VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational


From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART I)

ANALYZING THE SUBJECT. When from many available subjects a writer is
about to choose one, he should pause to consider its possibilities
before beginning to write. It is not enough to say, "This is a good
subject; I believe that I can write an article on it." He needs to look
at the topic from every angle. He ought to ask himself, "How widespread
is the interest in my subject? How much will it appeal to the average
individual? What phases of it are likely to have the greatest interest
for the greatest number of persons?" To answer these questions he must
review the basic sources of pleasure and satisfaction.

WHAT INTERESTS READERS. To interest readers is obviously the prime
object in all popular writing. The basis of interest in the news story,
the special feature article, and the short story is essentially the
same. Whatever the average person likes to hear and see, whatever gives
him pleasure and satisfaction, is what he wants to read about. In order
to test all phases of a given subject from this point of view, a writer
needs to keep in mind the fundamental sources of satisfaction.

Subjects and phases of subjects that attract readers may, for
convenience, be divided into the following classes, which, however, are
not mutually exclusive: (1) timely topics, (2) unique, novel, and
extraordinary persons, things, and events, (3) mysteries, (4) romance,
(5) adventure, (6) contests for supremacy, (7) children, (8) animals,
(9) hobbies and amusements, (10) familiar persons, places, and objects,
(11) prominent persons, places, and objects, (12) matters involving the
life, property, and welfare of others, (13) matters that affect the
reader's own success and well-being.

Timeliness. Though not absolutely essential, timeliness is a valuable
attribute of any subject. Readers like to feel that they are getting the
latest facts and the newest ideas, in special feature articles as well
as in the news. A subject need not be discarded, however, because it
does not make a timely appeal. It may have interest in other respects
sufficiently great to compensate for its lack of timeliness.

Many topics that at first glance seem quite unrelated to current
activities are found on closer examination to have some aspects that may
be brought into connection with timely interests. To a writer keenly
alive to everything that is going on in the world, most subjects will be
found to have some bearing on what is uppermost in men's minds. Emphasis
on that point of contact with current ideas will give to the article the
desired timeliness.

NOVELTY. When a person, object, or circumstance is unique, it arouses an
unusual degree of interest. The first person to accomplish something out
of the ordinary, the first event of its kind, the first of anything,
arrests attention.

Closely associated with the unique is the extraordinary, the curious. If
not absolutely the only one of its kind, a thing may still be
sufficiently unusual to excite an uncommon degree of interest. Novelty
has a perennial charm. Careful study of a subject is often necessary to
reveal the novel and extraordinary phase of it that can best be

MYSTERIES. The fascination for the human mind of whatever baffles it is
so well known that it scarcely needs elaboration. Mysteries, whether
real or fictitious, pique curiosity. Even the scholar and the practical
man of affairs find relaxation in the mystery of the detective story.
Real life often furnishes events sufficiently mysterious to make a
special feature story that rivals fiction. Unexplained crimes and
accidents; strange psychical phenomena, such as ghosts, presentiments,
spiritism, and telepathy; baffling problems of the scientist and the
inventor--all have elements of mystery that fascinate the average

ROMANCE. The romance of real life is quite as interesting as that of
fiction. As all the world loves a lover, almost all the world loves a
love story. The course of true love may run smooth or it may not; in
either case there is the romantic appeal. To find the romantic element
in a topic is to discover a perennial source of attraction for all
classes of readers.

ADVENTURE. Few in number are the persons who will not gladly escape
from humdrum routine by losing themselves in an exciting tale of
adventure. The thrilling exploits in real life of the engineer, the
explorer, the soldier of fortune, the pioneer in any field, hold us
spellbound. Even more commonplace experiences are not without an element
of the adventurous, for life itself is a great adventure. Many special
feature stories in narrative form have much the same interest that is
created by the fictitious tale of adventure.

