What Makes a Good Feature Article?

Feature articles are called feature “stories.” However, they are not fictional. This is just like a news article that is called a news story. Story is synonymous with article in journalism language.

I interpret the word story in journalism as something that is interesting to read, as all genres of writing should be.

I recently read quotes on writing by famous writers of all genres. I realized that most of the quotes apply to feature writing, too.

I’ve picked five quotes below that may help you as feature writers.

1) E. L. Doctorow: Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.

As a feature writer, this is significant to me, because it gets me thinking about the whole feature story process. When I go to interview someone, I usually know little, if anything, about the subject. With questions that I’ve written down ahead of time, the interview becomes a learning process, before the story writing even begins.

Writing is, therefore, an exploration for the feature writer who begins with the fact-gathering. So start by having a hunger for learning about the topic you’re writing about.

2) T.S. Eliot: If you start with a bang, you won’t end with a whimper.

Your story’s lead sentence, your first sentence, and your lead paragraph should always be interesting and draw the reader into the story. Otherwise, the reader will turn the page of the newspaper or magazine and read something else.

Pick up a well-known newspaper or magazine with feature articles and see what the writer does with the lead sentence and first paragraph. Do they draw you into the story? If the publication is a good one, the article should be good and contain an interesting introduction.

Of course, the story should sustain your interest until the end, so the reader will continue reading. Write your most important information early in the story. Hook the reader.

3) William Strunk, Jr.: Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnnecssary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.

Journalists, in particular, are always urged to think this way, because space is at a premium in newspapers and magazines.

4) George Orwell said: Never use a long word where a short one will do.

Journalists tend to avoid long, pompous or complicated words. They write for the common person.

5) F. Scott Fitzgerald: Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.

I don’t remember ever seeing an article that contained an exclamation mark. If it did, it shouldn’t have been there. Your words should be significant and appropriate. If they are, the exclamation mark’s intent will be inherent in your choice of words and language.

In general, as a feature writer, try to entertain the reader, that is, write about something with human interest. A reader doesn’t only want facts, but description and interesting quotes that keep the story moving.

Don’t think of yourself as a technician who gathers facts, spews them out, and arranges them in order of the most important first. You must make the facts interesting by interspersing them with description that comes from your perception and observation. You must also use quotes from interviewees that reveal their ideas and perception in a thought-provoking way.

If you want to pursue feature writing, read my book, “Beginners’ Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features.” It has been a Featured Selection of Writer’s Digest Book Club, along with “You Can Be A Columnist,” the book I authored after it. Both are good primers for writing and getting published in newspapers and magazines.

Copyright 2011 by Charlotte Digregorio.

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About Charlotte Digregorio

I publish books. I have marketed and/or published 55 titles. These books are sold in 38 countries to bookstores, libraries, universities, professional organizations, government agencies, and book clubs. I am also the author of five non-fiction books: Haiku and Senryu: A Simple Guide for All; Everything You Need to Know About Nursing Homes; You Can Be A Columnist; Beginners' Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features; and Your Original Personal Ad. The first four books have been adopted as supplemental texts at universities throughout the U.S., Canada, India, Pakistan, and Catalonia. They are sold in 39 countries, and are displayed in major metropolitan cultural centers. These books have been reviewed, recommended and praised by hundreds of reviewers, critics, librarians, and professors worldwide. Two of my books have been Featured Selections of Writer's Digest Book Club. I am regularly interviewed by major print, radio, and television organizations throughout the U.S. I have signed books at libraries, chain bookstores, and university bookstores. I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. I have been nominated and listed in "The International Authors and Writers Who's Who" in Cambridge, England and in the "Who's Who In Writers, Editors & Poets U.S./Canada." My background includes positions as a feature editor and columnist at daily newspapers and as a magazine editor. I have been a public relations director for a non-profit organization. I was also self-employed as a communications/public relations/marketing consultant with 93 clients in 16 states. I have won several awards for my poetry. I am an internationally-published haiku, senryu, tanka, kyoka, free verse, acrostic, cinquain and sestina poet. My poetry has been translated into six languages, and I have done poetry readings at a variety of bookstores, libraries, art centers and galleries. My poetry has been displayed at supermarkets, art galleries, libraries, apparel and wine shops, banks, and on public transit. I've been interviewed on cable television about my poetry. I also hosted my own radio program, "Poetry Beat," on public broadcasting. My poetry has been featured on library web sites including those of Shreve Memorial Library in Louisiana and Cornell University's Mann Library. In other professional areas, I have been on university faculties, teaching French, Italian, and Writing. I regularly give special lectures and workshops on publishing, publicity, and creativity to business and professional groups, and to those at writer's conferences, universities, literary festivals, non-profit organizations, and to libraries. I have been a writer-in-residence at universities. There have been about 400 articles written about me in the media. I have served on the Boards of writers and publishers organizations. My positions have included Board Secretary of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. I am Midwest Regional Coordinator of The Haiku Society of America.
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6 Responses to What Makes a Good Feature Article?

  1. snowbirdpress says:

    Hi, Charlotte, I’ve always found that writing is an exploration to me. It’s the same with drawing or painting. It’s the journey that counts. Not knowing what you will find gives it that edge of expectation. Thanks for the tips. Merrill

  2. Thanks for writing, Merrill. I often end up with a piece of writing that surprises me in some way!

  3. jilted says:

    hey charloette!

    i loved how you used Elliot and Orwell! as a new writer, my biggest concern is that i get side-tracked. hts and often at a loss of words. i have started doubting my own as said “every writier is a reader but not every reader is a writer. what do you think? i hate proof reading because everytime i do it., i change the content! im never satisfied with it.
    iwhat is a must read for writers? which books magazine applications can help?

    • I understand what you’re saying.

      Focus is a must for writers. I say, only read what you like to read. Don’t get bogged down by reading what other people say you should read. If you don’t like the popular books that are recommended to you by friends, forget them!

      Proofreading is a must, however, and you’ll find that you start liking to do it. It is like a game. The more you cut, the more you find you can cut. It becomes satisfying!

      Write everything down that comes to you, whether or not it makes sense at first. Then, revise, revise, revise. That’s how you get published.

      Good luck!

  4. Taylor VanDyk says:

    Hi Charlotte,

    My name is Taylor and I’m doing a project for my journalism class at Central Michigan University. I am particularly interested in feature writing and found your article helpful. If you don’t mind, how did you personally get into the field of feature writing?

    • Taylor, if you read my bio, you’ll note that I was a feature editor for a daily newspaper. I first started out writing for newspapers as a general assignment reporter. I also did some feature writing as a reporter. After that, I was offered a job as feature editor. I wrote the book, “Beginners’ Guide to Writing & Selling Quality Features.” It was a Featured Selection of Writer’s Digest Book Club.

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