Chapter 51: MAGAZINE OR NEWSLETTER ARTICLE
How do you write for a popular or professional
magazine or newsletter?
Problem and Assignment
The Steps of the Process
1. Rough Drafting
3. Final Drafting
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See also Prewriting
Introduction: A Definition
A magazine article or newsletter article usually is
a type of argument that presents interesting, convincing examples and other
details in an interesting ways with strong story examples and factual proofs.
It is generally not an academic paper, but rather a professional paper used by
freelance magazine writers, by writers who wish to communicate with a
widespread, popular audience through a magazine aimed at their professional or
disciplinary group, and by newsletter writers for professional or business
groups. This kind of writing is not highly formal, though it must be
factual. It must be friendly to the audience by establishing, through its
language, style, and tone, that the writer is a part of the audience and has
something worthwhile to say to his or her peer group. Examples of
excellent magazine or newsletter article writing can usually be found especially
in the lead article--the first major article--of any nationally distributed
newsstand magazine, and in the leading magazines of disciplinary and
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Problem and Assignment
Readers want to read an interesting article when
they open a consumer magazine (one from a newsstand: e.g., Psychology Today)
or a trade magazine (one that is job-related: i.e., Molecular Scientist).
They want to learn from the article, to be entertained, and to be able to read
something easily and quickly without having to study it or look up words.
The audience is the readers of whatever magazine for
which you choose to write; however, the real audience is the editor who will
examine your article. The need is to start with fascinating detail--often a
compelling story--that will hook the editor (and therefore the readers) into
wanting to read the rest, and then to continue with a mix of more storytelling,
examples, facts, sometimes quotations, and other details that will continue to
educate the reader while entertaining her. Writing articles such as this usually
is easier if we feel strongly about our subject and have researched it well.
Choose a subject in your area or field of
interest, a subject on which you have a unique, different, or unusually
entertaining slant or perspective--one you can write about from your own
experience or the experiences of a person or people you can interview. Have a
specific magazine or type of magazine in mind, one you have studied to see what
subjects and organizational structures are used in its articles. Open with your
strongest story or example and facts, and mention your basic argument right
before or after this opening. Then develop two or three body sections, each of
which develops an important reason why your argument is true. In support of your
reasons, provide plenty of stories, examples, facts, and/or quotations
throughout these body sections. Close with your second strongest story or other
The final draft should be written at the reading
level used in your target magazine or magazine group (e.g., most consumer
magazines--and newspapers--are written at approximately the fourth to
eighth-grade level; high-brow magazines and many trade magazines are written at
the eighth to tenth-grade level.) The article should be typed in standard
double-spaced essay form.
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Here are three major steps of focusing during the
writing process. Each is further divided (in most chapters) into two sub-steps.
Remember that you may rearrange or otherwise change the steps shown here to suit
your individual writing needs.
1. FOCUS ON A FIRST DRAFT (Brainstorm
Ideas & Create a Rough Draft):
Skim this chapter and its samples. Then skim and/or choose a magazine or type of
magazine for which you would like to write. Before or after finding the
magazine, pick an unusual or different slant on a subject you know and like, and
list or imagine some of the stories you would like to tell about it.
Create a Draft:
2. FOCUS ON ORGANIZING (Evaluate
Your Needs and Organize):
you have done in your rough draft.
Your opening (best) story or
example/facts and a statement of your basic argument,
Reason #1 and the better stories, examples, facts, and/or quotations you
will tell to support it,
Reason #2 and the details to support it,
Reason #3 (if there is a third part), and
Your closing (second-best) story or example/facts and a restatement of your
3. FOCUS ON A FINAL DRAFT (Revise
Edit according to professional standards.
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1. Rough Drafting
The best way to brainstorm ideas for writing
feature articles usually is a mixture of two processes for most feature writers:
examining magazines and developing ideas for them. Some writers start with one
or more excellent ideas first and then find the magazines to which to sell them;
others examine the magazines first and develop ideas as they read the magazines.
Professional free-lancers tend to go back and forth constantly between magazines
and ideas, ideas and magazines.
