Writing feature articles for context A guide to audience, purpose, form
What is a feature article? There are many types of feature articles. They are not the same as news articles, which are based on an event and aim to explain what happened.
Examples of features • How to guides • Humour • Profiles • Investigative • Analysis (political) • Inspirational • Personal experience/ anecdotal (‘It happened to me, but it could happen to anyone…’) • Lists • Fluff piece • Immersion journalism
Topics for feature articles Here are some examples of topics that generate regular features in our newspapers (some have their own section in the weekend papers): • Celebrity – reviews, interviews • The arts • Travel • Food and dining • Sport • Business • Hobbies • Health and fitness • Relationships • Media • Technology
Audience, purpose The audience and purpose of your publication will determine what kind of features are published. What are readers of a publication likely to be interested in? Why might they be reading the publication (eg for information, research, entertainment?) What approach would suit the readers for this topic? (eg. technical, humorous, gossipy, emotive, analytical?) What angle is going to hook readers of this publication in?
Working out your angle News values: a story should tick at least one of the following boxes – it should have: • Impact • Relevance - this could be to do with time of year / season / impact of a news story on a particular group or area etc • Proximity - one subject becomes interesting because of another topic that’s currently in the news • Prominence - rich / powerful / notorious / famous
Timeliness - find an event to peg a feature on eg. spring, an anniversary (eg 10 years on from…), mother’s day, first day of the summer holidays… • Conflict • Currency - spin-offs about other stories that are in the news (what are people talking about?) • The unusual - ‘It’s not news if a dog bites a man but if a man bites a dog, that’s news’ (John B Bogart)
Look at some examples of magazines What can you tell about their intended audience from the content and style of the articles? • What topics do they cover? • What approach do writers take to the articles? • What are their headlines like? • How do they use images to illustrate the articles? • How do they package information to appeal to readers? (eg boxes, sidebars, breakout quotes)
structure • Headline • Precede – (optional) text connected to the headline that gives more information • Byline – the name of the author (may include their credentials in terms of expertise for this story). This may be in the precede or sometimes at the end of the article
layout • Subheads (optional) – a short headline used to break up sections or paras within the body copy. • Breakout quote – an extract from the article, often from a quotation, that’s used to break up the text • As part of a feature you may find the following ‘add-ons’: • Box - a discrete section for material that stands alone but still complements or illustrates the article. It may have its own heading, subheads etc. It is usually marked off by a border or different background colour (in a colour magazine) • Illo- any illustrations or graphics to go with the article. Cartoons, charts, maps, diagrams, graphs, photos, illustrations. • Caption – text that explains an illo • Sidebar (a page-length column alongside the article
Structure -body paragraphs You don’t have to have the structure of a news story (the inverse pyramid – most important info in the first couple of paras). A feature isn’t just about facts – you want to take the reader on a journey.
Body paragraphs • You should have a hook (anecdotal lead, intriguing fact or quote, something that surprises or keeps readers in suspense, something descriptive) – something to engage your reader’s interest or curiosity or emotional connection with the piece; what Ricketson (‘Writing Feature Stories’) calls a ‘gotcha lead’ • Then a ‘nub’ or ‘billboard’ para – a bit like a contention – introducing what the focus of the story is (this should be after the hook – not in the first para) – letting the reader know why they should read on.
Body paragraphs • Should have factual information / evidence to support the human interest details (but don’t over-use statistics) – a feature shouldn’t just be opinion. What you think isn’t what matters – it’s how you shape your material into a story • A feature is likely to include quotes – these might express passion or emotion, or give credibility or authority to a point, or reveal character, or vary the style and flow of the piece. • You want to keep the reader reading to the end – intersperse some ‘colour’ at various points to keep them reading
ending • A memorable ending. Ricketson suggests there are four types of endings: • Rounding up and rounding off – perhaps use a key quote that fits, or a witty line • Circling back – returning to the scene or idea in the feature’s lead (works well if it’s been a recurring motif) • Looking ahead • Spreading out – broaden out the focus beyond the angle you’ve been exploring
Analyse one article In pairs, choose one article and analyse the following: What is the topic? What is the angle and why might that be appropriate for the readership? Identify headline, precede, byline (if applicable) Look at the opening: how do they try to hook readers in? Are any other means used to get the reader interested? (eg. breakout quotes, illustrations, captions) Identify the billboard paragraph, which establishes the focus of the article Does the writer include any quotes or stories to keep readers interested?
Fitting the story to the readers Look at the ‘Age’ article ‘Over-protected… why kids need more time to run and play’ The topic here is concerns over how children are being brought up. For this task you should give this a ‘visions of the future’ angle. Take this topic and plan how you would present it for a specific publication and audience that your teacher will give you. You will work in groups for this and present your ideas to the class.
consider • What is your angle? What aspects of this topic would you focus on for your audience? • What type of feature would you make this? (eg informative, human interest, analytical, humorous, a how-to guide) • What approach would you use (eg. concerned, informative, emotive) • How could you hook your readers in? (eg. case study, statistics, quote)
Different audiences / publications • An article for • An article for a school newsletter • An article for ‘Melbourne Child’ (parenting publication) • An article for the ‘Women’s Weekly’ • An article for ‘The UnderAge’, a news and opinions website aimed at young people aged 16 – 20 (and written by students)