When writing a news report, it's important to concentrate on four elements - facts, context, impact, and emotion. How you combine these four elements will determine the success of your news story. Read on for a wealth of tips on writing a news report, as well as a few helpful examples.
Tips on Writing a News Report
The Four Elements
Let's dive a little deeper into the four elements.
In news writing, context answers the question, "Why should I care?" or, "Why should I read this?" But, from the perspective of the newswriter, context helps you decide what the audience needs to know. The American Press Institute cites context as a nice way to gain new readers through an entry point they can relate to. Context provides the circumstances surrounding the facts of the news story.
Impact touches on the "why we should care" theme too. News writing is, indeed, an artform. Once you take something off the official wire, you have to weave it into a story people will connect with. Impact keeps readers in tune beyond the headline and the lead, or opening sentence. What are the ramifications or potential consequences of this news story? How will this series of events affect me and my loved ones?
Which brings us to emotion. Let's go back to our friends at the American Press Institute. They say emotion commands attention and fosters a communal feeling. Evoking emotion is the magic of news reporting. Writers must walk the fine line between cold, hard facts and a tug on emotional heart strings.
But we must let the readers decide for themselves. For example, the American Press Institute points out we must not dictate the audience's feelings by writing, "In a shocking, new development…" Rather, we should let them choose to be shocked on their own.
Balancing Facts and Style
Readers want to know the facts and who or what may be affected by them. Related stories and background information develop context and emotion while humanizing it. Here are some more tips on writing a compelling and gripping news report.
The facts answer the 5Ws (and H): who, what, where, when, why, and how. A journalist has a responsibility to make sure the facts are accurate and reasonably complete. If you have to write a report before you get all the facts, then say so in the report.
When writing a news report, use the active voice. The active voice is more understandable and has more impact. Develop short, concise sentences using action verbs. Your language needs to be simple, without any words that don't contribute to the focus of the story.
For example, the weather or how someone is dressed doesn't need to be included unless it has a bearing on the overall story. Try to anticipate any questions the reader might have as you write.
Writing a Good Lead
The lead, or the first few sentences, needs to be strong enough to grab the reader's attention and make them want to read more.
- If it's a hard news story, which is breaking or up-to-the-minute news, then include as many facts as you can in the summary of the story. If it's a soft news story, like a human interest story or background information, then you can place the facts in the body of the story.
- Leads tell the reader what the story is about and why it's important. Beyond that, it tells the reader why they should read the whole story. Think of it from the perspective of telling a friend about the latest news.
- A common error in leads happens when it focuses on more than one main idea. When this happens, the reader can't be sure what the story is about.
- Avoid burying the lead (also written as "bury the lede"). This refers to when you fail to emphasize the most important or most interesting part of the story, starting out with secondary information first. By its nature, the lead is meant to lure readers in. If a reader loses interest after the first paragraph, because you buried the lead in the second or third paragraph, they may not ever get to why this story should matter to them.
- Leads will exclude certain readers if they're full of jargon. Make sure the news report is suitable for everyone to read.
Examples of Good Leads
Below, you'll find a few examples of particularly grabbing leads. See if they encourage you to want to read on.
- "On the second floor of an old Bavarian palace in Munich, Germany, there's a library with high ceilings, a distinctly bookish smell and one of the world's most extensive collections of Latin texts. About 20 researchers from all over the world work in small offices around the room." - Byrd Pinkerton, NPR
- "A Center City school teacher got enough kisses today to last-well, maybe not a lifetime, but a few weeks, anyway. Mary Saint Clair kissed 110 men at the annual fund-raiser for the local zoo. At ten bucks a kiss, she raised eleven hundred dollars for the zoo. When she turned the money over to zoo officials, she joked that all the animals were not behind bars." - School Video News
- "The million‑to‑one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no‑run, no‑man‑reach‑first game in a World Series." - Clear Voice
Tips for Better Writing
Enjoy these additional writing tips that can also apply to a wide range of writing genres:
- In news writing, always follow the inverted pyramid. That is, place the most pressing facts at the start of the article and close with the least compelling elements.
- Avoid long or complicated words. A news story isn't the place to impress people with your intelligence or command of the English language.
- Choose short sentences over lengthy sentences that require many forms of punctuation. Here are six basic punctuation rules to consider.
- Follow a simple subject-verb-object form. For more on that, here are 20 rules of subject-verb agreement.
- Don't use too many commas. Try to adhere to these eight comma rules.
- Each paragraph should introduce a new idea and, like sentences, be short and to the point. Consider dropping in a few transition words, where appropriate.
- Never use more than two prepositional phrases. These are phrases like, "According to the national weather forecast…" Here are some added prepositional phrases examples.
Remember that the core objective of a great news report is to convey the fact in a compelling and easy-to-understand manner. Get to the point and use shorter sentences.
Hopefully, you've pulled a smattering of helpful tips. In a small way, it boils down to "why should they care?" and "how can I get straight to the point?" With short, concise sentences and an adherence to the inverted pyramid, you'll be well on your way.
As you continue to hone your craft, you'll notice most major news outlets require writers to adhere to the Associated Press (AP) style of writing. Here are some AP writing tips to help you stay in the game.