Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writing a News Feature Story

Writing News Feature
When writing a news feature story, one of the first things you must consider is the target audience. Is it for the general public or is it for a specific group of readers? If you are writing for the readers of a lifestyle magazine or for the lifestyle section in the newspaper, for example, you would need to consider whether you should write from the view of a third person or second?

Most feature stories are written from the third person. Exceptions where the second person is used instead is when the story is about 'what you should get', say, for an occasion or a festive season. Seldom is the first person used for feature writing except when the author is the narrating his or her own experience.

Take for example the first paragraph of a feature story on entrepreneurship written in the third person:

John lost his job two years ago due to the economy downturn. Believing it to be only temporary, he actively seeks employment while upgrading his skills through short-term courses. Today, he is still unemployed. Now at the age of 41, he is forced to consider self-employment and entrepreneurship but is hesitant because he has been an employee his entire working life.

If this first paragraph is written in the second person, it would read:

You have been an employee your entire working life. Two years ago, you lost your job due to the economy downturn. Believing the downturn to be only temporary, you actively seek employment while upgrading your skills through short-term courses. Today, you are still unemployed.

As you can read from the two approaches, the third person's voice draws the readers into the story better than the second person because there is no need for personal involvement in the story unless it is a call to action. It works fine to use the second person if you are writing for a lifestyle magazine showcasing shopping goods, but not quite fine for a news feature story that aims to convey a message containing facts and advices.

When writing for a news feature story, four components should be considered: anecdotes, quotes, facts, and statements of theme.

An anecdote in a news feature story should be written from a third person as the narrator. The purpose of this is to use content 'pull' to attract readers to a sense of reading a novel or a storybook. For a feature story to be successful, at least one anecdote should be included to help readers visualize the 'reality' of a situation or the life of the person being told in the anecdote.

A feature should also include facts and quotes for angles of human interest. Facts may be research finding that quantify the content of the story, official statistical figures, or actual events witnessed by people:

According to official figures from the manpower department, unemployment is now at 4.5 percent.

Quotes are actual account of events by witnesses or spoken comments of people interviewed. Quotes can be direct or indirect. For a feature story to be credible and interesting, both direct and indirect quotes are necessary.

A direct quote is the actual spoken words by persons interviewed:

"I have been an employee my entire working life," said John Doe, 41, a retrenched worker.

An indirect quote is a paraphrased or rephrased writing of actual words spoken by persons interviewed:

John Doe, 41, said he has been an employee his entire working life.

Statements of theme are sentences that links original theme of the story to various parts of the feature. This is especially useful when there are multiple sections or story points that need to be expanded in different areas of the feature. The objective of statements of theme is to draw the readers back to the main theme of the story.

The feature story is usually written with each paragraph pulling the readers forward to read on to the point of closure or a conclusion or instructions to proceed further. It is usual to end the story by drawing the readers' attention back to the points being told at the lead paragraph, but with added knowledge on the subject.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Writing Press Releases

Writing Press Releases
If writing press releases is a part of your job, then among the first things you must remember is although your final target audience is the readers of the news, the media as the vehicle for getting the news published is just as important.

The media need not and usually do not publish a large part of what you write in the press release. Catching the media's attention or interest to your piece of news therefore should be your first objective, and that will require the news to be noteworthy.

If the news is about a new product or service, then you as the writer must highlight what is different that makes it stand out from the rest. If there is nothing worth highlighting, such as a unique selling point, then there is unlikely any news going to get published. Journalists always seek out only what is newsworthy.

One of the greatest mistakes vendors of products or services make is to have press releases contain too much technical details or the over emphasis of numerous features or functionalities. If there is nothing different or outstanding among the many things mentioned, then there is nothing much that will attract or draw the journalists' attention to write about it.

Vendors often think that information in the press release is what the end users want to read about, but frequently such details are not newsworthy for publish. Even if it does get published, it will often be placed at the end of the story. Information or text placed at the end of the story, depending on the space available in the newspaper or other media, may be lifted off by the editor or gatekeeper to give way to other more noteworthy news.

When writing a press release, therefore, a good approach is to use the 'reverse pyramid' methodology, where the most important is placed at the top and the less important at the bottom. The first paragraph, as the intro of the press release, should summarize the key points of the entire story to answer at least three of the 5Ws and 1H—who, when, why, what, where and how.

