Writing Quality Feature Articles
From News to Feature
Miss X (19) called an ambulance and was taken to the Royal Derby hospital on Friday evening. She had taken a vast quantity of prescription drugs and cut her wrists. Miss X has a history of poor mental health and has previously self-harmed.
The above paragraph is news and addresses the five Ws (Who? What? Where? When? Why?) and the odd fish How? Of course, unless Miss X is a public figure this event will not be considered newsworthy. However, this story could be scope for a feature article: an exploration or discussion of a topic of public interest. Unlike a news story which relays information in an unbiased formal manner, feature articles can include opinion and actively evoke an emotive response.
Sticking with Miss Xs hospital admission, a feature writer will consider other relevant topics of discussion. Think outside the box to find an angle that will achieve maximum reader interest. Spider diagrams or bullet points are a useful tool at this stage.
- Mental health
- Young people and wellbeing
- Bed blocking
- Prescription monitoring for known self-harmers
This list is by no means exhausted.
Research Feature Article
Research is now essential, leave no angle left uncovered. Read research papers, analyse relevant statistics and trends, interview people from all sides. Obtaining interviews can be difficult, tenacity and patience are necessary at this stage. Contact more people than are required, as inevitably some will refuse to speak with you.
The feature article developed from the news story of Miss X, discussed the issue of mental health and NHS bed blocking. Interviewees could include: patients, carers, ambulance staff, medical staff, NHS management and outside agencies (for example community mental health nurses, social services and mental health charities). A variety of interview sources will produce a more informative piece of writing.
Armed with masses of research you are ready to write. At this stage it is a wise idea to have your target topic written in front of you, this avoids straying off subject. The opening paragraph must hook the reader, blend facts and creative writing that engages and transports them into the story. Grab the readers curiosity and expectation, create surprise, add quotes or interesting statistics.
Here is a first draft of the feature article derived from Miss Xs story.
Friday evenings kiss goodbye to the working week and welcomes the weekend. Many young adults celebrate with friends. A mad rush of phone calls to make last minute arrangements. Miss X is nineteen, but the call she made one Friday evening was not so fun. Ringing an ambulance after an overdose of prescription drugs and criss-crossing her wrists with a razorblade.
It attempts to create an image for the reader of a typical Friday evening, which quickly turns to surprise when in fact Miss X was doing none of these things but being taken to Accident & Emergency. This is an acceptable start but could be improved by inducing reader emotion. Below is the final draft of the opening paragraph.
The scars on Miss Xs arms, are a timeline of tragedy for the nineteen year old. They criss-cross her skin like a game of Tic-tac-toe. She suffers from Anorexia and Personality Disorder. And has self-harmed regularly since the age of eleven. Her most recent hospital admittance, was after her GP gave her a month’s supply of anti-depressants. Which she took simultaneously, before adding to the track-lines on her wrists with a razor blade. A Friday evening, most young adults were calling a taxi into town. Julie was ringing an ambulance, bleeding heavily and disorientated.
This opening paragraph evokes empathy, sympathy. It poses questions and feeds curiosity. The reader derives an expectation that Miss X is supported and will want to find out if indeed she is.
Now keep going. Include powerful quotes that resonate and sprinkle with facts and statistics that inform and surprise. Think of the whole story and end in a manner that satisfies the reader. Feature articles are hard work but great fun, the results can astound. Give them a go.
© 2018 Theresa Sampson