QUALIFICATIONS FOR FEATURE WRITING. To attain success as a writer of

special feature articles a person must possess at least four

qualifications: (1) ability to find subjects that will interest the

average man and woman, and to see the picturesque, romantic, and

significant phases of these subjects; (2) a sympathetic understanding of

the lives and interests of the persons about whom and for whom he

writes; (3) thoroughness and accuracy in gathering material; (4) skill

to portray and to explain clearly, accurately, and attractively.

The much vaunted sense of news values commonly called a "nose for news,"

whether innate or acquired, is a prime requisite. Like the newspaper

reporter, the writer of special articles must be able to recognize what

at a given moment will interest the average reader. Like the reporter,

also, he must know how much it will interest him. An alert, responsive

attitude of mind toward everything that is going on in the world, and

especially in that part of the world immediately around him, will reveal

a host of subjects. By reading newspapers, magazines, and books, as well

as by intercourse with persons of various classes, a writer keeps in

contact with what people are thinking and talking about, in the world at

large and in his own community. In this way he finds subjects and also

learns how to connect his subjects with events and movements of interest

the country over.

Not only should he be quick to recognize a good subject; he must be able

to see the attractive and significant aspects of it. He must understand

which of its phases touch most closely the life and the interests of the

average person for whom he is writing. He must look at things from "the

other fellow's" point of view. A sympathetic insight into the lives of

his readers is necessary for every writer who hopes to quicken his

subject with vital interest.

The alert mental attitude that constantly focuses the writer's attention

on the men and women around him has been called "human curiosity," which

Arnold Bennett says "counts among the highest social virtues (as

indifference counts among the basest defects), because it leads to the

disclosure of the causes of character and temperament and thereby to a

better understanding of the springs of human conduct." The importance of

curiosity and of a keen sense of wonder has been emphasized as follows

by Mr. John M. Siddall, editor of the _American Magazine_, who directed

his advice to college students interested in the opportunities afforded

by writing as a profession:

A journalist or writer must have consuming curiosity about other

human beings--the most intense interest in their doings and motives

and thoughts. It comes pretty near being the truth to say that a

great journalist is a super-gossip--not about trivial things but

about important things. Unless a man has a ceaseless desire to learn

what is going on in the heads of others, he won't be much of a

journalist--for how can you write about others unless you know about


In journalism men are needed who have a natural sense of wonder....

You must wonder at man's achievements, at man's stupidity, at his

honesty, crookedness, courage, cowardice--at everything that is

remarkable about him wherever and whenever it appears. If you

haven't this sense of wonder, you will never write a novel or become

a great reporter, because you simply won't see anything to write

about. Men will be doing amazing things under your very eyes--and

you won't even know it.

Ability to investigate a subject thoroughly, and to gather material

accurately, is absolutely necessary for any writer who aims to do

acceptable work. Careless, inaccurate writers are the bane of the

magazine editor's life. Whenever mistakes appear in an article, readers

are sure to write to the editor calling his attention to them. Moreover,

the discovery of incorrect statements impairs the confidence of readers

in the magazine. If there is reason to doubt the correctness of any data

in an article, the editor takes pains to check over the facts carefully

before publication. He is not inclined to accept work a second time from

a writer who has once proved unreliable.

To interpret correctly the essential significance of data is as

important as to record them accurately. Readers want to know the meaning

of facts and figures, and it is the writer's mission to bring out this

meaning. A sympathetic understanding of the persons who figure in his

article is essential, not only to portray them accurately, but to give

his story the necessary "human interest." To observe accurately, to feel

keenly, and to interpret sympathetically and correctly whatever he

undertakes to write about, should be a writer's constant aim.

Ability to write well enough to make the average person see as clearly,

feel as keenly, and understand as well as he does himself the persons

and things that he is portraying and explaining, is obviously the _sine

qua non_ of success. Ease, fluency, and originality of diction, either

natural or acquired, the writer must possess if his work is to have


TRAINING FOR FEATURE WRITING. The ideal preparation for a writer of

special articles would include a four-year college course, at least a

year's work as a newspaper reporter, and practical experience in some

other occupation or profession in which the writer intends to specialize

in his writing. Although not all persons who desire to do special

feature work will be able to prepare themselves in this way, most of

them can obtain some part of this preliminary training.

A college course, although not absolutely essential for success, is

generally recognized to be of great value as a preparation for writing.

