Writing Magazine Articles
A feature article is a magazine’s main story and usually discusses a special event, person, or place, offering considerable coverage and detail. Whether creatively focused or of a newsworthy nature, there are numerous types of them. This workshop discusses the many aspects needed to craft them.
Article purposes can be expressed by the word “PAST,” whose letters correspond to “purpose,” “audience,” “setting,” and “type.”
1). Purpose: What is the purpose or end goal of the article?
2). Audience: For whom is the article being written-in other words, what are the interest, understanding, expertise, demographics, and ages of its intended readership? A technical article, for example, may be geared toward engineers, while one concerning flower planting and pruning may be more appropriate for members of a garden club.
3). Scope/breadth: Articles have scopes and breadths and the author should not exceed them, or it will include too many angles and become too general in nature.
4). Topic: Topics run the gambit from psychology to health, construction, computers, biology, and sports.
Articles can incorporate the following six elements.
2). Nut graph
3). Article body
Essentially a hook, the lead serves to grab the reader’s attention and lead or lure him into the article or story. Like bait, it must capture him and deliver on its “unwritten contractual” promise. It can be a single line or a single paragraph, depending upon the length of the article itself, and assume many forms, such as a summary sentence, a question, an insightful comment, or a witty quip, as follows.
1). Summary lead: The summary lead incorporates the standard five “w’s” and one “h” of journalism-that is, who, what, where, when, why, and how.
2). Quotation lead: The quotation lead should, if at all possible, be brief and concise, thresholding what is to follow in the article’s body.
3). Scenario lead: The scenario lead uses a narrative to describe a place and is most appropriate for articles whose settings or locations are important.
4). Narrative lead: The narrative lead often incorporates elements of creative nonfiction, such as allegory or figurative speech.
5). Anecdotal lead: The anecdotal lead begins with a story.
6). Paradoxical lead: The paradoxical lead, as its designation implies, consists of a paradox or contradiction, such as “The world’s wealthiest people are paradoxically the poorest.”
The nut graph is the element sandwiched between the lead and the story’s main body, summarizing what is to follow. It can be equated with the path the reader can expect to follow through the piece. Its length is proportional to the article’s length-that is, a single sentence would suffice for a 300- to 400-word article, while a paragraph would be more appropriate for a feature one.
It justifies the story be relating to readers why they should care about what is being written. It provides the transition from the lead and explains how and why it is connected to what is to follow. It may tell the reader why the story is timely. Finally, it often includes supporting material that emphasizes why the article is important.
As its designation implies, the article body, for which the nut graph provides its foundation, is the longest section and includes the writer’s main points, facts, discussions, and supporting quotes.
The angle is the article’s emphasis. Tantamount to it is support provided by research, expert quotes, data, and analysis. Because most topics are too extensive to be adequately covered in a 1,000-word piece, angles reduce their focus. An article about education, for example, would merit a full-length book, but a story focusing on the college freshman population of private institutions in the northeast would limit its scope.
“Most good stories have one goal or purpose, and the angle of the story helps the writer achieve this goal,” according to Naweed Saleh in his book, “The Complete Guide to Article Writing: How to Write Successful Articles for Online and Print Markets” (Writers Digest Books, 2013, p. 193.) “From the beginning, a writer transitions toward an ending that is always in sight. If a reader becomes lost and the promise of this ending is obfuscated, then the writer has failed.”
Although not necessarily a mandatory article element, a header can subdivide stories into shorter, specifically-focused sections, especially longer ones. Almost like chapter titles, they advise the reader of what will be discussed in the respective section. In the case of the education article, for example, its headers may include “The College Freshman Population,” “Northeast Colleges,” “Private versus Public Institutions,” “Freshmen Requirements,” and “Private School Tuition.”
“When readers sit with your piece, they’re forming a relationship with it-even if it’s a short relationship,” according to Saleh (ibid, p. 133). “If they have read it to the end, then they’re willing to see this relationship through and expect closure. Consequently, the good writer will continue to deliver quality writing all the way to the end of the piece.
“You may conclude your article by expanding (its) perspective… , looking toward the future, revisiting the introduction, or inserting a relevant quotation.”
Although there are several types and lengths of articles, this section reviews the major ones.
1). Profiles: Profiles offer portraits of the rich, famous, influential, and important. “Most good profiles involve a judicious mix of a person’s professional life, pastimes, social life, and family life,” according to Saleh (ibid, p. 138). “You can also use allegory or figurative elements to compare a person’s professional life with personal details.”
2). Service articles: Both informative and entertaining, service articles provide advice and improvement suggestions to people and their lives in numerous areas, such as health, occupation, finance, and recreation.
3). How-to articles: These useful pieces usually include a lead or introduction, required materials, steps, tips, suggestions, illustrations, diagrams, photographs, and conclusions. Very practical, they range from how to apply for a passport to how to rid your garden of weeds to how to lose three pounds per week on a diet.