CONTESTS FOR SUPREMACY. Man has never lost his primitive love of a good
fight. Civilization may change the form of the contest, but fighting to
win, whether in love or politics, business or sport, still has a strong
hold on all of us. Strikes, attempted monopolies, political revolutions,
elections, championship games, diplomacy, poverty, are but a few of the
struggles that give zest to life. To portray dramatically in a special
article the clash and conflict in everyday affairs is to make a
well-nigh universal appeal.

CHILDREN. Because we live in and for our children, everything that
concerns them comes close to our hearts. A child in a photo-drama or in
a news story is sure to win sympathy and admiration. The special feature
writer cannot afford to neglect so vital a source of interest. Practical
articles on the care and the education of children also have especial
value for women readers.

ANIMALS. Wild or tame, at large or in captivity, animals attract us
either for their almost human intelligence or for their distinctively
animal traits. There are few persons who do not like horses, dogs, cats,
and other pets, and fewer still who can pass by the animal cages at the
circus or the "zoo." Hunting, trapping, and fishing are vocations for
some men, and sport for many more. The business of breeding horses and
cattle, and the care of live stock and poultry on the farm, must not be
overlooked in the search for subjects. The technical aspects of these
topics will interest readers of farm journals; the more popular phases
of them make a wide general appeal.

HOBBIES AND AMUSEMENTS. Pastimes and avocations may be counted good
subjects. Moving pictures, theaters, music, baseball, golf, automobiles,
amateur photography, and a host of hobbies and recreations have enough
enthusiastic devotees to insure wide reading for special feature stories
about them.

THE FAMILIAR. Persons whom we know, places that we constantly see,
experiences that we have had again and again, often seem commonplace
enough, even when familiarity has not bred contempt; but when they
appear unexpectedly on the stage or in print, we greet them with the
cordiality bestowed on the proverbial long-lost friend. Local news
interests readers because it concerns people and places immediately
around them. Every newspaper man understands the desirability of
increasing the attractiveness of a news event that happens elsewhere by
rinding "local ends," or by giving it "a local turn." For special
feature stories in newspapers, local phases are no less important. But
whether the article is to be published in a newspaper or a magazine,
familiar persons and things should be "played up" prominently.

THE PROMINENT. Many persons, places, and objects that we have never seen
are frequently as real to us as are those that we see daily. This is
because their names and their pictures have greeted us again and again
in print. It is thus that prominent men and women become familiar to us.
Because of their importance we like to read about them. If a special
feature article in any of its phases concerns what is prominent, greater
attractiveness can be given to it by "playing up" this point, be it the
President of the United States or a well-known circus clown, Fifth
Avenue or the Bowery, the Capitol at Washington or Coney Island, the
Twentieth Century Limited or a Ford.

LIFE AND WELFARE OF OTHERS. Sympathy with our fellow beings and an
instinctive recognition of our common humanity are inherent in most men
and women. Nowhere is this more strikingly shown than in the quick and
generous response that comes in answer to every call for aid for those
in distress. So, too, we like to know how others feel and think. We like
to get behind the veil with which every one attempts to conceal his
innermost thoughts and feelings. Our interest in the lives and the
welfare of others finds expression in various ways, ranging from social
service and self-sacrificing devotion to gossip and secret confidences.
These extremes and all that lies between them abound in that "human
interest" upon which all editors insist.

This widespread interest in others affords to the writer of special
articles one of his greatest opportunities, not only for preparing
interesting stories, but for arousing readers to support many a good
cause. To create sympathy for the unfortunate, to encourage active
social service, to point the way to political reform, to show the
advantages of better industrial conditions, to explain better business
methods--all these are but a few of the helpful, constructive appeals
that he may make effectively.

He may create this interest and stir his readers to action by either one
of two methods: by exposing existing evils, or by showing what has been
done to improve bad conditions. The exposure of evils in politics,
business, and society constituted the "muck-raking" to which several of
the popular monthly magazines owe their rise. This crusading,
"searchlight" type of journalism has been largely superseded by the
constructive, "sunlight" type. To explain how reforms have been
accomplished, or are being brought about, is construed by the best of
the present-day journals to be their special mission.

PERSONAL SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS. Every one is vitally concerned about his
own prosperity and happiness. To make a success of life, no matter by
what criterion we may measure that success, is our one all-powerful
motive. Happiness, as the goal that we hope to reach by our success, and
health, as a prime requisite for its attainment, are also of great
importance to every one of us. How to make or save more money, how to do
our work more easily, how to maintain our physical well-being, how to
improve ourselves mentally and morally, how to enjoy life more
fully--that is what we all want to know. To the writer who will show us
how to be "healthy, wealthy, and wise," we will give our undivided

Business and professional interests naturally occupy the larger part of
men's thoughts, while home-making is the chief work of most women.
Although women are entering many fields hitherto monopolized by men, the
home remains woman's peculiar sphere. The purchase and preparation of
food, the buying and making of clothing, the management of servants, the
care of children--these are the vital concerns of most women. They
realize, however, that conditions outside the home have a direct bearing
on home-making; and each year they are taking a more active part in
civic affairs. Matters of public health, pure food legislation, the milk
and the water supply, the garbage collection, the character of places of
amusement, the public schools, determine, in no small degree, the
success and happiness of the home-maker.

Since the dominant interests of men and women alike are their business
and their home, the special writer should undertake to connect his
subject as closely as possible with these interests. To show, for
example, how the tariff, taxes, public utility rates, price-fixing,
legislation, and similar matters affect the business and home affairs of
the average reader, is to give to these political and economic problems
an interest for both men and women far in excess of that resulting from
a more general treatment of them. The surest way to get the reader's
attention is to bring the subject home to him personally.

Of the importance of presenting a subject in such a manner that the
reader is led to see its application to himself and his own affairs, Mr.
John M. Siddall, editor of the _American Magazine_, has said:

Every human being likes to see himself in reading matter--just as he
likes to see himself in a mirror.

The reason so much reading matter is unpopular and never attracts a
wide reading public lies in the fact that the reader sees nothing in
it for himself. Take an article, we'll say, entitled "The Financial
System of Canada." It looks dull, doesn't it? It looks dull because
you can't quite see where it affects you. Now take an article
entitled "Why it is easier to get rich in Canada than in the United
States." That's different! Your interest is aroused. You wonder
wherein the Canadian has an advantage over you. You look into the
article to find out whether you can't get an idea from it. Yet the
two articles may be basically alike, differing only in treatment.
One bores you and the other interests you. One bores you because it
seems remote. The other interests you because the writer has had the
skill to translate his facts and ideas into terms that are personal
to you. The minute you become personal in this world you become

COMBINING APPEALS. When the analysis of a topic shows that it possesses
more than one of these appeals, the writer may heighten the
attractiveness of his story by developing several of the possibilities,
simultaneously or successively. The chance discovery by a prominent
physician of a simple preventive of infantile paralysis, for instance,
would combine at least four of the elements of interest enumerated
above. If such a combination of appeals can be made at the very
beginning of the article, it is sure to command attention.

DEFINITENESS OF PURPOSE. In view of the multiplicity of possible
appeals, a writer may be misled into undertaking to do too many diverse
things in a single article. A subject often has so many different
aspects of great interest that it is difficult to resist the temptation
to use all of them. If a writer yields to this temptation, the result
may be a diffuse, aimless article that, however interesting in many
details, fails to make a definite impression.

To avoid this danger, the writer must decide just what his purpose is
to be. He must ask himself, "What is my aim in writing this article?"
and, "What do I expect to accomplish?" Only in this way will he clarify
in his mind his reason for writing on the proposed topic and the object
to be attained.

With a definitely formulated aim before him, he can decide just what
material he needs. An objective point to be reached will give his
article direction and will help him to stick to his subject.
Furthermore, by getting his aim clearly in mind, he will have the means
of determining, when the story is completed, whether or not he has
accomplished what he set out to do.

In selecting material, in developing the article, and in testing the
completed product, therefore, it is important to have a definitely
formulated purpose.

THREE GENERAL AIMS. Every special article should accomplish one of three
general aims: it should (1) entertain, or (2) inform, or (3) give
practical guidance.