College training aims to develop the student's ability to observe

accurately, to think logically, and to express his ideas clearly and

effectively--all of which is vital to good special feature writing. In

addition, such a course gives a student a knowledge of many subjects

that he will find useful for his articles. A liberal education furnishes

a background that is invaluable for all kinds of literary work.

Universities also offer excellent opportunities for specialization.

Intensive study in some one field of knowledge, such as agriculture,

banking and finance, home economics, public health, social service,

government and politics, or one of the physical sciences, makes it

possible for a writer to specialize in his articles. In choosing a

department in which to do special work in college, a student may be

guided by his own tastes and interests, or he may select some field in

which there is considerable demand for well trained writers. The man or

woman with a specialty has a superior equipment for writing.

With the development of courses in journalism in many colleges and

universities has come the opportunity to obtain instruction and

practice, not only in the writing of special feature and magazine

articles, but also in newspaper reporting, editing, and short story

writing. To write constantly under guidance and criticism, such as it is

impossible to secure in newspaper and magazine offices, will develop

whatever ability a student possesses.

Experience as a newspaper reporter supplements college training in

journalism and is the best substitute for college work generally

available to persons who cannot go to college. For any one who aspires

to write, reporting has several distinct advantages and some dangers.

The requirement that news be printed at the earliest possible moment

teaches newspaper workers to collect facts and opinions quickly and to

write them up rapidly under pressure. Newspaper work also develops a

writer's appreciation of what constitutes news and what determines news

values; that is, it helps him to recognize at once, not only what

interests the average reader, but how much it interests him. Then, too,

in the course of his round of news gathering a reporter sees more of

human life under a variety of circumstances than do workers in any other

occupation. Such experience not only supplies him with an abundance of

material, but gives him a better understanding and a more sympathetic

appreciation of the life of all classes.

To get the most out of his reporting, a writer must guard against two

dangers. One is the temptation to be satisfied with superficial work

hastily done. The necessity of writing rapidly under pressure and of

constantly handling similar material, encourages neglect of the niceties

of structure and of style. In the rush of rapid writing, the importance

of care in the choice of words and in the arrangement of phrases and

clauses is easily forgotten. Even though well-edited newspapers insist

on the highest possible degree of accuracy in presenting news, the

exigencies of newspaper publishing often make it impossible to verify

facts or to attain absolute accuracy. Consequently a reporter may drop

into the habit of being satisfied with less thorough methods of

collecting and presenting his material than are demanded by the higher

standards of magazine writing.

The second danger is that he may unconsciously permit a more or less

cynical attitude to replace the healthy, optimistic outlook with which

he began his work. With the seamy side of life constantly before him, he

may find that his faith in human nature is being undermined. If,

however, he loses his idealism, he cannot hope to give his articles that

sincerity, hopefulness, and constructive spirit demanded by the average

reader, who, on the whole, retains his belief that truth and

righteousness prevail.

Of the relation of newspaper reporting to the writing of magazine

articles and to magazine editing, Mr. Howard Wheeler, editor of

Everybody's Magazine, has said:

It is the trained newspaper men that the big periodical publishers

are reaching out for. The man who has been through the newspaper

mill seems to have a distinct edge on the man who enters the field

without any newspaper training.

The nose for news, the ability to select and play up leads, the feel

of what is of immediate public interest is just as important in

magazine work as in newspaper work.

Fundamentally the purpose of a magazine article is the same as the

purpose of a newspaper story--to tell a tale, to tell it directly,

convincingly, and interestingly.

Practical experience in the field of his specialty is of advantage in

familiarizing a writer with the actual conditions about which he is

preparing himself to write. To engage for some time in farming,

railroading, household management, or any other occupation, equips a

person to write more intelligently about it. Such practical experience

either supplements college training in a special field, or serves as the

best substitute for such specialized education.

WHAT EDITORS WANT. All the requirements for success in special

feature writing may be reduced to the trite dictum that editors want

what they believe their readers want. Although a commonplace, it

expresses a point of view that aspiring writers are apt to forget. From

a purely commercial standpoint, editors are middlemen who buy from

producers what they believe they can sell to their customers. Unless an

editor satisfies his readers with his articles, they will cease to buy

his publication. If his literary wares are not what his readers want, he

finds on the newsstands unsold piles of his publication, just as a

grocer finds on his shelves faded packages of an unpopular breakfast

food. Both editor and grocer undertake to buy from the producers what

will have a ready sale and will satisfy their customers.

