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11.1 The Purpose of Research Writing

Learning objectives.

  • Identify reasons to research writing projects.
  • Outline the steps of the research writing process.

Why was the Great Wall of China built? What have scientists learned about the possibility of life on Mars? What roles did women play in the American Revolution? How does the human brain create, store, and retrieve memories? Who invented the game of football, and how has it changed over the years?

You may know the answers to these questions off the top of your head. If you are like most people, however, you find answers to tough questions like these by searching the Internet, visiting the library, or asking others for information. To put it simply, you perform research.

Whether you are a scientist, an artist, a paralegal, or a parent, you probably perform research in your everyday life. When your boss, your instructor, or a family member asks you a question that you do not know the answer to, you locate relevant information, analyze your findings, and share your results. Locating, analyzing, and sharing information are key steps in the research process, and in this chapter, you will learn more about each step. By developing your research writing skills, you will prepare yourself to answer any question no matter how challenging.

Reasons for Research

When you perform research, you are essentially trying to solve a mystery—you want to know how something works or why something happened. In other words, you want to answer a question that you (and other people) have about the world. This is one of the most basic reasons for performing research.

But the research process does not end when you have solved your mystery. Imagine what would happen if a detective collected enough evidence to solve a criminal case, but she never shared her solution with the authorities. Presenting what you have learned from research can be just as important as performing the research. Research results can be presented in a variety of ways, but one of the most popular—and effective—presentation forms is the research paper . A research paper presents an original thesis, or purpose statement, about a topic and develops that thesis with information gathered from a variety of sources.

If you are curious about the possibility of life on Mars, for example, you might choose to research the topic. What will you do, though, when your research is complete? You will need a way to put your thoughts together in a logical, coherent manner. You may want to use the facts you have learned to create a narrative or to support an argument. And you may want to show the results of your research to your friends, your teachers, or even the editors of magazines and journals. Writing a research paper is an ideal way to organize thoughts, craft narratives or make arguments based on research, and share your newfound knowledge with the world.

Write a paragraph about a time when you used research in your everyday life. Did you look for the cheapest way to travel from Houston to Denver? Did you search for a way to remove gum from the bottom of your shoe? In your paragraph, explain what you wanted to research, how you performed the research, and what you learned as a result.

Research Writing and the Academic Paper

No matter what field of study you are interested in, you will most likely be asked to write a research paper during your academic career. For example, a student in an art history course might write a research paper about an artist’s work. Similarly, a student in a psychology course might write a research paper about current findings in childhood development.

Having to write a research paper may feel intimidating at first. After all, researching and writing a long paper requires a lot of time, effort, and organization. However, writing a research paper can also be a great opportunity to explore a topic that is particularly interesting to you. The research process allows you to gain expertise on a topic of your choice, and the writing process helps you remember what you have learned and understand it on a deeper level.

Research Writing at Work

Knowing how to write a good research paper is a valuable skill that will serve you well throughout your career. Whether you are developing a new product, studying the best way to perform a procedure, or learning about challenges and opportunities in your field of employment, you will use research techniques to guide your exploration. You may even need to create a written report of your findings. And because effective communication is essential to any company, employers seek to hire people who can write clearly and professionally.

Writing at Work

Take a few minutes to think about each of the following careers. How might each of these professionals use researching and research writing skills on the job?

  • Medical laboratory technician
  • Small business owner
  • Information technology professional
  • Freelance magazine writer

A medical laboratory technician or information technology professional might do research to learn about the latest technological developments in either of these fields. A small business owner might conduct research to learn about the latest trends in his or her industry. A freelance magazine writer may need to research a given topic to write an informed, up-to-date article.

Think about the job of your dreams. How might you use research writing skills to perform that job? Create a list of ways in which strong researching, organizing, writing, and critical thinking skills could help you succeed at your dream job. How might these skills help you obtain that job?

Steps of the Research Writing Process

How does a research paper grow from a folder of brainstormed notes to a polished final draft? No two projects are identical, but most projects follow a series of six basic steps.

These are the steps in the research writing process:

  • Choose a topic.
  • Plan and schedule time to research and write.
  • Conduct research.
  • Organize research and ideas.
  • Draft your paper.
  • Revise and edit your paper.

Each of these steps will be discussed in more detail later in this chapter. For now, though, we will take a brief look at what each step involves.