4). Travel articles: Travel articles can be subdivided into two types-service and first-person. The former capture the essence of a destination and offer advice and guidance on practical travel aspects, such as transportation, accommodation, dining, and attractions. The latter, like a memoir, appear in the first-person (“I”) and require that the writer experienced the trip himself before he can realistically report on his subject. As an experiential travel narrative, it enables the reader to “travel along” with the author, seeing things through his eyes, tasting the cuisine, and understanding his feelings, perceptions, and interpretations of the destination, its people, culture, and topography. It usually necessitates note- and photograph-taking during the trip and research both before and after it. “I tucked myself into cobblestone side streets tourists would never venture down and met the wisest locals tourists would never encounter” may be one example of a line from such a focus.
5). Reviews: Reviews assess and evaluate television shows, films, theater performances, books, paintings, articles, food, wine, and restaurants, among many other life aspects. They serve as influences, whether positive or negative, either driving business toward or hindering t from a venue. Although they obviously hinge upon the reviewer’s opinion, he should be considered an authority or expert in the subject with appropriate university degrees and employment experience. An author could share his opinion on an Impressionist painting with his friend, for instance, but a magazine would not be interested in publishing his article about it unless he has some type of degree in visual arts and experience, like with the Museum of Modern Art.
6). Short articles and pieces: Typically ranging from 250 to 400 words, these articles are optimized for magazine departments, sections, and newsletters, and can serve as thresholds to publication and acquaintance with magazine editors.
Because articles are based upon fact and hence require significant expert support, research becomes the foundation of them.
“Good writers spend about 80 percent of their time doing research and 20 percent of their time actually writing… ,” according to Saleh (ibid, p. 86). “Margaret Guroff, features editor for American Association of Retired Persons Magazine, states, ‘The key to writing engaging features is doing a ton of research so that you have the details at your fingertips… so that you really understand your subject and are speaking from a place of authority’.”
There are three types of research data.
1). Primary: Primary research sources consist of unfiltered, unchanged original documents, such as statistics, speeches, transcripts, journal articles, questionnaires and surveys, press releases, first-person accounts, and interviews either with eyewitnesses of an event or experts in the field.
2). Secondary: Secondary research sources can be considered those that are removed from the original data by a single step. They analyze, critique, summarize, and interpret, and can include books, radio shows, television shows, internet features, files, newspaper and magazine articles, news analyses, and blogs.
3). Tertiary: Tertiary sources include biographies, citations, literature guides, and library catalogues.
Ideally, the reporter or article writer should use a balance of primary and secondary sources, the latter of which entail primary source re-interpretations, whose angle or accuracy depends upon the interpreter (or the writer of them).
Integral to research and fact gathering is the interview. Interviews can elevate articles, add personal touches, and provide human connections to the events or circumstances covered.
The writer can begin the process by making a list of those he needs to interview, and they can include members of academics, clubs, associations, professionals, leaders, managers, and authors, among many others. Public relations departments can facilitate identification of and connections with key people and press kits or releases can provide foundation information.
There are three interview sources.
1). Participant: Participants have or have had direct involvement or roles in the events or issues discussed in the story.
2). Witness: Although witnesses are not directly involved, they have observed the people or events and can therefore offer observations, insights, feelings, and conclusions, based upon their perspectives.
3). Experts: While experts may equally not have had direct involvement, their degrees, life experience, and understanding will immeasurably improve an article’s credibility.
In the case of Long Island’s Hurricane Sandy, participants were those who lost homes or property or at least sustained damage to them, while witnesses were those who saw those damages, but may not necessarily have incurred any of their own. Experts included those from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Red Cross, responders, and contractors.
Before the writer attempts an interview, he should state his article type, who he represents (freelance or publication), the angle of his subject, and why he wishes to speak to the particular person or authority. Although interviews can be directed by the interviewee, the writer should nevertheless provide initial direction by listing the interview questions he wishes to pose. Tape or other means of recording is highly desirable, since anything quoted can be later proven, and the interviewee should be advised of this fact. Transcription from electronic to written means can occur after the fact, in the writer’s home or office.
There are four major interview types.
1). In-person: Aside from providing a personal, one-on-one touch, it enables the author to observe the person’s mannerisms, behavior, environment, and lifestyle.
2). Telecommunications: Telecommunication applications, such as Skype, provide computer screen interface with one or more others on the other end.
3). Telephone: While a step removed from the in-person type, the telephone interview still allows the interviewer to deviate from his prepared questions and follow the tangents the conversation sparks, resulting in spontaneous, free-flowing directions.
4). Email/standard mail: These methods are rigid and rote.
Because interviewees remember what they say, but not necessarily how they say it, the writer’s or reporter’s transcription of the conversation can take two forms.
1). Verbatim: This is the word-for-word transcription, including grammatical or syntax errors.
2). Cleaned up: Pauses, “ah’s,” and certain grammatical errors may be deleted or cleaned up.
WRITER AND REPORTER SOURCES:
Because articles must be supported by information, interviews, and quotes from reputable sources and people who have degrees and experience in their respective fields, and writers and reporters may not necessarily have access to them, internet-based portals can link the two. Two major venues include HARO and Profnet.
DeSpain, JJ. “A Writer’s Guide to Getting Published in Magazines.” Putnam Valley, New York: Alatheia Publications, 2000.
Saleh, Naweed. “The Complete Guide to Article Writing: How to Write Successful Articles for Online and Print Markets.” Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2013.