How to Write a Crime Article
Writing a crime article for a newspaper or another form of media is similar to writing any factual news story, but you must focus on legal terminology and back your story with reliable, trustworthy testimony from legal officials. Start with the most important information, such as who was involved in the crime, when and where it occurred, how it was committed and what happened to the offender, victims or property. Follow up with engaging details, such as unexpected twists, and finish your article with the least important details, such as background information.
The Big Lead
Start your crime article with a powerful lead that captures your readers' attention and provides the most important details. For example, "Three people were killed and another six people injured after a gunman opened fire at a convenience store on Liberty Avenue." If someone has been charged with a crime, only report details that can't be contested in court, such as police-verified casualties, locations and names. Don't speculate about motives or offer personal opinions because your comments could jeopardize the fairness of the trial.
Language and Style
Crime articles have a serious tone and don't typically include humor, sarcasm or moral judgment. Use descriptive, specific language and colorful details to describe events surrounding the crime, but remain impartial and rely on facts to support your story. Crime articles are designed to inform, educate and, in some cases, warn people of criminal activity. Write from the third-person point of view to retain a high degree of objectivity and direct readers to the facts. For example, "In the Lubeck neighborhood around 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, four people were arrested for illegal drug possession," or "At the 1800 block of Chestnut Avenue, a pedestrian was killed in a hit-and-run incident. Local police are searching for a black SUV with tinted windows and Minnesota license plates."
Incorporate legal terminology into your article, but make sure the content is easy to read. For example, you might use terms such as "assailant," "arson," "embezzlement," "domestic abuse," "larceny," "prostitution," "trespassing," "charged," "witness," "crime scene investigator," "detective," "accessory," "conviction" or "aggravated assault" to clearly explain what happened. Using correct legal terms will help you come across as a professional crime reporter and will ensure that your article contains clear, articulate details. Learn and use the correct legal terms to describe crimes. For example, the word "theft" refers simply to stealing, but "robbery" refers to theft with violence or the threat of violence.
Reliable Sources and Proper Attribution
Get your information from reliable sources, such as police officers, first responders, eyewitnesses and other law enforcement agents at the crime scene. Trustworthy, authoritative sources add credibility to your story and give readers little reason to doubt your words. For example, you might say, "According to Denver police, the shooting occurred around midnight, and two men were taken into custody," or "Lieutenant Tom Jones from the Tallahassee police department said that the victim survived her injuries and was able to give a physical description of the assailant."
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.