Part of brainstorming ideas for features also
should consist of skimming this chapter and its sample to get a feel for the
general outline of feature writing. Another important key is to not confine
yourself to logical ideas but also to consider images, feelings, people, and
even made-up fantasies (at least as a start). Often it is helpful to explore a
number of ideas, images, etc. in order to arrive at a rather interesting or
unusual slant on an idea. They say in the magazine trade that there are no new
ideas, just new ways of stating the old. While that may not be completely true,
it is important to remember that editors--your real audience for writing for
magazines--want "fresh" material--something different from what has
been done before in their or other magazines.
One of your best guides when you consider what
ideas to consider or choose is whether you have stories to tell about them.
Stories are the lifeblood of most feature articles: such articles are full of
specific examples of individuals experiencing events and the problems and
results of their experiences. A second guide is how strongly you feel about a
subject. Strong feelings about a subject may help you write an article. (But be
careful: if you feel too strongly about a subject, you may be unable to keep the
objective tone that such articles are supposed to maintain!)
Create a Draft
The next step is to create a rough draft. Often
free-lance writers will start their rough drafts by writing their stories they
have to tell: the reason for this is that it is the stories in a feature article
that most attract and interest readers, so it is the stories that must be
written best. If you have several good stories and examples to tell, much of the
rest of a good feature article simply is filling in material between your
How do you tell a good story? The best way is to
not just write about an event, but rather to describe
(1) a person
(2) with a problem.
This is part of the basic formula of
storytelling throughout the world. In fact, you may want to read the chapter in
this book that describes how to write stories. A good story, true or made up,
often begins with the thought, "Once there was a person named _____ who had
a problem with _____." The final part of this formula is the solution. You
do not always have to show solutions for your stories, but if you do, the
solutions should be related to your main argument or main belief that your
feature article will be expressing. Ask yourself, "What are the stories I
want to tell in this article," and "What is the main point I want
these stories to tell?"
In addition, as you write, remember: this is not
an academic or business paper (as are many others in this textbook). Avoid an
academic tone. A friendly or neutral tone is best, depending on the magazine(s)
for which you wish to write. In fact, often the best tone can be achieved when
you write as if you are writing for or speaking to a friend who wishes to
understand more on the subject.
Quickly write a rough draft primarily of stories
and examples about the subject. Do not organize unless doing so makes the
writing easier. Write as if for a friend or fellow professional in a nonacademic
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After you have finished a rough draft, it is
time to begin evaluating more specifically how to organize your feature. You
need to be aware both of the typical organization of feature articles and of the
specific parts that are typical in the particular magazine(s) for which you wish
to write. So you will need to study both: read this chapter and its sample
thoroughly, and read (study) the parts and pieces of one or more feature
articles in the magazine(s) you have chosen.
Among the items you need to evaluate in your
target magazine(s) (and in the sample for this chapter) are the following:
- content, length, and tone of the
- content, length, and tone of the conclusion
- frequency and length of stories
- source of stories (authorsí experiences or interviewees' experiences)
- frequency and length of other examples
- frequency, length, and placement in the articles of facts and quotes
- general tone (friendly, joking, serious, sad?)
- reading level (highbrow, middlebrow, lowbrow? 4th, 6th,
or 8th+ grade?)
Once you have evaluated this chapterís sample
and some sample features from your magazine(s), you are ready to add whatever
you still are missing, and to place in order what you already do have, according
to the overall organizational pattern shown in your magazine(s). A typical
average organizational pattern is shown below.
There are several typical organizational
patterns for magazine articles. The feature article, which this chapter
discusses, has two methods that are very similar. The most common has just a few
body parts, as shown in the "Map" page earlier.
The less common type has a larger number of body
parts--at least five or six and sometimes more than a dozen--each of which is
short, so that the net effect is that of an article which flows more quickly
from one idea to the next, to the next, and to the next. Actually, one sees this
kind of organization more often in academic essays. It also is a common format
to use when writing how-to articles: the typical how-to article provides steps
This latter form of organization--a flow of
ideas or steps--is less common for feature articles precisely because, when
there are so many brief parts, it is hard for longer examples, quotations, and
other details to be used in fully arguing each of your major points. This
format--using just a few sections with greater length for each--allows,
especially, the telling of stories. Stories are the best examples available for
capturing the average readerís interest.
