For aspiring journalists, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the dos and don’ts of article writing. We break down the traditional news article and show you how to build up a great piece of writing.
What is a News Article?
News articles report on current events like legislative change, politics, local announcements, the weather, scientific research, public health, the arts, and sports. While news articles vary in scope based on where they are published, they all must stay understandable for a large audience and convey information clearly, concisely, and accurately.
The Anatomy of a News Article
News articles are similar to other nonfiction articles in structure, but their main difference lies in how information is presented. The general anatomy of a news article consists of the following:
Arguably the most important part of the news article, if you don’t have a headline that attracts the eye of your readers, your article will not get read. So, headlines need to stand out and make a reader want to find out more, in just a few words.
Better known as the lede or lead, a news article’s hook is meant to draw readers in further and get them interested in your piece. A good hook is only a few sentences long but manages to draw them into your article.
The Inverted Pyramid
The body of a news article is like an upside-down pyramid: the most critical information should be at the top of the piece, and less important information comes later. In news articles, this information hierarchy is what often separates each section.
Ideally, your sources are the soul of your news article. Without accurate information, it’s impossible to report trustworthy news. We’ll delve more into sourcing information later in this article, but for now, remember that the best kind of source comes directly from live experience. Including quotes from first-hand sources is a great way to add credibility and interest to your article.
How to Write a News Article
So, let’s get started writing a news article. Generally speaking, there are eleven steps to creating a strong report:
1. Find Your Topic
The first thing you’ll need to do when writing a news article is to find what you’ll write about. Freelance journalists often pick topics they’re passionate about since it’s far easier to write about a topic you’re interested in. However, journalists working for news outlets may get assigned articles based on previous industry experience– that’s how specialized journalists come to be.
2. Determine Your Scope
Next, you’ll need to determine the scope of the article. This is like finding the target audience for your article. There are roughly three different levels of scope in journalism: the local, state or national, and the global level. The language you use and the subject of your article will vary depending on your scope.
3. Collect Primary Sources
You’ve got an idea of what you want to write about and on what scale you’re reporting, so now it’s time to get some information. The first sources you’ll need are primary sources, which come directly from people involved in your news story. A good example of a primary source would be the reporter interviewing a firefighter who saved a cat from a burning building or speaking with the cat’s owner about the fire's aftermath.
4. Collect Secondary Sources
Your secondary sources are pieces collected from other stories. In our fire scenario, your secondary sources might include information from previous fire coverage or the cat’s health history from a local vet.
5. Create a Citation List
Once you’ve found your sources, you’ll need to cite them. Citations vary from outlet to outlet, so always consult someone on the team regarding how you’ll cite your sources. Citations are necessary for conducting research; in journalism, they’re vital to establishing credibility in the article.
6. Outline Your Article
With the research out of the way, it’s time to get started outlining your article. Following the upside-down pyramid format, organize your information from most important to least important. Your outline will help you stay on track with each news article section.
7. Write Your Drafts
With the outline complete, you’re ready to write your first draft. Chances are, you’ll have to write multiple drafts of your piece as you go, so focus on getting your information down for the first draft.
8. Edit Your Draft
When you edit, check the article for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. While editing programs like grammar checkers and your computer’s spell check are great ways to speed up the process, remember to have your article proofread by someone else.
9. Fact-Check Your Information
Fact-checking should happen multiple times during your writing process since accurate information is the most crucial part of any news report. When you fact-check, ensure your information is also up-to-date since new information may change the context of an event.
Proofreading your article helps writers match the tone and style of a newspaper’s. Proofreading is a lot like editing; you’ll need to move slowly and read things through to ensure that your article is easily understandable to the general public.
11. Include Your Sources
Once the main portion of your news article is complete, include your sources in a works cited page below it.
Timeliness is Important, But so is Accuracy
In an age of clickbait, it's essential not to sacrifice accuracy in favor of early publication.