The same subject and the same material may sometimes be so treated as to
accomplish any one of these three purposes. If the writer's aim is
merely to help readers pass a leisure hour pleasantly, he will "play up"
those aspects of a topic that will afford entertainment and little or
nothing else. If he desires to supply information that will add to the
reader's stock of knowledge, he will present his facts in a manner
calculated to make his readers remember what he has told them. If he
proposes to give information that can be applied by readers to their own
activities, he must include those details that are necessary to any one
who desires to make practical use of the information.

When, for example, a writer is about to prepare an article, based on
experience, about keeping bees on a small suburban place, he will find
that he may write his story in any one of three ways. The difficulties
experienced by the amateur bee-keeper in trying to handle bees in a
small garden could be treated humorously with no other purpose than to
amuse. Or the keeping of bees under such circumstances might be
described as an interesting example of enterprise on the part of a city
man living in the suburbs. Or, in order to show other men and women
similarly situated just how to keep bees, the writer might explain
exactly what any person would need to know to attain success in such a
venture. Just as the purpose of these articles would vary, so the
material and the point of view would differ.

ENTERTAINING ARTICLES. To furnish wholesome entertainment is a perfectly
legitimate end in special feature writing. There is no reason why the
humor, the pathos, the romance, the adventure, and mystery in life
should not be presented in special feature stories for our entertainment
and amusement, just as they are presented for the same purpose in the
short story, the drama, and the photo-play. Many readers find special
feature stories with real persons, real places, and real circumstances,
more entertaining than fiction. A writer with the ability to see the
comedies and the tragedies in the events constantly happening about him,
or frequently reported in the press, will never lack for subjects and

WHOLESOME ENTERTAINMENT. The effect of entertaining stories on the ideas
and ideals of readers ought not to be overlooked. According to the best
journalistic standards, nothing should be printed that will exert a
demoralizing or unwholesome influence. Constructive journalism goes a
step further when it insists that everything shall tend to be helpful
and constructive. This practice applies alike to news stories and to
special articles.

These standards do not necessarily exclude news and special feature
stories that deal with crime, scandal, and similar topics; but they do
demand that the treatment of such subjects shall not be suggestive or
offensive. To portray violators of the criminal or moral codes as heroes
worthy of emulation; to gratify some readers' taste for the morbid; to
satisfy other readers by exploiting sex--all are alike foreign to the
purpose of respectable journalism. No self-respecting writer will lend
the aid of his pen to such work, and no self-respecting editor will
publish it.

To deter persons from committing similar crimes and follies should be
the only purpose in writing on such topics. The thoughtful writer,
therefore, must guard against the temptation to surround wrong-doers
with the glamour of heroic or romantic adventure, and, by sentimental
treatment, to create sympathy for the undeserving culprit. Violations of
law and of the conventions of society ought to be shown to be wrong,
even when the wrong-doer is deserving of some sympathy. This need not be
done by moralizing and editorializing. A much better way is to
emphasize, as the results of wrong-doing, not only legal punishment and
social ostracism, but the pangs of a guilty conscience, and the disgrace
to the culprit and his family.

A cynical or flippant treatment of serious subjects gives many readers a
false and distorted view of life. Humor does not depend on ridicule or
satire. The fads and foibles of humanity can be good-naturedly exposed
in humorous articles that have no sting. Although many topics may very
properly be treated lightly, others demand a serious, dignified style.

The men and women whom a writer puts into his articles are not puppets,
but real persons, with feelings not unlike his own. To drag them and
their personal affairs from the privacy to which they are entitled, and
to give them undesired and needless publicity, for the sake of affording
entertainment to others, often subjects them to great humiliation and
suffering. The fact that a man, woman, or child has figured in the day's
news does not necessarily mean that a writer is entitled to exploit such
a person's private affairs. He must discriminate between what the public
is entitled to know and what an individual has a right to keep private.
Innocent wives, sweethearts, or children are not necessarily legitimate
material for his article because their husband, lover, or father has
appeared in the news. The golden rule is the best guide for a writer in
such cases. Lack of consideration for the rights of others is the mark
neither of a good writer nor of a true gentleman. Clean, wholesome
special feature stories that present interesting phases of life
accurately, and that show due consideration for the rights of the
persons portrayed, are quite as entertaining as are any others.

