People often ask me for writing tips when it comes to writing a feature article. What phrases to use, how to get people interested, how to structure their piece and, of course, where that all-important apostrophe should go.
Of course, all these are important elements of putting together a feature. But the most straightforward piece of advice would be – read. Before you pick up a pen, or get within striking distance of a keyboard, read everything you possibly can – newspapers, magazines, books… It’s absolutely vital in gaining an understanding of how stories are constructed.
Sit down on a Sunday with The Times if you want to see how a good feature should read. It will flow, unhurriedly but with a definite sense of purpose; it will answer your questions and present a colourful assessment of the topic in question. It may contain some long words but not too many – the thing about features is they need to be readable, not have you reaching for Google every five minutes.
4 TIPS FOR WRITING A FEATURE ARTICLE
CHOOSE A TOPIC
You need to sound like an expert for your readers to find you authentic. So if the subject matter isn’t something you know a lot about, for goodness sake do your research.
There’s just no excuse when you have the internet at your fingertips. Don’t just skim-read the first article your search engine throws up – immerse yourself in the subject. You need to present yourself as the go-to authority on your subject matter, whether it’s rabbit care, artificial intelligence or real ale.
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
Don’t confuse writing with authority with using big fancy terms or complicated sentences; it’s about speaking with conviction and communicating your message effectively. Over-complicating your sentence structure or vocabulary can be a major turn-off.
Consider your audience and adjust your tone of voice accordingly. The CEO of a technology company will want to read in-depth analysis; that doesn’t mean they necessarily also expect long, baffling paragraphs littered with ‘howevers’ and ‘therefores’. Endless subordinate clauses will tie you up in knots let alone your reader.
It’s more about providing well thought-out, in depth content than long words and fancy buzzwords or jargon. That’s not to say you should over-simplify everything but there is a huge difference between sounding like a Janet and John book and clear, concise, informative style that engages the reader.
STRUCTURE IT WELL
In the same way any story needs an introduction, middle and conclusion, so too does a good feature article. Before you begin, it may be helpful to draft a quick plan so you know what you want to talk about at what stage. This helps avoid repetition and ensures a good flow of copy.
Remember to include some good examples to back up your theories. Statistics can be useful but make sure you reference where they were taken from, using a footnote with an online link where appropriate.
Unlike a news story, which exists principally to convey information, a feature offers the opportunity to fully explore a subject. Quotes, anecdotes and a flowing narrative will bring the feature to life, regardless of the topic.
A conclusion will help draw your most salient points together, wrapping up what you want to say in a neat package.
READ AND READ AGAIN
The feature doesn’t end when you type your final full stop. Read it and re-read it, checking first that it flows properly and that you’ve covered everything you want to say. Then check it for grammar, spelling, typos and for phrases that just don’t read right. Editors do not appreciate the use of the wrong ‘complement’, nor do they wish to wade through paragraph after paragraph of repetitive waffle.
When it comes to proofing, two pairs of eyes are always better than one, so ask a colleague to give it a final once-over before you submit it.