Step 1: Choosing a Topic

As you may recall from Chapter 8 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” , to narrow the focus of your topic, you may try freewriting exercises, such as brainstorming. You may also need to ask a specific research question —a broad, open-ended question that will guide your research—as well as propose a possible answer, or a working thesis . You may use your research question and your working thesis to create a research proposal . In a research proposal, you present your main research question, any related subquestions you plan to explore, and your working thesis.

Step 2: Planning and Scheduling

Before you start researching your topic, take time to plan your researching and writing schedule. Research projects can take days, weeks, or even months to complete. Creating a schedule is a good way to ensure that you do not end up being overwhelmed by all the work you have to do as the deadline approaches.

During this step of the process, it is also a good idea to plan the resources and organizational tools you will use to keep yourself on track throughout the project. Flowcharts, calendars, and checklists can all help you stick to your schedule. See Chapter 11 “Writing from Research: What Will I Learn?” , Section 11.2 “Steps in Developing a Research Proposal” for an example of a research schedule.

Step 3: Conducting Research

When going about your research, you will likely use a variety of sources—anything from books and periodicals to video presentations and in-person interviews.

Your sources will include both primary sources and secondary sources . Primary sources provide firsthand information or raw data. For example, surveys, in-person interviews, and historical documents are primary sources. Secondary sources, such as biographies, literary reviews, or magazine articles, include some analysis or interpretation of the information presented. As you conduct research, you will take detailed, careful notes about your discoveries. You will also evaluate the reliability of each source you find.

Step 4: Organizing Research and the Writer’s Ideas

When your research is complete, you will organize your findings and decide which sources to cite in your paper. You will also have an opportunity to evaluate the evidence you have collected and determine whether it supports your thesis, or the focus of your paper. You may decide to adjust your thesis or conduct additional research to ensure that your thesis is well supported.

Remember, your working thesis is not set in stone. You can and should change your working thesis throughout the research writing process if the evidence you find does not support your original thesis. Never try to force evidence to fit your argument. For example, your working thesis is “Mars cannot support life-forms.” Yet, a week into researching your topic, you find an article in the New York Times detailing new findings of bacteria under the Martian surface. Instead of trying to argue that bacteria are not life forms, you might instead alter your thesis to “Mars cannot support complex life-forms.”

Step 5: Drafting Your Paper

Now you are ready to combine your research findings with your critical analysis of the results in a rough draft. You will incorporate source materials into your paper and discuss each source thoughtfully in relation to your thesis or purpose statement.

When you cite your reference sources, it is important to pay close attention to standard conventions for citing sources in order to avoid plagiarism , or the practice of using someone else’s words without acknowledging the source. Later in this chapter, you will learn how to incorporate sources in your paper and avoid some of the most common pitfalls of attributing information.

Step 6: Revising and Editing Your Paper

In the final step of the research writing process, you will revise and polish your paper. You might reorganize your paper’s structure or revise for unity and cohesion, ensuring that each element in your paper flows into the next logically and naturally. You will also make sure that your paper uses an appropriate and consistent tone.

Once you feel confident in the strength of your writing, you will edit your paper for proper spelling, grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and formatting. When you complete this final step, you will have transformed a simple idea or question into a thoroughly researched and well-written paper you can be proud of!

Review the steps of the research writing process. Then answer the questions on your own sheet of paper.

  • In which steps of the research writing process are you allowed to change your thesis?
  • In step 2, which types of information should you include in your project schedule?
  • What might happen if you eliminated step 4 from the research writing process?

Key Takeaways

  • People undertake research projects throughout their academic and professional careers in order to answer specific questions, share their findings with others, increase their understanding of challenging topics, and strengthen their researching, writing, and analytical skills.
  • The research writing process generally comprises six steps: choosing a topic, scheduling and planning time for research and writing, conducting research, organizing research and ideas, drafting a paper, and revising and editing the paper.

Writing for Success Copyright © 2015 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Expert Commentary

Basic newswriting: Learn how to originate, research and write breaking-news stories

Syllabus for semester-long course on the fundamentals of covering and writing the news, including how identify a story, gather information efficiently and place it in a meaningful context.

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by The Journalist's Resource, The Journalist's Resource January 22, 2010

This <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org/home/syllabus-covering-the-news/">article</a> first appeared on <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org">The Journalist's Resource</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src="https://journalistsresource.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/cropped-jr-favicon-150x150.png" style="width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;">

This course introduces tomorrow’s journalists to the fundamentals of covering and writing news. Mastering these skills is no simple task. In an Internet age of instantaneous access, demand for high-quality accounts of fast-breaking news has never been greater. Nor has the temptation to cut corners and deliver something less.

