I read newspapers, news sites and watch TV news daily. I look for stories or topics that would interest TFK readers. I also talk to people I meet about what's on their minds and what interests them. You never know where you will find a good story!
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Once I’ve learned everything I can about the topic, I decide what information is most important to include. I break down that information into different sections. Then I consider what order those sections should appear in. I think: What does the reader need to know first in order to understand the rest of the story? How will I connect one section to the next? Sometimes, once I’ve drafted the story, I’ll realize that another order works better than my original plan. That’s okay. You can always switch paragraphs around and see how they read in a different order. It’s part of the revision process.
I love working with a deadline! I have a much easier time getting organized when I know that my time to work on an assignment is limited. First, I make a mental map of all of the stages: doing research, taking notes, writing a draft and revising. Then, I make a time line of how long I think I will need to complete each part. I always hope to finish with enough time to take a break and then look at my writing with fresh eyes.
Before writing a draft, I make sure to learn all about the topic. That way, I can write without constantly referring to my notes. I know I am fluent in the topic when I can explain it to other people. That’s when I’m ready to write. Once I decide what order the information should appear in, I start my draft. I try not to get too caught up in choosing the perfect words or structuring sentences just the right way. At this point, it’s most important to get all of my ideas on the page. I can focus on making the writing sound better later, during the revision process.
Sometimes, it can be hard for journalists to stay on topic when we draft our stories. I think it’s because we learn so many new and interesting details during the research and reporting process. We’re tempted to share all of it with readers. But that would be distracting. The main idea of the story would get lost. Luckily, I had a teacher who taught me a trick that helps me to stay focused. His advice was to write the story’s “big idea” on a Post-it note. It doesn’t have to be a real Post-it note. The note can be imaginary, too. The point is that everything that you include in the story should be directly related to the big idea. If it isn’t, don’t include it.
It's important to give readers the main facts about a story topic. I begin by including facts that answer basic questions a reader might have—the 5 W's (who, what, where, why, when) and the H (how). When I come across additional facts in my research that I find particularly interesting, I try to include them too. For example, in an interview, an expert might tell me a fact that I didn't find anywhere else and I like to share that information with readers.
Every story needs a beginning! The purpose of an introduction is to grab the reader’s attention—and to keep it. Start by thinking about four of the W’s in the story: who, what, where and when. (The why and how can be explained in the body paragraphs.) This information helps the reader to understand what the story is about. Oftentimes, I begin my stories with a fascinating fact, a powerful quote or an interesting anecdote. It also helps to write the body paragraphs and conclusion first. Then go back and write the introduction.
If you have a good introduction, chances are you’ll have a good overall paper. The introduction sets the stage for everything the reader is about to learn. And it sets the tone for your style of writing. It’s important to use your introduction to map out what a reader can expect from your story. But it’s even more important not to give everything away in those first few sentences. If you write your introduction right, you’ll make sure your readers get all the way through to your last word!
An introduction is important because it tells readers about the article, story or paper. It should give the reader an idea of what you're writing about without giving away all the information in the story. It should also hook the reader and make them want to read more. Sometimes, an introduction will introduce a person, place or thing that will be important later in the article.
A conclusion wraps up a story and should give the reader a sense of satisfaction. A strong conclusion gives a snappy recap of the story without being repetitive. Conclusions can be written in many different ways. If you’re writing a news story, you might end with a memorable quote that illustrates the main idea of the article. Or, you might end with a call to action or question that prompts the reader to reflect further on an issue. Remember, this is your final chance to leave a lasting impression. Choose your closing words wisely!
Conclusions are important (in journalism, we call a good, snappy conclusion a kicker) but it’s tricky to get them just right. You want to sum up what you’ve said before, but you don’t want to repeat yourself. You also want to give the reader a new perspective on your topic. My advice? If you’re writing about the past, think about how your subject relates to the present. If you’re writing about something happening now, ask yourself what it might mean in the future. And one more thing: Never say, In conclusion…that’s the oldest kicker in the book!
I like to think of the conclusion as the answer to the question, “Who cares?” Why did I just bother to write this? Why did I want someone to read it? Did I want to convince them to share my opinion? Did I want to educate them about something that’s going on? In news articles, I spend most of my time explaining what happened, and then at the end, I tell people what it means and what may happen next. After that comes the best part: when I’m finished!
First, I review the overall structure of my story. Are all the paragraphs arranged in a logical order? Next, I target specific sentences. I ask myself: Is the writing lively and engaging? Does the story have enough quotes and do they help tell the story? Does the last paragraph end the story? Finally, I read the story again, checking to make sure all the sentences are in the correct tense and that words are spelled correctly. After making corrections on my first draft, I write a second draft. Remember: Write, read, revise and repeat!
Nobody—no matter how long you’ve been writing or how accomplished you are—says everything right the first time. Writing a first draft is like doing a rough carving of a statue. Every revision makes it smoother, cleaner and truer to what you want to say. Not only do your phrasing and word choice improve with revisions, but so does your storytelling. Some parts get rearranged, some get added, some get dropped altogether. I find that the more red scribbles I have on an early draft, the better the final draft almost always is.
Editors help writers shape their stories and help make the stories clear, informative and interesting to the reader. Before the writer begins the research and the writing, the editor and writer often talk about the facts that need to be covered and the point of view the article should take. After the story is written, editors help the writer revise the story so it’s as good as it can be. Editors go over the article carefully, making sure it makes sense and is logical. Editors point out parts of the article that may be confusing to the reader and suggest ways to make it clearer. Editors will help with sentence construction and vocabulary, suggesting smoother ways of saying something or more vivid vocabulary. Editors help the writer revise and polish the story so it sparkles!
The facts I check in stories include dates, numbers, and names of people, places and things. There are many places to find answers, especially online, so it’s important to go to the most reliable sources. I use Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and Encyclopedia Britannica. I also search stories from major newspapers.(A good trick is to type a phrase—for example, Discovery space shuttle—in Google’s search bar, then type site:nytimes.com, to find New York Times articles on the subject.) Go straight to the source. For a story about Discovery, look up the facts on NASA’s website, not on Wikipedia.
You’re not done writing something until you’ve read it yourself. As boring as that sounds, you’ll always be glad you did, because you’ll always find a mistake or a way to improve what you’ve written. Read it aloud, if you’re alone or you’re with someone who doesn’t make you feel like an idiot. Reading aloud is the best way to catch something that sounds clunky or unclear. And if you’re not sure a word is spelled right, look it up in a dictionary, either the old-fashioned way or online. I use Webster’s online: m-w.com. And I use it a lot.
1. Read what you've written so far (or talk about your idea) to a friend or family member.
2. If you're writing something long, stop when you know what you're going to write next.
This way, you'll have momentum when you start again.
3. Take a break and read something good.
4. Just start writing, even if it's bad. It'll turn good once you warm up.
5. Promise yourself a treat when you finish. I did when I started this list. Now I get to have candy!