Pegs, cul-de-sacs and a gripping narrative: How to write a feature

Pegs, cul-de-sacs and a gripping narrative: How to write a feature

At Scriba, in our quest to help companies with the written word, we’ve found one thing that business people often find really hard work is drafting a feature.

Putting together a story for a press release, in comparison, is a pretty straightforward task.

The convention of news writing dictates that you say the most important bit at the outset – adding the less crucial but ‘nice to have’ information as you go on.

News stories aren’t designed to necessarily be read until the very end. Features, meanwhile, are a different proposition.

They are typically longer and more reflective in style. They may involve opinion, or writing in the first person, with more opportunity for humour or creativity. They are also less time sensitive, and therefore relevant and readable for longer.

You couldn’t write a news story about the Titanic sinking, but you could certainly write a feature on this topic – ideally from a fresh angle, offering new or different information to what has been covered before.

Rather than simply reporting information, a good feature should satisfy the reader, keep them absorbed until the final word – and offer a sense of having gained some value, by taking the time to read it.

Why would I want to write a feature?

There are many reasons why an SME might want or need to write a feature. You may be invited to pen an opinion piece for a trade publication, or an overview of a project for a business newsletter or magazine.

Perhaps you want to make feature material a regular part of the news section of your website, or blog, to vary the pace and tone, in order to keep your stakeholders engaged and informed.

Before you open a document and start typing, there are two important considerations. The first is, “Who is my audience and what are they interested in?”.

The second is, “What do I want my feature to do?”. This piece of writing, for example, aims to be helpful and generous – while also subtly letting you know of Scriba’s expertise, should you ever need it.

The answers to these questions should steer you on all matter of content and style.

Ready to go? Good! Here are some dos and don’ts …

DO your research

Have all your information to hand before you start. Read around your subject. Collect some killer facts and figures to back up the points you make – and if your work will be published online, add hyperlinks.

Linking to another useful resource – such as this article that underlines the need for a meticulous approach – will save you having to introduce each reference fully.

Many features include quotes from one or more interviewees. Pay close attention to what they tell you – it might not be what you expect, and their input could completely shift the focus of your feature. Make sure you represent them accurately.

DON’T forget you need an angle

One thing that features have in common with news stories is that they need what journalists call a ‘hook’ or a ‘peg’ – something topical to hang it all on.

A reason to write specifically about this thing, right now, could be anything from the release of new statistics or a timely stage in a project or initiative, to an anniversary of something important, or a growing social or business trend.

DO sock it to the reader

Inexperienced feature writers often think that a softer approach to a subject – distinct from ‘hard news’ – means they can open their piece in broad, generic, boring or clichéd terms. They can’t.

Readers need to be gripped from the beginning. The most effective way to achieve this is with one powerful aspect of what you want to talk about, as an opener – saving more good stuff to reveal later.

Take a look at any relevant journalism for examples and inspiration. Some writers start a feature with a pithy standfirst before employing arresting description, or a strong quote, as a way in to a wider subject.

Writing a feature is a bit like playing rounders. Get off to a good start by really socking the ball – making that connection – before moving swiftly round a number of bases.

DON’T meander into a cul-de-sac

It’s easier said than done to ‘move swiftly round bases’ but some writers find it useful to imagine a thread running through their work, guiding them at a steady pace, to a solid destination.  Your narrative must progress smoothly and surely, if you are to keep your audience with you.

Something new must be revealed in each paragraph. Facts should be spaced out. If you wander meaninglessly, your readers will get frustrated and opt out, mid-journey.

Splitting your feature into sections, with subheadings – like you can see here – can be a good idea. It makes it easier for you, the writer, to organise your thoughts – and the result is more digestible than a lengthy, essay-like read.

DO make sure there’s a good ending

Finally, the way you finish your feature must have some impact, so that your reader gets the sense of having reached a conclusion. This is another significant challenge, before you’re done.

In your desire to wrap up loose ends, the big danger is that you end up sounding vague, simplistic or patronising. This is real life, after all, and your exploration of a subject could well throw up more complex questions than easy answers.

If your piece includes interview material, one good way to end is with a quote that underlines what you’ve been saying, and perhaps looks to the future.

The chances are you’ll also want to add some sort of call to action, to encourage readers to take it further, like this one:

Feature writing is tricky. Remember you can always call in the professionals at Scriba. Get in touch to discuss your requirements any time.

By Jenny