To resist this temptation, reporters must acquire skills to identify a story and its essential elements, gather information efficiently, place it in a meaningful context, and write concise and compelling accounts, sometimes at breathtaking speed. The readings, discussions, exercises and assignments of this course are designed to help students acquire such skills and understand how to exercise them wisely.

Photo: Memorial to four slain Lakewood, Wash., police officers. The Seattle Times earned the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for their coverage of the crime.

Course objective

To give students the background and skills needed to originate, research, focus and craft clear, compelling and contextual accounts of breaking news in a deadline environment.

Learning objectives

  • Build an understanding of the role news plays in American democracy.
  • Discuss basic journalistic principles such as accuracy, integrity and fairness.
  • Evaluate how practices such as rooting and stereotyping can undermine them.
  • Analyze what kinds of information make news and why.
  • Evaluate the elements of news by deconstructing award-winning stories.
  • Evaluate the sources and resources from which news content is drawn.
  • Analyze how information is attributed, quoted and paraphrased in news.
  • Gain competence in focusing a story’s dominant theme in a single sentence.
  • Introduce the structure, style and language of basic news writing.
  • Gain competence in building basic news stories, from lead through their close.
  • Gain confidence and competence in writing under deadline pressure.
  • Practice how to identify, background and contact appropriate sources.
  • Discuss and apply the skills needed to interview effectively.
  • Analyze data and how it is used and abused in news coverage.
  • Review basic math skills needed to evaluate and use statistics in news.
  • Report and write basic stories about news events on deadline.

Suggested reading

  • A standard textbook of the instructor’s choosing.
  • America ‘s Best Newspaper Writing , Roy Peter Clark and Christopher Scanlan, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006
  • The Elements of Journalism , Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, Three Rivers Press, 2001.
  • Talk Straight, Listen Carefully: The Art of Interviewing , M.L. Stein and Susan E. Paterno, Iowa State University Press, 2001
  • Math Tools for Journalists , Kathleen Woodruff Wickham, Marion Street Press, Inc., 2002
  • On Writing Well: 30th Anniversary Edition , William Zinsser, Collins, 2006
  • Associated Press Stylebook 2009 , Associated Press, Basic Books, 2009

Weekly schedule and exercises (13-week course)

We encourage faculty to assign students to read on their own Kovach and Rosentiel’s The Elements of Journalism in its entirety during the early phase of the course. Only a few chapters of their book are explicitly assigned for the class sessions listed below.

The assumption for this syllabus is that the class meets twice weekly.

Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Weeks 13/14

Week 1: Why journalism matters

Previous week | Next week | Back to top

Class 1: The role of journalism in society

The word journalism elicits considerable confusion in contemporary American society. Citizens often confuse the role of reporting with that of advocacy. They mistake those who promote opinions or push their personal agendas on cable news or in the blogosphere for those who report. But reporters play a different role: that of gatherer of evidence, unbiased and unvarnished, placed in a context of past events that gives current events weight beyond the ways opinion leaders or propagandists might misinterpret or exploit them.

This session’s discussion will focus on the traditional role of journalism eloquently summarized by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism . The class will then examine whether they believe that the journalist’s role has changed or needs to change in today’s news environment. What is the reporter’s role in contemporary society? Is objectivity, sometimes called fairness, an antiquated concept or an essential one, as the authors argue, for maintaining a democratic society? How has the term been subverted? What are the reporter’s fundamental responsibilities? This discussion will touch on such fundamental issues as journalists’ obligation to the truth, their loyalty to the citizens who are their audience and the demands of their discipline to verify information, act independently, provide a forum for public discourse and seek not only competing viewpoints but carefully vetted facts that help establish which viewpoints are grounded in evidence.

Reading: Kovach and Rosenstiel, Chapter 1, and relevant pages of the course text


  • Students should compare the news reporting on a breaking political story in The Wall Street Journal , considered editorially conservative, and The New York Times , considered editorially liberal. They should write a two-page memo that considers the following questions: Do the stories emphasize the same information? Does either story appear to slant the news toward a particular perspective? How? Do the stories support the notion of fact-based journalism and unbiased reporting or do they appear to infuse opinion into news? Students should provide specific examples that support their conclusions.
  • Students should look for an example of reporting in any medium in which reporters appear have compromised the notion of fairness to intentionally or inadvertently espouse a point of view. What impact did the incorporation of such material have on the story? Did its inclusion have any effect on the reader’s perception of the story?

