Feature writing

Notes to accompany the Exeter Observer community journalism training course.

Feature development

Feature writing encompasses a much wider range of possibilities than news reporting and is much more difficult to do well. It is a skill built on learning to write news reports well.

Feature formats cover just about everything other than news reports. This includes news features, analysis, briefing, comment, editorial/leader, opinion, profile, interview, spotlight, report, preview, review, long read etc.

A typical feature development process might be:

  1. idea (keep it manageable!)
  2. brief
  3. research (less required for shorter pieces)
  4. interviews (may not be needed for shorter pieces - depends on format etc.)
  5. plan
  6. write.

Feature briefs

A feature brief should capture a story’s key elements:

Feature plans

A feature plan should lay out a story’s outline structure.

There are as many possible feature structures as there are topics, so simplifying prescriptions are not available, but one attempt follows:

  1. Intro/hook options:

    • statement: relies on impact via colour, contrast, surprise
    • anecdote: relies on compelling narrative
    • description: relies on vivid scene-setting
    • question: relies on intriguing reader and/or making them think
    • quote: can be very effective if done well (use reported speech to avoid typographic problems).
  2. Link = background/context so nub makes sense (only where needed).

  3. Nub aka “dear reader” = gist so reader knows exactly what feature is about.

  4. Body/content component options:

    • colour
    • information
    • description
    • advice
    • anecdotes
    • quotes
    • comment
    • analysis
    • statistics
    • detail
    • case histories.
  5. Wrap.

Additional elements may include infoboxes, tweets, pullquotes and accompanying visual collateral inc. photos, video and infographics.

NB sometimes feature research and/or interviews produce too much material for a single article, in which case they might provide a basis to produce two or three.

Further feature guidelines

Focus - know what your story is about and understand why you are writing it:

Organisation - the structure built on the foundation of focus to support the logical progression of ideas:

Cohesion - the glue that holds the structure together - transition words showing the relationship between different sentences and ideas:

Support and elaboration - specific details and relevant information used to develop topics or construct mental images, should be:

Opinion/comment pieces:

Features:

Title:

Lead:

Feature leads:

Lead types:

Lead emphasis - which is the most important W?

Body:

Overall structure:

Body components:

Conclusion:

Style:

Checklist:

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