How to Write an Effective News Article

It's similar to writing academic papers, but with vital differences

professional man taking notes on newspaper
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Whether you're interested in writing for a school newspaper, fulfilling a requirement for a class, or seeking a writing job in journalism, you'll need to write like a professional to produce a good article. So what does it take to write like a real reporter?

Researching the News Story

First, you must decide what to write about. Sometimes an editor or instructor will give you assignments, but often you’ll have to find your own topics to cover.

If you have a choice about the topic, you might be able to pick a subject related to your personal experience or family history, which would give you a strong framework and a dose of perspective. However, you must work to avoid bias. You may have strong opinions that could affect your conclusions. Beware of fallacies in your logic.

You also could pick a topic that revolves around a strong interest, such as your favorite sport. Even if you end up with a topic close to your heart, you should begin with research, using books and articles that will give you a full understanding of the subject. Go to the library and find background information about people, organizations, and events you intend to cover.

Next, interview a few people to collect more information and quotes that reflect the public’s perception of the event or story. Don't be intimidated by the idea of interviewing important or newsworthy people. An interview can be as formal or informal as you want to make it, so relax and have fun with it. Find people with backgrounds in the topic and strong opinions, and carefully write down their responses for accuracy. Let the interviewees know that you will be quoting them.

Parts of a News Article

Before you write your first draft, you should be aware of the parts that make up a news story:

Headline or title: The headline of your article should be catchy and to the point. You should punctuate your title using Associated Press style guidelines, which specify, for instance, that the first word is capitalized, but, unlike other title styles, words after the first word (except for proper nouns) typically aren't. Numbers aren't spelled out. Other members of the publication staff frequently write the headlines, but this will help focus your thoughts and maybe save those other staffers some time.

Examples:

  • "Lost dog finds his way home"
  • "Debate tonight in Jasper Hall"
  • "Panel chooses 3 essay winners"

Byline: The byline is the name of the writer—your name, in this case.

Lead (sometimes written "lede"): The lead is generally the first paragraph and is written to provide a preview of the entire story. It summarizes the story and includes many of the basic facts. The lead will help readers decide if they want to read the rest of the story, or if they are satisfied knowing these details.

The story: Once you’ve set the stage with a good lead, follow up with a well-written story that contains facts from your research and quotes from people you’ve interviewed. The article should not contain your opinions. Detail any events in chronological order. Use active voice—not passive voice—when possible and write in clear, short, direct sentences.

In a news article, you typically put the most critical information in the early paragraphs and follow with supporting information, to make sure the reader sees the important details first and, you hope, is intrigued enough to continue to the end.

The sources: Put your sources with the information and quotes they provide, not at the bottom of each page or the end of the story, as you would for an academic paper.

The ending: Your conclusion can be your last bit of information, a summary, or a carefully chosen quote to leave the reader with a strong sense of your story.