Class 2: Objectivity, fairness and contemporary confusion about both

In his book Discovering the News , Michael Schudson traced the roots of objectivity to the era following World War I and a desire by journalists to guard against the rapid growth of public relations practitioners intent on spinning the news. Objectivity was, and remains, an ideal, a method for guarding against spin and personal bias by examining all sides of a story and testing claims through a process of evidentiary verification. Practiced well, it attempts to find where something approaching truth lies in a sea of conflicting views. Today, objectivity often is mistaken for tit-for-tat journalism, in which the reporters only responsibility is to give equal weight to the conflicting views of different parties without regard for which, if any, are saying something approximating truth. This definition cedes the journalist’s responsibility to seek and verify evidence that informs the citizenry.

Focusing on the “Journalism of Verification” chapter in The Elements of Journalism , this class will review the evolution and transformation of concepts of objectivity and fairness and, using the homework assignment, consider how objectivity is being practiced and sometimes skewed in the contemporary new media.

Reading: Kovach and Rosenstiel, Chapter 4, and relevant pages of the course text.

Assignment: Students should evaluate stories on the front page and metro front of their daily newspaper. In a two-page memo, they should describe what elements of news judgment made the stories worthy of significant coverage and play. Finally, they should analyze whether, based on what else is in the paper, they believe the editors reached the right decision.

Week 2: Where news comes from

Class 1: News judgment

When editors sit down together to choose the top stories, they use experience and intuition. The beginner journalist, however, can acquire a sense of news judgment by evaluating news decisions through the filter of a variety of factors that influence news play. These factors range from traditional measures such as when the story took place and how close it was to the local readership area to more contemporary ones, such as the story’s educational value.

Using the assignment and the reading, students should evaluate what kinds of information make for interesting news stories and why.

In this session, instructors might consider discussing the layers of news from the simplest breaking news event to the purely enterprise investigative story.

Assignment: Students should read and deconstruct coverage of a major news event. One excellent source for quality examples is the site of the Pulitzer Prizes , which has a category for breaking news reporting. All students should read the same article (assigned by the instructor), and write a two- or three-page memo that describes how the story is organized, what information it contains and what sources of information it uses, both human and digital. Among the questions they should ask are:

  • Does the first (or lead) paragraph summarize the dominant point?
  • What specific information does the lead include?
  • What does it leave out?
  • How do the second and third paragraphs relate to the first paragraph and the information it contains? Do they give unrelated information, information that provides further details about what’s established in the lead paragraph or both?
  • Does the story at any time place the news into a broader context of similar events or past events? If so, when and how?
  • What information in the story is attributed , specifically tied to an individual or to documentary information from which it was taken? What information is not attributed? Where does the information appear in the sentence? Give examples of some of the ways the sources of information are identified? Give examples of the verbs of attribution that are chosen.
  • Where and how often in the story are people quoted, their exact words placed in quotation marks? What kind of information tends to be quoted — basic facts or more colorful commentary? What information that’s attributed is paraphrased , summing up what someone said but not in their exact words.
  • How is the story organized — by theme, by geography, by chronology (time) or by some other means?
  • What human sources are used in the story? Are some authorities? Are some experts? Are some ordinary people affected by the event? Who are some of the people in each category? What do they contribute to the story? Does the reporter (or reporters) rely on a single source or a wide range? Why do you think that’s the case?
  • What specific facts and details make the story more vivid to you? How do you think the reporter was able to gather those details?
  • What documents (paper or digital) are detailed in the story? Do they lend authority to the story? Why or why not?
  • Is any specific data (numbers, statistics) used in the story? What does it lend to the story? Would you be satisfied substituting words such as “many” or “few” for the specific numbers and statistics used? Why or why not?

Class 2: Deconstructing the story

By carefully deconstructing major news stories, students will begin to internalize some of the major principles of this course, from crafting and supporting the lead of a story to spreading a wide and authoritative net for information. This class will focus on the lessons of a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Reading: Clark/Scanlan, Pages 287-294

Assignment: Writers typically draft a focus statement after conceiving an idea and conducting preliminary research or reporting. This focus statement helps to set the direction of reporting and writing. Sometimes reporting dictates a change of direction. But the statement itself keeps the reporter from getting off course. Focus statements typically are 50 words or less and summarize the story’s central point. They work best when driven by a strong, active verb and written after preliminary reporting.

  • Students should write a focus statement that encapsulates the news of the Pulitzer Prize winning reporting the class critiqued.

