Feature writing

Notes to accompany Exeter Observer community journalism courses.

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 (for more experienced writers)

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:

Recent stories
Great Western Hotel beside Exeter St David's railway station

Analysis  ⁄  Community & society

Exeter rough sleepers in COVID-19 emergency accommodation face uncertain future

Exeter City Council has yet to confirm whether it will use any of the £2.15m Rough Sleeping Initiative funding it has received since 2018 to keep housing rough sleepers when government emergency accommodation funding runs out.

Read more ...

Exeter City Futures Net Zero Exeter 2030 plan

News  ⁄  Climate & environment

Exeter City Council accepts climate emergency plan to make city carbon neutral by 2030

Chief Executive warns that resourcing the plan is "problematic" given COVID-19 financial challenges and that lack of resources limits the council's capacity for immediate practical action.

Read more ...

Cyclists, pedestrians and cars compete for space on Union Road, Exeter, 1 June 2020

News  ⁄  Transport & mobility

Devon County Council fails to deliver promised COVID-19 cycling and walking infrastructure

Deadline for action on social distancing for safe travel set by county cabinet member passes despite Devon receiving £1.7 million share of government emergency fund.

Read more ...

Department for Transport New Road Layout for Social Distancing coronavirus road sign

Analysis  ⁄  Transport & mobility

Coronavirus exposes council failure to deliver Exeter transport plans

Devon County Council's failure to deliver overdue Exeter transport strategy and cycling and walking plan has led to an inadequate response to government demands for emergency coronavirus road layout changes.

Read more ...

Exeter Cathedral and Quay car park top deck

News  ⁄  Transport & mobility

Coronavirus halts decision to spend £3.9 million on car park repairs and upgrade

Exeter City Council spending plans will be revisited in June at same time as Net Zero Exeter carbon reduction plan is discussed by Executive.

Read more ...