How to Write Hard News Stories

Hard news articles are written so the the reader can stop reading at any time, and still come away with the whole story.  This is very different from an essay, which presumes that the audience will stick around to the end, and can therefore build to a finish. Your reader will often stop reading after the first few paragraphs, so its important that they have a good grasp of the story.

There is no need to put a “conclusion” on a news story.  Each individual reader will “end” the story whenever he or she gets bored.  A particularly interested reader will keep reading to the end.

1. Use simple sentence structure. Make each of your points concise. Readers grow tired of big blocks of text, so it’s best to break it up a bit.

2. Make only one point per paragraph, and limit paragraphs to one or two sentences.

3. Use active voice.

4. Use the past tense.

5. Think of each paragraph flowing from the source, or essence, of the story down the pyramid until the end.

6.  All of the 5 Ws and H usually don’t belong in the lead. Write the lead with only the essential information and include the rest in later paragraphs.

7. Paragraphs at the bottom of your story may be cut to make the story fit in the newspaper.

8. Quotes breathe life into a story, but can be abused. Don’t quote material that isn’t quote worthy. For instance, if Frank had said, “Officers arrived on the scene at about 9:00 a.m.,” you wouldn’t quote that. If she had said, “That huge pig just sat there with tears running down his face and I thought my heart would burst,” well, that’s far more quote worthy.

9. Be objective not subjective. Your readers aren’t interested in your opinion on the latest scandal –so keep yourself out of the story. Attribute every claim or opinion you report to someone else, and don’t editorialize. If you do, you take the entire element of objectivity— and thus, truth– out of your story.

10. Check and re-check your facts.

11. Always use both a person’s first and second names in the first reference and be absolutely sure of the spelling.

12. Never use “I” or “we” in a hard news story. Those words belong in columns.

13. Avoid the trap of starting almost every sentence with “The”.

14. Reread the whole article, minus your last couple of paragraphs, to verify that it still makes sense without the additional info. Remember, you need to assume that I might be cut to save space. If key information is lost, rewrite the article to include that information toward the beginning.

15. Use neutral terminology. When quoting a source directly, stick with the verb “said.” Understand that a hard news article should aim to be objective in its presentation of the facts. With that in mind, expect most synonyms for the word “said” to suggest that the speaker is doing more than simply making a statement. Let the speaker’s words speak for themselves, rather than define them further with more specific verbs.

Hard News Stories use the inverted pyramid structure, it’s first things first, second things second. Explanatory passages and the less important facts are added in declining order of importance.

There are two reasons for this. Sometimes stories have to be cut, often just before deadline, to fit the available space and this style of hard news writing ensures that if any facts are deleted they will be the least important ones.

Also, not everyone has the time nor the interest to read every word in every story. So, if the main facts are in the headline and the first part of the story (the lead, or in journalistic terms, the lede), people can be quite well informed without reading right to the end of the news item.

The Headline: Convey the general message in as many words as will fit. It should be informational.

1. Begin with a strong lead that summarizes the story. It is arguably the most important part of the article. Based on the content of that first sentence, a reader will either look deeper into the story, or move on to the next one. Therefore, how you craft your lead is very important. Aim to hook your audience into reading further. At the same time, provide them with a condensed version of the story right up front in case they move on. Include the five W’s and one H in your first paragraph: who, what, when, where, why, and how. To present the essence of the story all at once, address them all in the very first sentence (known as the “summary” or “hard news” lead).

2. Use your first paragraph to provide the most basic info. From there, flesh out the story in more detail. Continue presenting the facts in order of the most relevant. The second paragraph should support the lead, adding more details. OR, a strong quotation supporting the lead can be very powerful here.

Give your reader someone to relate to. Introduce a witness or source within the first few paragraphs. Continue to pepper your story with the voices of people who played a part in and/or were directly affected by its events.

3. The third paragraph should support the first two, adding yet more detail, and so on throughout the story.

4. Conclude your article with a quote or angle that fleshes the story out a little bit more. However, make sure that this info isn’t critical for the reader to know in order to understand the whole story. Expect the very end of your article to be cut to save space if need be.

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