The writer, then, as the producer, must furnish wares that will attract

and satisfy the readers of the periodical to which he desires to sell

his product. It is the ultimate consumer, not merely the editor, that he

must keep in mind in selecting his material and in writing his article.

"Will the reader like this?" is the question that he must ask himself at

every stage of his work. Unless he can convince himself that the average

person who reads the periodical to which he proposes to submit his

article will like what he is writing, he cannot hope to sell it to the


UNDERSTANDING THE READER. Instead of thinking of readers as a more or

less indefinite mass, the writer will find it advantageous to picture to

himself real persons who may be taken as typical readers. It is very

easy for an author to think that what interests him and his immediate

circle will appeal equally to people in general. To write successfully,

however, for the Sunday magazine of a newspaper, it is necessary to keep

in mind the butcher, the baker, and--if not the candlestick-maker, at

least the stenographer and the department store clerk--as well as the

doctor, lawyer, merchant, and chief. What is true of the Sunday

newspaper is true of the popular magazine.

The most successful publisher in this country attributes the success of

his periodical to the fact that he kept before his mind's eye, as a

type, a family of his acquaintance in a Middle-Western town of fifteen

hundred inhabitants, and shaped the policy of his publication to meet

the needs and interests of all its members. An editor who desired to

reach such a family would be immeasurably helped in selecting his

material by trying constantly to judge from their point of view whatever

passed through his hands. It is equally true that a writer desiring to

gain admittance to that magazine, or to others making the same appeal,

would greatly profit by visualizing as vividly as possible a similar

family. Every successful writer, consciously or unconsciously, thus

pictures his readers to himself.

If, for example, an author is preparing an article for an agricultural

journal, he must have in his mind's eye an average farmer and this

farmer's family. Not only must he see them in their surroundings; he

must try to see life from their point of view. The attitude of the

typical city man toward the farm and country life is very different from

that of the countryman. Lack of sympathy and insight is a fatal defect

in many an article intended by the writer for farm readers.

Whatever the publication to which an author desires to contribute, he

should consider first, last, and all the time, its readers--their

surroundings, their education, their income, their ambitions, their

amusements, their prejudices--in short, he must see them as they really


The necessity of understanding the reader and his point of view has been

well brought out by Mr. John M. Siddall, editor of the _American

Magazine_, in the following excerpt from an editorial in that


The man who refuses to use his imagination to enable him to look at

things from the other fellow's point of view simply cannot exercise

wide influence. He cannot reach people.

Underneath it, somehow, lies a great law, the law of service. You

can't expect to attract people unless you do something for them. The

business man who has something to sell must have something useful to

sell, and he must talk about it from the point of view of the people

to whom he wants to sell his goods. In the same way, the journalist,

the preacher, and the politician must look at things from the point

of view of those they would reach. They must feel the needs of

others and then reach out and meet those needs. They can never have

a large following unless they give something. The same law runs into

the human relation. How we abhor the man who talks only about

himself--the man who never inquires about _our_ troubles, _our_

problems; the man who never puts himself in _our_ place, but

unimaginatively and unsympathetically goes on and on, egotistically

hammering away on the only subject that interests him--namely


STUDYING NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES. Since every successful publication

may be assumed to be satisfying its readers to a considerable degree,

the best way to determine what kind of readers it has, and what they are

interested in, is to study the contents carefully. No writer should send

an article to a publication before he has examined critically several of

its latest issues. In fact, no writer should prepare an article before

deciding to just what periodical he wishes to submit it. The more

familiar he is with the periodical the better are his chances of having

his contribution accepted.

In analyzing a newspaper or magazine in order to determine the type of

reader to which it appeals, the writer should consider the character of

the subjects in its recent issues, and the point of view from which

these subjects are presented. Every successful periodical has a distinct

individuality, which may be regarded as an expression of the editor's

idea of what his readers expect of his publication. To become a

successful contributor to a periodical, a writer must catch the spirit

that pervades its fiction and its editorials, as well as its special


In his effort to determine the kind of topics preferred by a given

publication, a writer may at first glance decide that timeliness is the

one element that dominates their choice, but a closer examination of the

articles in one or more issues will reveal a more specific basis of

selection. Thus, one Sunday paper will be found to contain articles on

the latest political, sociological, and literary topics, while another

deals almost exclusively with society leaders, actors and actresses, and

other men and women whose recent experiences or adventures have brought

them into prominence.

