In the good old days, 11+ or 13+ candidates were simply asked to do a comprehension and write a story in their English exams. However, the creative writing papers have changed recently, and candidates might have to do a wide range of creative writing tasks, such as writing a diary entry or a newspaper article. This post should help you understand the basic format of a newspaper article enough to write your own in a convincing way.
The picture above shows a typical article taken from the online edition of The Daily Telegraph. It happens to be from the sport section, but it follows a similar pattern to most articles, whether they’re in news, opinion or any other section.
Here are the basic elements that you need to copy in your own article:
- Headline. This says what the news item actually is and will usually have only 5-10 words in it. This one’s a little longer, but it still leaves out one or two words, in this case the ‘a’ in front of the words ‘shock call-up’. Articles such as a, an and the are normally left out of the main headline, as are auxiliary verbs such as being and having. For example, if the headline was in the passive, it would read something like ‘Josh Tongue handed shock call-up’, not ‘Josh Tongue is handed shock call-up’. Notice also that it’s in the present tense—even though the event obviously happened in the past! That’s just a convention or habit, but you need to do the same.
- Subheadline. This explains the main headline in a bit more detail. This is generally a bit longer, so the rules are slightly less strict on leaving out words. Notice that the word ‘an’ makes it into this one, but there’s no ‘the’ before ‘nets’.
- Byline. This tells the reader who’s written the article and where it was written. In this case, it’s just the journalist’s name and location, but columnists sometimes have a mini-biography.
- Date. This shows the date and time when the article was published.
- Picture. You probably won’t have to draw a picture, but you might possibly have to show where it goes in the article and say what would be in it. In this case, it’s just a picture of Josh Tongue bowling at Lord’s Cricket Ground.
- Caption. The line under the picture usually repeats the headline again in different words, and there’s usually a credit for the photographer who took the picture or the agency that provided it. In this case, you can see it was Philip Brown via Getty Images.
- Lede. The first paragraph is called the ‘lede’ for historical reasons that aren’t important now! It usually repeats the headline with a bit more explanatory detail, including dates, locations and a bit of background.
- Other paragraphs. There’s no set number of paragraphs for a newspaper article, so you’ll need to check the question to work out how much to write. However, most newspaper articles include the most important information at the top of the article and less important details further down. These usually include a mix of the following:
- Background. This is not part of the actual story, but it helps explain what’s going on. For example, in the second paragraph of this article, we find that ‘Tongue has never played at Lord’s before’.
- Interviews. The usual sources journalists use to back up a story are interviews with the people concerned. In political stories, you might find quotations from both sides of a controversial argument. In this case, all we see is a short quotation from Chris Woakes, who ‘spoke of a “dark” summer in 2022’.
- Statistics. Another way to confirm a story is by using numbers. This is common in articles about economics. However, in this case, we find that Woakes ‘averages 61.2 with the bat and 11.3 with the ball’.
- Anecdotes. Journalists often try to ‘hook’ the reader or generate an emotional reaction by telling a story. In this case, we hear how Woakes ‘was sidelined by a knee injury and wondered if he would add to his 45 Test caps’.
Every newspaper has a ‘style guide’ that helps journalists decide how to write the story. These cover all kinds of grammatical points, including such things as how to capitalise words or where to use commas. Here are a couple of common usages:
- Use people’s full names (and titles) when first mentioning them in the article. After that, just use their surnames. In this article, for instance, it’s ‘Josh Tongue’ in the first paragraph but ‘Tongue’ after that.
- Use ‘elegant variation’ to avoid repeating people’s names too often. It can get a bit repetitive to use people’s names all the way through an article, so it’s normal to think of different ways to refer to them. In this article, Chris Woakes is referred to as the ‘seasoned international and Lord’s specialist’.
- Treat what interviewees say as quotations rather than speech. That means you don’t need to put a comma before the spoken words, as with the word “dark” in this example. It also means you have to put the full-stop after the speech marks and not before.
- Don’t write in the first person. Unless you’re supposed to be a columnist writing an opinion piece, you shouldn’t use the words ‘I’ or ‘me’.
- Write a news article about a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, volcanic eruption or tsunami.
- Write a sports report about a football match.
- Write an article about the importance of saving the planet.
- Write a restaurant review.
- Write an obituary for a famous person who’s just died.