How to Write a Good Newspaper Article
Journalists need their newspaper articles to be clear and well written. Others may have occasion to write a newspaper article as well, perhaps for submission to a publication about an upcoming event. No matter the author, a well-written article is more likely to be published. Use these tips to write a solid newspaper article.
Write a strong lead. The first paragraph of the article is also called the lead. This paragraph, often one sentence but perhaps two sentences, in most cases will summarize the main purpose of the article, which addresses the basic questions of "who, what, when, where, how and why." Other types of introductions are sometimes used, such as leads that ask questions or leads that give an example of a situation to be explored in the article.
Write the newspaper article in the inverted pyramid format. This means the most important, most vital facts should be mentioned first, with the less important facts mentioned later in the article. The first few paragraphs must be more important than the next few, which in turn will be more important than the section beneath them, etc.
Where necessary, support all claims and arguments that need attribution. If you're making an assertion in the article about someone's actions or guilt in a criminal context, for example, this must be attributed to someone. If information in an article cannot be attributed to a reliable, appropriate source, it's not suitable for publication.
Go back and give your article a thorough re-read. Work that must be done quickly, such as on deadline, can lead to typographical errors that can be as embarrassing as they are simple, such as the difference one letter can make between the words "public" and "pubic." Errors also can occur if you have moved parts of the article around.
- When writing about an event, chronological order is vital and it's usually a form of the inverted pyramid. But if the most important part of the story occurs later in the series of events, be sure to mention this important fact early on in the article, in the first, second or third paragraph.
- Use word economy. If you can say it in five words instead of ten, then five words is all you need.
- No big words! Newspapers are written for a twelve-year-old's reading level, in order to accommodate readers of all backgrounds and abilities. Big, fancy wording is fine for academic writing or novels, but in newspapers, big, fancy words only confuse readers.
- Provide background information. When writing about the latest in a series of events, do not assume precursory knowledge. Assume the reader is picking up the newspaper for the very first time, with no prior knowledge about a situation.
- Write for the layman. If a newspaper article discusses things that are not considered to be common knowledge, background information must be provided. When in doubt, spell it out for people.
- Always look up words that you're unsure how to spell. A newspaper article full of spelling errors has little credibility.
- Always present both sides of an argument, even if it's just in passing. It's vital that the opposite point of view is represented, or readers may mistakenly believe the primary view that's discussed is the only view.
- When wondering what facts to write about next when writing a newspaper in pyramid format, ask, "What's the most important fact that I've yet to address?" This will give a newspaper article greater direction.
- When using quotations, be sure to capture the speaker's or writer's intention. Do not misrepresent a point of view by using quotations out of context or in a manner that the speaker did not intend.
- Get your quotes correct! If your quotes are wrong, you're going to hear about it and this is very damaging to a journalist's credibility within the community. Use a tape recorder, if necessary. And if you're unsure about the wording of a quote, don't use it.
- Do you know what libel is? Do you know what constitutes libel? If not, you should! Anyone who writes a newspaper article must understand what is libelous. Libel can land you in court or in the unemployment office (for professional journalists), so learn about libel before writing a newspaper article. (See links)
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