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Writing the article

There is a generally accepted convention for the structure of a newspaper article. Unlike a formal essay, where you often leave your most convincing arguments or evidence to the end, in a newspaper article you try to ‘sell’ your most convincing argument or evidence as early as possible. The picture, if you have one, and the title are the first things that most readers see. If neither the picture nor the title grabs the reader, they will most likely move on - it’s a big newspaper and they’ve usually only got limited time.

If the title and picture grab the reader’s interest, they will usually have a look at the first sentence or first paragraph. As well as telling the reader as much information as you can in a few words, it helps if this first part is catchy in some way. There are various ways of making something catchy:

  • Make a provocative statement. For instance, "People are all morons". This sort of statement would provoke most people, since it’s not true. Annoying the reader is fine though - they’ll most likely read on to see if you continue to annoy them. That’s when they’ll come across, in the main part of your article, something like, "Compared to the geniuses of our time, most people do indeed look like morons". That’s when they say to themselves, "...ahhh, that’s what they mean". By then you’ve got them well into the article - mission accomplished!

  • Ask a question which is likely to grab most readers’ attentions, something like, "Are we going to be hit by a meteor in the next five years?" or "Can the Australian cricket team be stopped?". Most people automatically come up with their own answer when reading a question like this, and invariably they’ll read on to find out what the journalist has to say.

  • Make a funny statement - humour is always welcome, and if you can make someone smile, there’s a good chance they’ll read on.

After the initial sentence or paragraph which ‘sells’ your article to the reader, you can get into the details in the main few paragraphs of the article. Generally speaking, most articles are written in the third person in an objective manner. The highly opinionated, first person articles you read in a newspaper are usually the personal columns of well know journalists or celebrities, and their take on the week’s events or other interesting issues. In very informal articles you can express your own opinion, but in general it’s a bad idea. Journalism is supposed to be about reporting facts, so you need to quote credible sources.

What you can do is express the opinions of other people. It’s much better that your reader disagree with the person you’re quoting, rather than you because of the personal opinion you’ve expressed. Make sure you properly quote what other people have said, so it’s clear to the reader who thinks what.

Some journalists are fairly aggressive in obtaining information. Likewise, the articles they write tend to be fairly definite rather than hazy and vague. It’s a good idea to try to use the active rather than passive voice as much as possible in your article.

Because you’re always in danger of the reader losing interest in your article and moving on, it’s best to put the most interesting stuff early on. This is not to say that your ‘weaker’ stuff goes at the end, it’s more a case of putting the essential facts at the beginning, and then following them up with extra supporting evidence. It’s different to a formal essay where you’re guaranteed (hopefully) that your teacher will read the whole thing.