INFORMATIVE ARTICLES. Since many persons confine their reading largely
to newspapers and magazines, they derive most of their information and
ideas from these sources. Even persons who read new books rely to some
extent on special articles for the latest information about current
topics. Although most readers look to periodicals primarily for new,
timely facts, they are also interested to find there biographical and
historical material that is not directly connected with current events.
Every special feature writer has a great opportunity to furnish a large
circle of readers with interesting and significant information.

In analyzing subjects it is necessary to discriminate between
significant and trivial facts. Some topics when studied will be found to
contain little of real consequence, even though a readable article might
be developed from the material. Other themes will reveal aspects that
are both trivial and significant. When a writer undertakes to choose
between the two, he should ask himself, "Are the facts worth
remembering?" and, "Will they furnish food for thought?" In clarifying
his purpose by such tests, he will decide not only what kind of
information he desires to impart, but what material he must select, and
from what point of view he should present it.

ARTICLES OF PRACTICAL GUIDANCE. The third general purpose that a writer
may have is to give his readers sufficiently explicit information to
enable them to do for themselves what has been done by others. Because
all persons want to know how to be more successful, they read these
"how-to-do-something" articles with avidity. All of us welcome practical
suggestions, tactfully given, that can be applied to our own activities.
Whatever any one has done successfully may be so presented that others
can learn how to do it with equal success. Special feature articles
furnish the best means of giving this practical guidance.

In preparing a "how-to-do-something" article, a writer needs to consider
the class of readers for which it is intended. A special feature story,
for example, on how to reduce the cost of milk might be presented from
any one of three points of view: that of the producer, that of the
distributor, or that of the consumer. To be practical for dairy farmers,
as producers of milk, the article would have to point out possible
economies in keeping cows and handling milk on the farm. To be helpful
to milk-dealers, as distributors, it would concern itself with methods
of lowering the cost of selling and delivering milk in the city. To
assist housewives, as consumers, the article would have to show how to
economize in using milk in the home. An informative article for the
general reader might take up all these phases of the subject, but an
article intended to give practical guidance should consider the needs of
only one of these three classes of persons.

In many constructive articles of practical guidance, the writer's
purpose is so successfully concealed that it may at first escape the
notice of the average reader. By relating in detail, for example, how an
actual enterprise was carried out, a writer may be able to give his
readers, without their realizing it, all the information they need to
accomplish a similar undertaking. When he analyzes such articles, the
student should not be misled into thinking that the writer did not have
the definite purpose of imparting practical information. If the same
material can be developed into an article of interesting information or
into one of practical guidance, it is desirable to do the latter and, if
necessary, to disguise the purpose.

STATEMENT OF PURPOSE. In order to define his purpose clearly and to keep
it constantly before him, a writer will do well to put down on paper his
exact aim in a single sentence. If, for example, he desired to write a
constructive article about an Americanization pageant held in his home
city on the Fourth of July, he might write out the statement of his aim
thus: "I desire to show how the Americanization of aliens may be
encouraged in small industrial centers of from 3000 to 20,000
inhabitants, by describing how the last Fourth of July Americanization
pageant was organized and carried out in a typical Pennsylvania
industrial town of 5000."

Such a statement will assist a writer in selecting his material, in
sticking to his subject, and in keeping to one point of view. Without
this clearly formulated aim before him, it is easy for him to dwell too
long on some phase of the subject in which he is particularly interested
or on which he has the most material, to the neglect of other phases
that are essential to the accomplishment of his purpose. Or, failing to
get his aim clearly in mind, he may jump from one aspect of the subject
to another, without accomplishing anything in particular. Many a
newspaper and magazine article leaves a confused, hazy impression on the
minds of readers because the writer failed to have a definite objective.



Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed: 3349