How to write a news story that readers will want to read

The 6 Ws and the Upside-down pyramid (this is a headline)

A year of Journalism School in fifteen minutes (this is a  sub-head )

By Walter Brooks

       The Inverted Pyramid
                    (This is a sidebar)
News writing has its own structure. It's called the inverted pyramid. This upside down triangle should serve as a guide for how you ad information in the story you are writing.
   Using the inverted pyramid means starting with the most important information, then putting the next most important info and so on.
   It can also serve as a guide for writing each paragraph in the story. Start with the most important point, then the next most important and so on.

More tricks to hook the reader

Think a moment about how YOU read a newspaper or magazine.
Most readers skim the pages quickly reading the headlines of stories.
   Years of research by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) and the trade journal Editor & Publisher (E&P) have proven that since everyone reads the headlines (heads) they will also read a sub-headline (sub-head) if there is one.
   So by ALWAYS adding a sub-head to your story immediately doubles the chances it will be read.
           Add another 16% readership
Look at this page and this side bar. There are "drop caps" at the beginning of each separate story.
    That same research has proven that simply by adding a drop cap at the beginning of the first paragraph increase the readership by 16%, so why wouldn't every writer use one? It would be crazy not to do so.
          Cross head and pull quotes
Further research showed that readers scan a page and will read the one-line cross-heads if you use them. Experts advice adding them every three paragraphs.
   The same enhanced readership will accrue by using pull quotes when possible.
   Any writer who does not employ all these simple tools to enhance the readership of his work is probably not the kind of person who will be successful for very long at web journalism.

We have discovered after years of trial and error that is is far easier to teach a tech-wise person how to be a journalist than  it is to teach a journalist technology.

We have seen how even the best of the newspaper-trained journalists simply do not understand the power of the web or how to use it, or worse, when told how to use it, do not do so.

After all, they were trained in the "old media" way of writing, and you are about to be trained in the "new media" way which is in many ways what you've been using all your life, and you are very comfortable with it.

You won't have to be reminded (read nagged) to use a links because you understand already how powerful they can be in explaining something to others.

And the idea of always adding a hyperlink whenever possible to explain yourself or extend the meaning of what you are writing comes naturally to you because you've been doing that with emails for years.

6 Ws & the WHAT formula (this is a crosshead)

Just imagine you're telling a story. Here are two journalism training reminders to check to see if you have covered all the information you wanted to report.

They are called the 6Ws and the WHAT formula.

Journalism tutors use the 6Ws to help students remember the main elements of writing a news story, but they work for any story and even for writing a good web ad as well.

Here's an example. Imagine you have seen a car crash on the way to this meeting, and you want to tell the rest of us about it. The 6Ws are what you would relate:

  • Who was involved? (These are bullets)
  • What happened?
  • Where did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • How did it happen?

Giving these immediate and simple details gives you and your readers the basics of the story, but I can not tell you the number of times I have read stories in major newspapers which left me confused because this simple rule was not followed.

"I try to leave out the parts
  that people skip."

            - Elmore Leonard.
                    (this is a pull quote)

Don't let it happen to you. You success at this venture literally depends upon it.

You should also use them to write a "lead" which will entice the reader to read further.

Once you have done that, use the WHAT formula to finish and expand your story.

  • What happened?
  • How did it happen?

At this point you should amplify the introduction which means expand on the points you made at the start of the story.

Then tie up any loose ends, so that your story answers your readers' questions.

These formulas are the basis for every good news story, and you just saved yourself countless hours at J-school.

Extra Credit - 10 tips

The very successful writer, Elmore Leonard, (Get Shorty. Killshot, La Brava, Stick, Freaky Deaky, 3:10 to Yuma, etc.) revealed his ten tip on writing in The New York Times article in 2001.


This is a embedded video used instead of a digital photo in a 325 pica wide caption box. The visei is of Elmore Leonard interviewed - Pt. 1 - From the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference. Part 2 is here.

His tips were:

  1. Never open a with weather.  (these are numbered bullets)
  2. Avoid prologues.
  3. Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb ''said''.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words ''suddenly'' or ''all hell broke loose".
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things (unless you're Margaret Atwood).
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

You can read the entire article here.

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