Two other somewhat common magazine formats, ones
usually not used for feature writing, are the profile and news report format,
and the storytelling format.
The profile and news report format uses the five
Wís of journalism (who?, what?, where?, when?, and why/how?) or a similar
format to develop a profile of a significant person (an article about that
person) or a profile of a significant place (an article about that place). This
kind of pattern--the use of the five Wís--has been adapted from newspaper
journalism, which is explained in the chapter "Writing a News
The storytelling format is very different. It is
a format used in fiction writing, but it also is used in telling good-quality,
interesting stories that are nonfiction: true stories. The basic pattern of
storytelling is called the "plot." A plot usually includes three
(1) a central person or people (hero
(2) a problem (villain, complications,
or obstacles), and
(3) a solution (resolution or goal).
Often there also is a rhythm or division of
three in the way the story is told (this is especially true of Hollywood movie
1st 1/3 of Story
or tragic end)
Stories also use such devices as the five Wís
of journalism at the beginnings and endings of scenes, and of the five senses
and dialogue interwoven--often thoroughly--in a story. To read more about
storytelling, whether fiction or true, read the chapter called "Writing a
Story." However, it is important to note that even the rather short
stories found in feature articles contain many of the elements above. This
means that you should attempt to include them--especially the person-and-problem
and five senses--as much as possible when you provide story examples in your
Now that youíve seen some of the other options
available for writing articles, here is a closer examination of the most common,
strongest, and popular form of article writing: the feature article. It consists
of the following major parts:
- a longer, developed opening
- 2-3 body sections (occasionally more)
- a conclusion
However, a more helpful way of viewing the
organization of most strong feature stories is as follows. As you organize, you
should be sure that you have brainstormed a number of stories for your feature
article, and then you should consider using these stories to decide on the
organization of your feature by arranging them in this pattern:
- best story and/or set of facts
- third best story/set of facts (body #1)
- least best story/set of facts (body #2)
- fourth best story/set of facts (body #3)
- second best story/set of facts (conclusion)
What is the reason for such organization? It is
simple: stories and/or especially strong, fascinating, or startling facts are
what make a feature article entertaining. And make no mistake about it: good
magazine writing may be educational, inspirational, helpful, practical, or any
number of other things; above all, however, it must be entertaining.
For this reason, you should grab your reader at
the very beginning by placing your best writing there. Similarly, you should
leave the reader with something strong at the very end, to make him or her feel
good about the article, remember it better, and want to continue on to the next
article to read it. In general, editors assume that if you can get a reader at
least half way through an article, then he or she will continue reading it,
especially if the entertainment factor starts getting stronger again after the
half way point. For this reason, you should try to bury your least interesting
information in the middle: it will do the least damage there to reader interest.
Similarly, most feature articles also have an
argument structure. Most of them argue a point. Sometimes that point is very
mild: a feature may try merely to convince you of the importance of something.
At other times a feature may work, subtly or overtly, to persuade you that
something is good or necessary. Whatever the point being made in features that
argue, the argument structure should look something like this:
- introduction: statement of
point (with story)
- body section #1: one supporting reason why
(with supporting details)
- body section #2: a 2nd reason (with details)
- body section #3: a 3rd reason (with details)
- conclusion: restatement of point (with story)
Each reason in the body must fit accurately and
appropriately with the basic argument you have presented in the introduction. To
test whether reasons and argument fit together correctly, you may use the
following formula to fill in the blanks. (However, do NOT alter the words in the
formula--if your argument and reasons will not fit, you may not have three
reasons why your argument is true!)
State your argument in one brief, clear
This is true for three reasons. (Write a
COMPLETE SENTENCE in each of the following blanks after the word
First, it is true because ____.
Second, it is true because ____.
Third, it is true because ____.
Here is an example:
There should be a required course in
professional ethics in every college program.
This is true for three reasons.
First, it is true because professionals should
learn to make decisions ethically.