Within the press release, at least one quote or two from a spokesperson should be included as a standard practice. This is because journalists in general prefer to have someone say something within the story so as to eliminate the monotony. This is especially true for a feature story.

In short, it means when writing press releases, always remember the media plays an important role of what gets published, therefore, the content must be newsworthy.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Ellipsis and Em Dash

Ellipsis and Em Dash
Ellipsis is represented in any piece of writing by a row of three periods or full stops (...). At times, it may overlap with the use of em dash (—).

Ellipsis is useful for omitting certain words in long speech writing, citations or quotations. When using ellipsis, however, the writer must be careful not to change the meaning of what the speaker is actually saying. This is a basic journalistic rule and ethical practice for any kind of writing. When ellipsis is used at the end of a sentence, it usually signifies something is 'to be continued ...'. If used somewhere between a sentence, it is considered an omission to shorten a sentence, often to remove words that are not critical to the objective point at hand. For example:

Before Jane went about looking for the dog again and again, but was unable to find it.

After Jane went about looking for the dog again ... but was unable to find it.

According to the MLA and AP style guideline, ellipsis should precede and proceed with a space for correct usage as shown above. There is a tendency for many writers to omit the space after a word, and this is not a correct usage following the standard style guides.

Em dash is represented by a longer dash (—), and should not be mistaken as figure dash (-) or en dash (–). Figure dash is used as a hyphen and en dash in a range, for example 'three to ten people' or 3–10 people.

Em dash is used in two ways, one as a break between a continuing sentence and the other at the end of sentence.

When used as a break between a continuing sentence, it sets off from the parenthetical information to indicate a break in character thought or speech. For example:

Every single thing we do — big or small — is significant in the sight of God.

When facing tough situations, the best thing to do is to first know God’s will through His word — the Bible.

When used at the end of a sentence, it usually refers to an aposiopesis — a sentence deliberately broken off and left unfinished which ending is supplied by your imagination or to give impression of unwillingness or inability to continue. For example:

"Get out, or else —!"

Em dash is frequently used without a space around it. Even with universities and various educational sites, many in practice advise no space before and after the use of an em dash as a house style. Certain newspapers use a dash in place of em dash or en dash because of the limited space within the columns.

According to the MLA and AP style guide, the em dash should precede and proceed with a space in all uses except at the start of a paragraph or for sports agate summaries.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Reaching the Readers

Creative Writing One of the text that come highly recommended on writing is the book by Kathryn Lindskoog, Creative Writing: For People Who Can’t Not Write. In this book, the author suggested a number of areas writers should pay attention to in order to reach out to their readers.

First, write creatively, because the world will never be starved for want of wonders.

Second, write simply and correctly, not necessarily with large vocabulary, but with untangled thinking to keep sentences from going awry.

Third, avoid pitfalls and pratfalls, as they can make the writer look foolish, sidestepping into the booby traps of misspelling or overwriting.

Fourth, show instead of tell. Make familiar things new and make new things familiar.

Fifth, write something funny or at least interesting. Write things that please the ear, tease the brain or ease the heart.

Sixth, think up ideas that can make some earnings out of writing. Get published, paid and read.

Seventh, let the readers see and hear what is going on for themselves instead of interpreting and summarizing it for them.

Eighth, continue to strive to do better and stretch the limits, because with each new piece of writing, it usually gets more difficult than easier.

All the pointers mentioned above are good advices for writers to put into practice. However, if our wish is to be really good writers, we will need to look into other pointers as well. Here are some pointers from me.

Ninth, get to the heart of the matter. In order for us to get to the readers’ heart, we must write with a heart that cares enough to want to know what matters to them.

Tenth, don’t just write what ease the readers’ hearts or what they like to hear. Share what we have seen and heard that our readers may understand plainly and also learn from us. Even if we are writing fiction, our plot can include true to life examples, like our own experiences or those of other people we know.

Eleventh, understand your target readers, their background, their culture and practices. Remember, if our target is to the masses, then we must write in a way everybody can understand.

Twelfth, use references to substantiate claims if writing non-fiction, and use identifiable traits to describe the behavior of characters in the story when writing fiction.

There are of course many other areas we must also consider as writers. This blog entry merely touches the tip of the iceberg what’s involved in the writers’ craft. In the real world, writing skills are very much dependent on one’s own flair for writing, the degree of our creativity, the inspiration, and the talent given to us as individuals.