Week 3: Finding the focus, building the lead

Class 1: News writing as a process

Student reporters often conceive of writing as something that begins only after all their reporting is finished. Such an approach often leaves gaps in information and leads the reporter to search broadly instead of with targeted depth. The best reporters begin thinking about story the minute they get an assignment. The approach they envision for telling the story informs their choice of whom they seek interviews with and what information they gather. This class will introduce students to writing as a process that begins with story concept and continues through initial research, focus, reporting, organizing and outlining, drafting and revising.

During this session, the class will review the focus statements written for homework in small breakout groups and then as a class. Professors are encouraged to draft and hand out a mock or real press release or hold a mock press conference from which students can draft a focus statement.

Reading: Zinsser, pages 1-45, Clark/Scanlan, pages 294-302, and relevant pages of the course text

Class 2: The language of news

Newswriting has its own sentence structure and syntax. Most sentences branch rightward, following a pattern of subject/active verb/object. Reporters choose simple, familiar words. They write spare, concise sentences. They try to make a single point in each. But journalistic writing is specific and concrete. While reporters generally avoid formal or fancy word choices and complex sentence structures, they do not write in generalities. They convey information. Each sentence builds on what came before. This class will center on the language of news, evaluating the language in selections from America’s Best Newspaper Writing , local newspapers or the Pulitzers.

Reading: Relevant pages of the course text

Assignment: Students should choose a traditional news lead they like and one they do not like from a local or national newspaper. In a one- or two-page memo, they should print the leads, summarize the stories and evaluate why they believe the leads were effective or not.

Week 4: Crafting the first sentence

Class 1: The lead

No sentence counts more than a story’s first sentence. In most direct news stories, it stands alone as the story’s lead. It must summarize the news, establish the storyline, convey specific information and do all this simply and succinctly. Readers confused or bored by the lead read no further. It takes practice to craft clear, concise and conversational leads. This week will be devoted to that practice.

Students should discuss the assigned leads in groups of three or four, with each group choosing one lead to read to the entire class. The class should then discuss the elements of effective leads (active voice; active verb; single, dominant theme; simple sentences) and write leads in practice exercises.

Assignment: Have students revise the leads they wrote in class and craft a second lead from fact patterns.

Class 2: The lead continued

Some leads snap or entice instead of summarize. When the news is neither urgent nor earnest, these can work well. Though this class will introduce students to other kinds of leads, instructors should continue to emphasize traditional leads, typically found atop breaking news stories.

Class time should largely be devoted to writing traditional news leads under a 15-minute deadline pressure. Students should then be encouraged to read their own leads aloud and critique classmates’ leads. At least one such exercise might focus on students writing a traditional lead and a less traditional lead from the same information.

Assignment: Students should find a political or international story that includes various types (direct and indirect) and levels (on-the-record, not for attribution and deep background) of attribution. They should write a one- or two-page memo describing and evaluating the attribution. Did the reporter make clear the affiliation of those who expressed opinions? Is information attributed to specific people by name? Are anonymous figures given the opportunity to criticize others by name? Is that fair?

Week 5: Establishing the credibility of news

Class 1: Attribution

All news is based on information, painstakingly gathered, verified and checked again. Even so, “truth” is an elusive concept. What reporters cobble together instead are facts and assertions drawn from interviews and documentary evidence.

To lend authority to this information and tell readers from where it comes, reporters attribute all information that is not established fact. It is neither necessary, for example, to attribute that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was first elected president in 1932 nor that he was elected four times. On the other hand, it would be necessary to attribute, at least indirectly, the claim that he was one of America’s best presidents. Why? Because that assertion is a matter of opinion.

In this session, students should learn about different levels of attribution, where attribution is best placed in a sentence, and why it can be crucial for the protection of the accused, the credibility of reporters and the authoritativeness of the story.

Assignment: Working from a fact pattern, students should write a lead that demands attribution.

Class 2: Quoting and paraphrasing

“Great quote,” ranks closely behind “great lead” in the pecking order of journalistic praise. Reporters listen for great quotes as intensely as piano tuners listen for the perfect pitch of middle C. But what makes a great quote? And when should reporters paraphrase instead?

This class should cover a range of issues surrounding the quoted word from what it is used to convey (color and emotion, not basic information) to how frequently quotes should be used and how long they should run on. Other issues include the use and abuse of partial quotes, when a quote is not a quote, and how to deal with rambling and ungrammatical subjects.

As an exercise, students might either interview the instructor or a classmate about an exciting personal experience. After their interviews, they should review their notes choose what they consider the three best quotes to include a story on the subject. They should then discuss why they chose them.

