Here at All Things Writing (fondly called ATW when we’re being lazy), we talk a lot about blogging. And this makes sense because we love to do it – which is good, because it’s also a necessity for any business. But one thing we don’t really talk about is the feature article. We’re not sure why. We write feature articles for local publications and business owners at least several times a month. So today, we’re going to take some time to honor the article. We’ll do it by giving you three tips so in the event you need to publish, you’ve got some more tools in your writing shed.
Fun With Facts and Figures
A good portion of feature articles requires more than just narrative. Editors and readers crave the concrete. So if you need to get grounded, there’s no better way than to augment your piece with research. Here’s what you need to do with research:
- Use current sources.
- Use credible, unbiased sources.
- Mix and match with stats and facts.
- Use direct quotes with quotation marks.
- Paraphrase using your words, voice and style.
The biggest rule when using research is cite your sources, whether you’re paraphrasing or quoting. Depending on the publication, this could mean footnoting or using a style like APA. Online, it usually means linking to the source. Either way, within the content itself, attribute the research to the original publication and, if appropriate, the author. If you aren’t sure how you should cite your sources, ask the editor.
The Art Of The Interview
We’re fond of interviews almost as much as voice (see below). Not only do interviews pep up articles, they can serve as research sources, assuming your interviewee is an expert in the field. Here’s what we’ve learned about interviews:
- It can take time to schedule an interview. Plan accordingly.
- Go in with set questions. Get the answers, but don’t overly constrict the conversation.
- Especially if you’re in a time crunch, consider a phone call or video conference.
- You need to write quickly to capture quotes. Sometimes it’s helpful to record the interview.
- Verify direct quotes. This is easier if you’ve recorded the interview.
- Never, never, never change a direct quote. Doing so is not just bad journalism, it’s dishonest.
- Direct the conversation. This is especially important if the interviewee is avoiding an issue.
- Contain the conversation. It’s easy to fall into chat mode and wander off the topic. Save the coffee talk for later. You’ve got deadlines to meet.
A final thought on interviews: they can be time consuming. So if you’re charging for the article, be sure to calculate that into your pricing.
Voice – Or The Lack Thereof
Confession time. We are obsessed with voice. And there’s good reason for it. Voice is what helps distinguish you as a writer. It makes you a little more unique. On a planet stocked with words and information, voice helps you stand out and tells readers, “This is who I am, this is how I think, and this is what I sound like when I write.”
Voice isn’t easy to capture, even when it’s your own. That might sound counterintuitive, but it can be hard sometimes to grab the cadence in our own minds and translate it into something organized. It can take years for a writer to discover his or her voice. It requires practice and a whole lot of introspection. But you don’t have years to get your feature article off your laptop and into the hands of the editor.
Here’s something you might not expect us to say could be good news: Feature articles, depending on where they are being published, don’t always require a strong voice. In some cases, in fact, you don’t want to focus so much on voice because the publication requires more objectivity. Voice isn’t always objective sounding and can sometimes be so overpowering, it overshadows the content. If you’re looking for the middle of the road, try these tactics:
- Read and pay attention to other writers’ voices.
- Mimic the sound of other stories in the publication.
- Vary sentence length.
- Vary vocabulary.
- Lean towards objectivity.
If you’re still having problems with voice, get your article over to a professional who can help. Sometimes it’s just a matter of peppering a few words throughout that can make all the difference.
The Power Of Three
We think if you follow these three guidelines, you’ll come out with a decent article, assuming you’ve edited for grammar, punctuation and spelling. But if you think you’re way off-base or you don’t have time to put together a feature article, reach out to the professionals at All Things Writing. We ghost write articles. Let us help you polish your published presence. But don’t wait until the last minute. You’ve got a deadline to meet, right?