So you’ve done a ton of reporting, conducted in-depth interviews and dug up a great story. But all your hard work will be wasted if you write a boring article that no one will read. Follow these tips and you’ll be on your way to writing news stories that will get a reader’s attention. Think of it this way: Journalists write to be read, not to have their stories be ignored, correct? So here’s how beginning journalists can produce stories that will grab plenty of eyeballs.
Write a Great Lede
The lede is your one shot to get your readers’ attention. Write a great one and they’re bound to read on. Write a boring one and they’ll pass all your hard work by. The trick is, the lede has to convey the main points of the story in no more than 35-40 words – and be interesting enough to make readers want more.
You’ve probably heard an editor say that when it comes to news writing, keep it short, sweet, and to the point. Some editors call this “writing tight.” It means conveying as much information as possible in as few words as possible. It sounds easy, but if you’ve spent years writing research papers, where the emphasis is often on being long-winded, it can be quite difficult. How do you do it? Find your focus, avoid too many clauses, and use a model called S-V-O or Subject-Verb-Object.
Structure It Right
The inverted pyramid is the structural model for news writing. It simply means that the heaviest or most important information should be at the top – the beginning – of your story, and the least important information should go at the bottom. And as you move from top to bottom, the information presented should gradually become less important. The format may seem odd at first, but it’s easy to pick up, and there are very practical reasons why reporters have used it for decades.
Use the Best Quotes
So you’ve done a long interview with a source and have pages of notes. But chances are you’ll only be able to fit a few quotes from that lengthy interview into your article. Which ones should you use? Reporters often talk about using only “good” quotes for their stories, but what does this mean? Basically, a good quote is when someone says something interesting, and says it in an interesting way.
Use Verbs and Adjectives the Right Way
There’s an old rule in the writing business – show, don’t tell. The problem with adjectives is that they don’t show us anything. In other words, they rarely if ever evoke visual images in readers’ minds and are just a lazy substitute for writing good, effective description. And while editors like the use of verbs – they convey action and give a story a sense of momentum – too often writers use tired, overused verbs.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Newswriting is like anything else – the more you practice, the better you’ll get. And while there’s no substitute for having a real story to report and then bang out on a real deadline, you can use news writing exercises like the ones found here to hone and sharpen your skills. And you can improve your writing speed by forcing yourself to pound out these stories in an hour or less.