Second, it is true because in addition,
professionals should be able to train those under them in
Third, it is true because finally,
professionals should be able to recognize clientsí ethics.
For more information about how to form and
develop an argument, see the section in this textbook on "Arguing."
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3. Final Drafting
Revising is a time to double-check everything
you have done above to see that it is most effective for readers. If you have
organized well, you should revisit your stories and facts, and your argument
structure. Make sure both shine. To your stories, try to add more of the five
senses so that each, even the rather short ones, has at least two or three
sensory descriptions. For example, how many of the five senses (sight, sound,
taste, touch, and smell) can you identify in the story example that has been
Hospital stays sometimes must be stretched so
that patientsí medications can be adjusted. For example, at three p.m. on
his second day in the hospital, Kim Lee felt suddenly ill again from the
medication he just had taken. He sat quickly on the bed in his clean-smelling
room and sipped fresh water from a bent straw. Then he buzzed his nurse....
And if you have longer story examples (fifty
words or more), try to add some or all of the five Wís wherever you
can--earlier rather than later if possible. Examine the story example directly
above and see how many of the five Wís (who, what, where, when, and why/how)
you can identify.
In addition, check your stories to be sure they
are more than just narratives--that is, more than just a description of an
event: remember a story is an event that also discusses a person who has a
In addition, be sure that your stories are
specific enough. One important rule of thumb in helping to determine this is the
Is there just one main person (or a pair or group)? Avoid talking about people
in general when telling a story.
Is there just one setting? Avoid, at least in story examples, referring to
places in general.
Is there just one specific time? In story examples, refer specifically to just
one moment or hour in time.
Also, examine your argument structure. Make sure
that it follows the logic of using the "this is true because" pattern.
Also, remember the educational level at which
you are writing. If you have terms or concepts that exceed that level, be sure
you have explained them fully and clearly in the educational level you are
As you fine tune your paper, be sure to tend to
the tone or voice, sentence by sentence. Whether you are trying to convey a
friendly tone or a more serious (but presumably still accessible) one, be sure
that each sentence echoes this sound, this style, this mood you are trying to
create. Controlling the tone from sentence to sentence is very much like
controlling the mood of a musical piece: imagine that the words and phrases that
you write actually are musical notes and phrases--hear how readers may read them
in their heads by reading them aloud or within your own head. Play your word
processor like you are playing an instrument, adding or subtracting words as
needed to make the tune of your "song" sound right.
Be careful, too, of course, of the usual
grammatical usages, spellings, and punctuation needs. Some magazines and
journals will allow you much more leeway in bending or even breaking rules than
will other magazines. The best way to tell what is safe and what is not is to
study the typical feature articles in the magazine(s) for which you wish to
write, then emulate their use of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
In addition, use plenty of transition words and
phrases: they are especially necessary in popular writing (writing that reaches
a large number of readers and is for non-technical purposes or audiences to be
read in their spare time). Notice the differences in the two examples below:
A first principle in examining our lifestyles is to ask ourselves, "What
do I do that makes my body feel better the next day?" Once we have asked
that, we can proceed to the next question: "What do I do that makes my
body feel bad the next day?" If we follow these two prescriptions for
self-examination, we will make ourselves more conscious of how to change our
lifestyles for the better.
We can ask ourselves, "What do I do that makes my body feel better the next
day?" We can proceed to the next question: "What do I do that makes my
body feel bad the next day?" We will make ourselves more conscious of how
The only difference between these two versions
is that the first one is full of transition words and phrases while the second
one is not. As a result, the first one flows, has a clearly identified subject,
and makes sense instantly. The second one, however, is harder to read and
understand, and it is somewhat jerky or machine-like in its tone.
Remember to read the sample attached to this
chapter. Feature articles are among the more difficult and complex types of
papers to write. However, in many ways they are among the most rewarding: a
successful feature article reaches more people, conveys complex ideas and
experiences in clearer ways, and is more enjoyable to read than most academic
and technical writing. Because you can reach more people and move them more
deeply, you have the opportunity to affect othersí lives more fully--and to
help more people, too.
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