SNN Newsroom

Feature Writing

with  Beth Ryan, Freelance Writer


If you ask the question "how and why" things happen, then you probably like reading feature stories in newspapers and magazines.

What is a feature story?

A feature takes an in-depth look at what’s going on behind the news.

  • It gets into the lives of people.
  • It tries to explain why and how a trend developed.
  • Unlike news, a feature does not have to be tied to a current event or a breaking story. But it can grow out of something that’s reported in the news. 

It may be a profile of a person or a group -- an athlete, a performer, a politician, or a community worker or a team, a choir or a political organization. Or perhaps it’s an in-depth look at a social issue -- like violence in Canadian schools or eating disorders among young women. It could also be a story that gives the reader background on a topic that’s in the news -- like a story that explains how land mines work and the history of their use in war.

A feature story is usually longer than a news story -- but length is not a requirement! What’s more important is the form the story takes.

Think of the feature as the journalistic equivalent of an essay. Follow these guidelines:

  • start with a premise or theme
  • present information and opinions that back you point,
  • bring the reader to a conclusion.

The feature often explores several different points of views, even when the story is about one particular person.


The story behind the news
Here’s an example of how a feature can explain and explore a story that makes news:

Your local newspaper reports on the front page that school enrollments are dropping in your small community. The reason? Many people are being forced to leave the town to look for jobs in bigger cities and obviously, their children go with them. As a reporter you can go beyond the facts and figures in the news story by talking to one of the families who are leaving. How do they feel? What made them decide to go? What will they miss about home? What are they expecting in their new community? How do the children feel about leaving their school and their friends? Or you can look at the story from the point of view of the people who remain in the town. What’s it like to lose friends and family to far-away cities? How does it affect the school? What about the local economy?

The news story tells the audience what happened. The feature will tell them why and how it happened, how the people involved are reacting, and what impact the decision is having on other people.


Personality in profile
Indulge your curiosity -- and that of your readers -- with a profile of an interesting person.

You can look at someone who’s making news in your community, province or country. Or it could be someone who's relatively unknown to the public but who has done something unusual or remarkable.

Here’s one example:

Your town elects a full slate of councillors to represent and serve the community. One is a 19-year-old student who was active in youth parliament and student politics. That makes him the youngest elected official in your province. But that’s not the whole story! He gets the most votes of any of the councillors, and according to the election rules, that makes him deputy mayor. What’s it like to be a politician when you’re still in your teens? What does your life experience add to the council? Are you seen as a spokesman for your generation -- but not the community as a whole? What do the other councillors think of their young colleague? Do people take you seriously?

That young politician may not be famous. But he’s certainly done something new. And his experiences will be something that others will want to learn more about.

Take a look at people from the world of sports, entertainment, politics, science, technology, business, health, international development, community activism, education, the military, the fine arts or any other field that interests you.

You can choose a subject and find out the basic facts of the person’s life and work. What have they learned so far? Are there any surprises? Is there an area of this person's life or work that the student would now like to focus on?

  • Write your profile by telling your readers the facts of this person's life — while adding the color and details that make them unique.
  • Talk to the person themselves whenever possible and use their own words to help tell their story.


Tracking a trend
Many of the best stories come from reporters’ observations of the world around them. Here’s just one example of how you can come across a great feature story in your daily life:

YOU are hanging around with friends at lunch time and talking about plans for the weekend. Someone says they’ve heard that the town council is considering a curfew for teens. Everyone under 16 has to be off the streets by 11pm on weekends. You have your own curfew - set by your parents - but you are surprised to learn that the mayor wants to put one in place for everyone.

You talk to some of your friends to find out what they think. You and other concerned teens go over to the town hall and ask the mayor or one of the councillors why they see the need for a curfew. You surf the Net and find out what other towns and cities have been doing.

You find that this is a bit of trend in North America.

What you now have is the basis for a really interesting feature. You have taken a little piece of information and investigated further to find out what’s going on. The story will focus on the issue and the thoughts and feeling of the people involved — namely local teenagers and the people who made the decision about the curfew.


Feature writing tips
The basic guidelines for good writing apply to all types of writing. However, if you expect to hold your readers attention for 1,000 words or more, your writing must be must be lively, specific and clear.

As a student writer you have to start with a lede that captures your reader’s attention.

  • It could be an anecdote you have heard during the course of your research.
  • It could be a description of a person, place or thing that draws the reader in and encourages them to learn more.
  • It could a newsy lede that highlights the point of the story.

Move your story along with descriptions of what happened, quotes from people involved in the issue, and details that place the reader in the midst of the action. Make sure your ending is meaningful. Your closing words should make an impact on your readers and tie the various strands of your story together.

A powerful quote can often make for a good ending. Or you may want to come full circle and refer back to a word or an image used in your opening sentences. 

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