How to……… Write a feature article

I’ve always liked to see my blog as a tool for fellow students and prospective PR students to seek advice and information on university, placements and PR related going-ons. To continue this theme I have decided to create a feature called ‘How to’ which will offer advice on how to carry out certain PR tactics and other PR related scenarios you may find yourself in throughout your entire PR experience, whether your looking at universities, starting your degree, looking for a placement, are completing your placement or graduation and beyond.

I am a busy bee at my placement, I like to work hard and play hard so I cannot promise how regular these ‘how to’ posts will be…. but if you would like me to write one on a specific topic you would like information on, just ask!

Okay so my first how to is ‘How To Write A Feature Article’. As PR people we are all very aware of the traditional press release, something which we will practice time after time and hopefully get down to a T. However, what happens if we are asked to write a feature article? It’s common that this could occur and it is important that you know how to write them.

So what is the difference between a press release and a feature article? A press release can also be called a ‘News release’ so… ‘News vs. features‘….

A news story aims to inform quickly and efficiently, and aims to provide all the facts in a short and succinct document. In a news release the first paragraph will need to include all this information: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. These are the bones of the article; the rest of the release aims to put the meat on the bones, providing more information on the facts you featured at the beginning and build and amplify upon these with facts and quotes.

A few important tips to consider when writing a news story;

  • Is it a ‘who’ or a ‘what’ story?
  • Why are you writing this story NOW? – Has something gone in in current news that could be relevant?
  • How would you capture the attention of the reader if you had a few quick moments with them in a lift to capture their interest (this will help you with your opening line)
  • What would they be asking you next?

    On the contrary, a feature article can be a more creative piece, drawing the reader in and providing more and more information along the way. A feature article is normally a much longer piece in terms of word count, and editors will expect you to write between 600 – 1000 words for a feature article, whereas a news release may only be around 350.

So now I have outlined the facts, I will help you understand how to create that winning feature article!

1. Before anything, you need to decide WHAT you are going to write your feature article on. You may be asked to write a feature article by your director, or you may just decide to write one yourself depending on current news, and then you will have to pitch to journalists to tell them why they should publish YOUR feature article. To do this you should consider the following points…..

  • Where you should source your feature from  – It may be down to crisis communication, or current news which will be related too or affect your client. For example, if you read in the paper that unemployment levels in the UK have risen and your client is setting up a new consultancy service for graduates looking for work, this is an opportunity.
  • Use a fact in your pitch to sound knowledgeable to the editor and to make it ‘sell-able’ – For example ‘Unemployment in the UK has risen by 8% in 2011’
  • Don’t recycle from other magazines – Do not write a feature article because you’ve just seen a great one in another magazine that could also be relevant to your client. They will know!
  • Understand the readership profile
  • Know the magazine and the editor that you are pitching too –These last two points will help you tailor your pitch to the specific editor and make them more likely to pick it up.

2. Before you put pen to paper, or should I say finger to the keyboard, you should most definitely consider these very important points before you start writing:

  1. Who are the readers of the magazine you are pitching too? 
  2. What are their interests?
  3. What are their specific information needs?
  4. What are they reading in the publication?
For example, if you are looking to write a feature article for a business publication, and you want to research the readership profile for that magazine, you should consider this kind of indepth information;
  • The types and sizes of business that they work for
  • Their job titles
  • Level of their education
  • Their job functions
  • The types of products and services for which they have purchasing involvement 
3. You should now be considering and establishing your angle. It is very important to have an angle for the story, it allows it to flow and allows you to keep on track. For example, if you are writing about the rise of unemployment levels in the UK, your angle could focus on graduates who are having trouble finding work in a particular sector. An angle will make your article easier to write, will create a theme for your piece and will provide the backbone for all facts etc.
4. You should now consider structures. 
  • Profile of an industry leader
  • Question and Answer
  • Narrative: Scene setting
  • Investigation: Reportage, like a long news story
  • Confessional: first person. This really helps to engage the reader. 
  • Head to head: Two people interviewing each other, debate style. 
5. Lastly, you should consider features presentational device. Sometimes editors dont want to see huge blocks of writing, and nor do readers! Try some of these devices to help be unique and engage:
  • A day in the life of…..
  • Lists: 10 ways to, 5 tips to, The best of…
  • Pass notes: The Guardian do a lot of this, look it up!
  • Same subject from two different points of view; ‘Yes’ and ‘No’
  • Vox pop – Same question to a few industry leaders
  • Open letter 
You will only be able to establish all these things once you have researched your editor, your magazine and your readership profile thoroughly.
Okay so now you have these starting points, it is time to begin writing your article….
1. The introduction: The introduction is key. It must be strong and attention grabbing and must want to make the reader read on, just like a news article. There are seven types of introduction to consider and which one will best fit your story depends on your content and your angle.

  1. Narrative – This is like telling a story, and is mainly used in lifestyle and consumer magazines which may publish real life stories. E.g. “Claire opened the door. She had no idea that the man standing before her would be the one to change her life forever.”
  2. Descriptive – This is similar, but does not read like a book or a story. It may be used in sports news to evoke emotion in the readers. “As he makes his final run to the goal, the crowd lay in anticipation. It all boils down to this one moment, the sweat beads tickle his forehead and his ankles feel heavy..”
  3. Strong quote – This is where the article will open with a quote relevant to your content and usually from a relevant person who will be mentioned regularly in the article.
  4. Statement of fact – Opening with a fact such as “Unemployment levels in the UK have been reported to have risen by 12.1% this year due to the economy…..”
  5. Statement of opinion – Again mainly used in lifestyle and consumer magazines, this will be an opinion from the editors point of view “Apparently waiting times for flights is meant to be improving…”
  6. A question – “Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to create your own business, make your own money and be your own boss?” This entices the reader to read further to find out the answer.
  7. ‘Drop intro’ – The introduction will build the reader up, not revealing anything, or maybe lead him to a different conclusion. And then there will be a twist.
2. Second paragraph: The second paragraph is called the ‘Coat Hanger’ because, if done right, the rest of the feature should hang off it. The paragraph should tell you

  • Why the subject is important
  • Why your writing about it 
  • Why the reader should keep on reading
  • Provide facts
  • Reinforce the introduction
3. Guidelines for the rest: 
  • Marshall your topics into a flowing sentence
  • If you go over your word count or it appears too long, make sure only relevant information for your angle.
  • Make a plan before and keep referring to it 
  • Don’t give away all the family silver at the beginning – leave some good information till the end, go out with a ‘bang’. It will keep your readers interested the whole way through
  • Keep hold of a juicy quote for the end of the piece
Okay, so you should be all set. Another great tip to make it more interesting to editors and readers is to break up the copy. This is mainly done by boxes and break outs around the text to provide more information in an ‘easy-on-the-eye’ way:
  • Pictures
  • Examples
  • Quotes (enlarged)
  • Facts
  • Case studies 
  • Boxes, bullet points, break outs to break up the narrative 
  • Timelines
  • Sound bites
  • Graphics e.g. Carbon emissions table
  • Do’s and Don’ts: Red and green traffic light approach.
If you follow all these things you should have an extremely strong feature article that will stand out to an editor, and to readers, and will be unique among all the hundreds of articles that editor may receive that day!
And finally, some do’s and don’ts…..
Do
  • Research the readership/magazine/business before hand to establish your angle
  • Find facts to sound knowledgeable
  • Be careful to keep the tenses correct, “says”, “said”
  • Make sure your claims are true and verifiable
  • Consider the importance of imagery
  • Make sure you keep to the editors brief, magazine style and word count
  • Get the copy in on time
  • Check your spelling
Don’t
  • Recycle from rival magazines and/or previous features
  • Rush into your article
  • Just e-mail the editor with it before calling them
I hope this was helpful – I’d love to get your feedback on it; Was it useful for you? Would you like to see more? If so, on what topics?
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11 thoughts on “How to……… Write a feature article

  1. Cheers for that Leah! I’m currently writing a feature article about a friends surf clothing label that we hope to get into a few publications.
    Your tips are just what I was looking for!

  2. Another how to might be, “how to get your article into a magazine.”

    We are just about to go down that road!
    Wish us luck!

  3. I have to write a feature article in class tomorrow and I’m really glad I came across your blog. It’s really informative and helpful with all the examples giving the reader an idea of what you’re trying to get across. Thanks you for writing this!

  4. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought
    this post was good. I do not know who you are but
    definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already
    😉 Cheers!

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