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.

AN OUTLINE FOR THE ANALYSIS OF SPECIAL FEATURE ARTICLES Approach to the Silence facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail