How to write and structure an article

Posted on September 17, 2017 in Training

Working out where and how to start a piece of writing can be a difficult decision.  Journalists use two models, and these might help you.

Let’s look first at news stories. In order to get information to their audience as quick as possible they put lots of information in their first sentence, where they answer several of the 5 Ws (who, what, when, where, why and how) of their story.

Using this structure helps news spread as quickly as possible to those who need to know (e.g. there is a crash on the M1). Those who are not interested/unaffected can ignore the rest of the story.

This is very different from how we write and structure a feature article, essay, memoir or a blog.

Here the aim is to get the reader to read the entire content, not just the first sentence or paragraph.  So, instead of filling your first sentence with lots of details, you should find a strong and powerful ‘hook’ that will really grab them – so that (together with other story-telling techniques) they read through to the end.  This hook might be an engaging narrative, a question, a surprising fact or statistic, something shocking.  There are all kinds of possibilities.

These two structures can be thought of as images.

 

The feature article is represented by a diamond (third from left). The vertical axis represents the progress through your article, from its start (at the top of the diamond) to its end (at the bottom).  The width of the diamond (the horizontal axis) represents the amount of content in your words – i.e. the bulk of the content comes not at the start of your piece but somewhere around the middle.

In contrast, news stories – but also press releases and CVs – are represented by an upturned triangle (left-hand image, turned upside down). Using the same axis, all their details are at the start (where the triangle is at its widest), with fewer and fewer new details as the news story goes on.

Helpful to your writing, I hope.