It is of even greater value to find out by careful reading of the entire

contents of several numbers of a periodical, the exact point of view

from which the material is treated. Every editor aims to present the

contents of his publication in the way that will make the strongest

appeal to his readers. This point of view it is the writer's business to

discover and adopt.

ANALYSIS OF SPECIAL ARTICLES. An inexperienced writer who desires to

submit special feature stories to newspapers should begin by analyzing

thoroughly the stories of this type in the daily papers published in his

own section of the country. Usually in the Saturday or Sunday issues he

will find typical articles on topics connected with the city and with

the state or states in which the paper circulates. The advantage of

beginning his study of newspaper stories with those published in papers

near his home lies in the fact that he is familiar with the interests of

the readers of these papers and can readily understand their point of

view. By noting the subjects, the point of view, the form, the style,

the length, and the illustrations, he will soon discover what these

papers want, or rather, what the readers of these papers want. The

"Outline for the Analysis of Special Articles" in Part II will indicate

the points to keep in mind in studying these articles.

In order to get a broader knowledge of the scope and character of

special feature stories, a writer may well extend his studies to the

magazine sections of the leading papers of the country. From the work of

the most experienced and original of the feature writers, which is

generally to be found in these metropolitan papers, the novice will

derive no little inspiration as well as a valuable knowledge of


The methods suggested for analyzing special feature stories in

newspapers are applicable also to the study of magazine articles.

Magazines afford a better opportunity than do newspapers for an analysis

of the different types of articles discussed in chapter V. Since

magazine articles are usually signed, it is possible to seek out and

study the work of various successful authors in order to determine

wherein lies the effectiveness of their writing. Beginning with the

popular weekly and monthly magazines, a writer may well extend his study

to those periodicals that appeal to particular classes, such as women's

magazines, agricultural journals, and trade publications.

IDEALS IN FEATURE WRITING. After thoughtful analysis of special articles

in all kinds of newspapers and magazines, the young writer with a

critical sense developed by reading English literature may come to feel

that much of the writing in periodicals falls far short of the standards

of excellence established by the best authors. Because he finds that the

average uncritical reader not only accepts commonplace work but is

apparently attracted by meretricious devices in writing, he may conclude

that high literary standards are not essential to popular success. The

temptation undoubtedly is great both for editors and writers to supply

articles that are no better than the average reader demands, especially

in such ephemeral publications as newspapers and popular magazines.

Nevertheless, the writer who yields to this temptation is sure to

produce only mediocre work. If he is satisfied to write articles that

will be characterized merely as "acceptable," he will never attain


The special feature writer owes it both to himself and to his readers to

do the best work of which he is capable. It is his privilege not only to

inform and to entertain the public, but to create better taste and a

keener appreciation of good writing. That readers do not demand better

writing in their newspapers and magazines does not mean that they are

unappreciative of good work. Nor do originality and precision in style

necessarily "go over the heads" of the average person. Whenever writers

and editors give the public something no better than it is willing to

accept, they neglect a great opportunity to aid in the development of

better literary taste, particularly on the part of the public whose

reading is largely confined to newspapers and periodicals.

Because of the commercial value of satisfying his readers, an editor

occasionally assumes that he must give all of them whatever some of them

crave. "We are only giving the public what it wants," is his excuse for

printing fiction and articles that are obviously demoralizing in their

effect. A heterogeneous public inevitably includes a considerable number

of individuals who are attracted by a suggestive treatment of morbid

phases of life. To cater to the low desires of some readers, on the

ground of "giving the public what it wants," will always be regarded by

self-respecting editors and authors as indefensible.

The writer's opportunity to influence the mental, moral, and ├Žsthetic

ideals of hundreds of thousands of readers is much greater than he often

realizes. When he considers the extent to which most men and women are

unconsciously guided in their ideas and aspirations by what they read in

newspapers and magazines, he cannot fail to appreciate his

responsibility. Grasping the full significance of his special feature

writing, he will no longer be content to write just well enough to sell

his product, but will determine to devote his effort to producing

articles that are the best of which he is capable.

PREFACE. PREPARING AND SELLING THE MANUSCRIPT facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail