tips from a professional journalist
To complete this look at writing news articles some tips from professionals who write news articles everyday can add another angle to what you have learned in this article. Here are a handful of tips from the coal face.
To be sure of accuracy, it may be necessary to visit the scene of the news (subject to budget). Even if you cannot go to the scene, it is important to get together all the information you will need to write the article before you start writing. Having quotes from the people concerned can make a news article much more informative and relevant. Interviews with witnesses and a good understanding of search techniques will help to flesh out the article.
Find Your Angle
Every news story will present different angles. The angle is how you approach the story, the focus that makes the story newsworthy. You should make your angle clear inside the text in the first paragraph of the article.
A lede is the first sentence of a news story that will attract the readers’ attention. It sets up the reader to look for more information in the article.
The Inverted Pyramid structure
When a journalist writes a news article, their aim is to tell the most important information first (the widest part of the pyramid. They then move onto secondary information (less quantity of this). Finally, any other relevant information might help (the narrowest part of the pyramid containing minimal information. The system stems from the telegraph’s early days and ensured that the most important information got to the newspaper office first. It has become a standard way of writing.
Include quotes when possible
Great journalism contains quotes from people directly involved in the story. This keeps the reporter as a mere observer who does not intercede his own opinions and tells the story from more than one perspective.
Active Voice – Not Passive
Write in the active voice (She fed the victim). Do not write in the passive voice (She fed the victim). This uses fewer words and also keeps the tempo of the news item moving.
Where are you getting your information? Are you relying on second-hand information? Are you sure it is accurate? If the sources are published, then provide links to where you got them. Any interviews you carried out should have a phone number on record. It is of the utmost importance that you can verify your sources.
You should always ensure that you have run your writing through a grammar and spelling checker, that is set to the correct language (International English or American English). As a professional writer you should never submit work that is not checked and edited.