SNN Newsroom

Getting Started

You are ready to write.

You have paper in front of you and information for a story.

What do you do next?

Here are 10 Easy Steps you can use to develop your article.

You can find a wealth of information and activities relating to the steps below in the Lesson Plans section of the Teacher's Lounge.

1. Come up with a topic
Before you start work on a story, you must figure out what you would like to write about.

What makes a good story? Just about anything, providing it's about a topic that involves people and matters to people!

When you are looking for ideas, listen to what's going on around you. What are people talking about? What gets them excited or angry? Read everything you can - including the newspaper, magazines, posters on bulletin boards, and the Web. Watch television and listen to the radio. Most important, just watch everything in your everyday life.

Along the way, ask yourself a few questions:

    • What's going on?
    • Who's involved?
    • When did this change?
    • Where is this happening?
    • How did it happen?
    • Why did it happen?

Those questions will help you recognize a new development or trend in your peer group or in your community. They will help you narrow the focus of your story and help you as you do research and write your story.

2. Focus your idea
A topic is a very general and broad category. But a story idea is something that's specific and narrowly focused. Here's an example:

Television and young people are a general heading that includes many different things. But a story idea would be: do today's television shows aimed at young people accurately reflect the lives of the intended audience?

In order to focus your story, try to boil it down to one statement or one question. If you can do that, you probably have a clear sense of what your story will be.


3. Decide on the form
There are many ways to approach a story.
Perhaps your goal is to share information in a timely way. Or maybe you want to offer an in-depth look at an issue. Or perhaps you want to express your opinion on a topic. Here are some of the forms your story can take:

News: A news story is immediate and often delivers time-sensitive information that may change moments later. It must compete with many other stories for a reader's or listener's attention, so the punch line must be in the very first sentence. News stories include facts, quotes and details about what is happening.

Feature: If you often ask the questions "how" and why", then you would probably enjoy writing feature stories. 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.

Opinion: Think of an opinion piece as a persuasive essay — the writer has an opinion or a point of view on an issue and he or she wants to convince the reader to agree. In order to do that well, you must research your topic and know the facts. Pretend you are a lawyer - you want to convince the jury to believe that your client is right so you present as much evidence as you can that proves the point. Do the same when you write a column or editorial.

Interview: This form allows the subject of the story to tell the story in his or her own words. The reporter asks a series of questions and records the answers. The interview can be presented in print (like newspapers or magazines do) or in recorded form (the way television and radio stations do). In an online publication like SNN, reporters have the option of including quotes in print and on tape. The reporter prefaces the interview with a short introduction that tells the audience who is being interviewed and why.

Review: In some ways, a review is much like a column or editorial. You are expressing your point of view on a subject — which, in this case, is a movie, a book, a c-d or a performance. As in a column, you should try to back up your opinion with examples from the actual work.

4. Do your research
Research takes many forms. It can start with searches of the World Wide Web, newspapers and other media, libraries, and documents. The research can also include doing personal interviews, attending news conferences, and covering events like meetings or conferences.

For advice on doing research, check out the Research and Reporting section in the Reporter's Toolbox.


5. Bring in sound and images
Sometimes, you need more than words alone to tell people a story.

That's where photos, graphics, video segments and audio clips can help. Photographs give readers a sight to go with what you write, so they can see the action for themselves. Video gives your audience a chance to see and hear what happened at an event or in an interview and audio bring the voices and sounds to life on the Internet.

If you have access to a video camera, bring it along when you head out to do a story. You may want to record all or part of your interview, shoot a panoramic shot of a specific location or video tape an event. The same goes for a regular camera. Just snap off some pictures of the people and places involved in your story. A basic cassette tape recorder will allow you to capture voices, crowd sounds, music and other elements that will help you tell your story.


6. Write a draft
Start by telling your story out loud
. Tell it to your mother, your friend, a tape recorder, your cat. Explain what happened, who was involved, what they said, how it looked. Do this as if you were talking about something that happened on the way home from the mall this afternoon. Going through this process usually helps you figure out what story you're going to tell in writing. Then, start typing or writing your story.

Once you've formed a rough outline of your story, stop and take a look. Have you included all the points you wanted to make? Is there a better way to explain this point? Can you add more specific details that will help your reader see and hear what's going on?


7. SNN's Mentorship Program
The SNN Program consists of professional reporters, writers who can offer you advice and assistance in completing your article. Consult the Mentorship section for more information and to request a mentor.


8. Edit and fine-tune your piece
After you've completed your story, print it off and put it aside. Once you have had some time away from your story, take another look. Does it make sense to you? Can you shorten some sentences or delete some information without changing the meaning? Is there something you have missed? Have you left some questions unanswered?


9. Review by another person
Give your story to a friend, teacher or mentor to read. Another person will often see mistakes or awkward sentences that you, the writer, have missed.



Formula for structuring a well-written article

First paragraph
In your first one or two sentences tell who, what, when, where, and why.
Try to hook the reader by beginning with a funny, clever, or surprising statement.
Go for variety: try beginning your article with a question or a provocative statement.

Body of the article
Give the reader the details. Include one or two quotes from people you interviewed.
Write in the third person (he, she, it, they)
Be objective (never state your opinion unless it is an opinion piece)
Use quotes to express others' opinions!

Last paragraph
Wrap it up somehow (don't leave the reader hanging)
Please don't say...."In conclusion" or "To finish..." (yawn!)
Try ending with a quote or a catchy phrase.
Use active words (verbs that show what's really happening)


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