How to write your first article

Posted by Maddie Hall on 11/4/19 1:02 PM

In How to, Journalist

We know the feeling - you’ve been tasked with writing an article for your paper, outlet or publication and  you need to know where to start. Whether you're a new journalist, blogger, marketer or content creator, Grafiti is here to help!

Help Me Cat GIF

To write an article, let's boil it down to five steps:

  1. Find your topic
  2. Do the research
  3. Create your nut graf
  4. The writing part
  5. Edit

Find your topic

What’s happening in the world around you and how is it affecting your community? A good rule of thumb is that many national stories can be localized. How is the national policy on _____ going to affect people in your area?

Check out the meeting and programming calendars from your city’s website and find relevant committee meetings you can attend. At these committee meetings you’ll learn what issues your city is facing and you’ll be able to meet informed and outgoing citizens that can become some of the best sources you’ll get. Also don’t forget to attend your city council meetings!

Join your neighborhood apps like Nextdoor where neighbors freely talk about their issues and what needs to be done in the city. These unfiltered posts are great for story ideas and with Nextdoor you’re able to jump around and look at different neighborhoods and learn what’s plaguing them.

Do the Research

The beginning of every story involves a mind-numbing amount of work: primary and secondary research. Primary research is when you collect the data yourself. An example of this is interviewing a source. Secondary research is information that’s already been compiled and published by someone else. Without a healthy combination of both primary and secondary research your story will be lacking, so don’t skimp on this step!

Finding sources and data used to feel like an arduous and impossible task, but no more! Google’s new Dataset Search makes finding the data you need easy. If you’re a member of IRE, or Investigative Reporters and Editors, you can get access to a plethora of well maintained databases.

 

If you’re looking for infographics or charts you should check out Grafiti, a new search engine for charts, graphs and data. The site manually reviews every source presented (over 1,500 & counting) with new sources being added daily. Each chart links back to its original source so you can easily find the context and data behind it which is incredibly useful for finding the context behind each.

 

grafiti search results for public schools

 

To organize the charts you’ve found you can create a folder, or “Collection” as it’s called on the site, where you can store your favorite findings and share them with others. You can also make your collection private for personal use only, something that is really useful when you’re collecting research.

If you make your own charts and assets for your story you can upload them to Grafiti for others to find and get inspired by in the future!

Find your ‘nut graf’

In journalism every article contains a ‘nut graf’ or "nut graph" which boils down the essentials of the article into one sentence or small paragraph. Essentially, the nut graf explains why the reader should care and what the story is articulating in a broader sense. Think of it as the journalism equivalent to a thesis sentence.

Technically, this is considered part of actually writing the article but creating your nut graf first will save you time and effort when you write the rest of the piece.

The writing part

So you’ve made it. You have the brunt of your research done and you’re ready to write the story. If you’re having trouble with the structure, draw out on a piece of paper a quick outline of the main points you want to make. Seeing it visually in front of your eyes is very useful because it allows you to see your ideas in physical space and see how the ideas will flow together.

Editing

It’s not over once you’ve written the piece, in fact the real work is just beginning. There’s a reason that writers have editors who will not hold back: it’s difficult sometimes to find the flaws in the work you’ve put hours and hours into an article.

Read your work out loud! When you hear the article you can find mistakes and awkward phrases that would not be found otherwise. And don't forget the basics like running spelling and grammar checks!

Send to your editor or publish and you’re done!

If you have an editor, send it for their review with time to spare. Incorporating feedback is an important step in expanding your skills. The writing process is a long and arduous one, but once your piece is published, there’s no better feeling in the world. Until you get your next assignment :) 

If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at Maddie@Grafiti.io and I'd be happy to help you!