Assignment: After completing the reading, students should analyze a summary news story no more than 15 paragraphs long. In a two- or three-page memo, they should reprint the story and then evaluate whether the lead summarizes the news, whether the subsequent paragraphs elaborate on or “support” the lead, whether the story has a lead quote, whether it attributes effectively, whether it provides any context for the news and whether and how it incorporates secondary themes.

Week 6: The building blocks of basic stories

Class 1: Supporting the lead

Unlike stories told around a campfire or dinner table, news stories front load information. Such a structure delivers the most important information first and the least important last. If a news lead summarizes, the subsequent few paragraphs support or elaborate by providing details the lead may have merely suggested. So, for example, a story might lead with news that a 27-year-old unemployed chef has been arrested on charges of robbing the desk clerk of an upscale hotel near closing time. The second paragraph would “support” this lead with detail. It would name the arrested chef, identify the hotel and its address, elaborate on the charges and, perhaps, say exactly when the robbery took place and how. (It would not immediately name the desk clerk; too many specifics at once clutter the story.)

Wire service stories use a standard structure in building their stories. First comes the lead sentence. Then comes a sentence or two of lead support. Then comes a lead quote — spoken words that reinforce the story’s direction, emphasize the main theme and add color. During this class students should practice writing the lead through the lead quote on deadline. They should then read assignments aloud for critique by classmates and the professor.

Assignment: Using a fact pattern assigned by the instructor or taken from a text, students should write a story from the lead through the lead quote. They should determine whether the story needs context to support the lead and, if so, include it.

Class 2: When context matters

Sometimes a story’s importance rests on what came before. If one fancy restaurant closes its doors in the face of the faltering economy, it may warrant a few paragraphs mention. If it’s the fourth restaurant to close on the same block in the last two weeks, that’s likely front-page news. If two other restaurants closed last year, that might be worth noting in the story’s last sentence. It is far less important. Patterns provide context and, when significant, generally are mentioned either as part of the lead or in the support paragraph that immediately follows. This class will look at the difference between context — information needed near the top of a story to establish its significance as part of a broader pattern, and background — information that gives historical perspective but doesn’t define the news at hand.

Assignment: The course to this point has focused on writing the news. But reporters, of course, usually can’t write until they’ve reported. This typically starts with background research to establish what has come before, what hasn’t been covered well and who speaks with authority on an issue. Using databases such as Lexis/Nexis, students should background or read specific articles about an issue in science or policy that either is highlighted in the Policy Areas section of Journalist’s Resource website or is currently being researched on your campus. They should engage in this assignment knowing that a new development on the topic will be brought to light when they arrive at the next class.

Week 7: The reporter at work

Class 1: Research

Discuss the homework assignment. Where do reporters look to background an issue? How do they find documents, sources and resources that enable them to gather good information or identify key people who can help provide it? After the discussion, students should be given a study from the Policy Areas section of Journalist’s Resource website related to the subject they’ve been asked to explore.

The instructor should use this study to evaluate the nature structure of government/scientific reports. After giving students 15 minutes to scan the report, ask students to identify its most newsworthy point. Discuss what context might be needed to write a story about the study or report. Discuss what concepts or language students are having difficulty understanding.

Reading: Clark, Scanlan, pages 305-313, and relevant pages of the course text

Assignment: Students should (a) write a lead for a story based exclusively on the report (b) do additional background work related to the study in preparation for writing a full story on deadline. (c) translate at least one term used in the study that is not familiar to a lay audience.

Class 2: Writing the basic story on deadline

This class should begin with a discussion of the challenges of translating jargon and the importance of such translation in news reporting. Reporters translate by substituting a simple definition or, generally with the help of experts, comparing the unfamiliar to the familiar through use of analogy.

The remainder of the class should be devoted to writing a 15- to 20-line news report, based on the study, background research and, if one is available, a press release.

Reading: Pages 1-47 of Stein/Paterno, and relevant pages of the course text

Assignment: Prepare a list of questions that you would ask either the lead author of the study you wrote about on deadline or an expert who might offer an outside perspective.

Week 8: Effective interviewing

Class 1: Preparing and getting the interview

Successful interviews build from strong preparation. Reporters need to identify the right interview subjects, know what they’ve said before, interview them in a setting that makes them comfortable and ask questions that elicit interesting answers. Each step requires thought.

The professor should begin this class by critiquing some of the questions students drew up for homework. Are they open-ended or close-ended? Do they push beyond the obvious? Do they seek specific examples that explain the importance of the research or its applications? Do they probe the study’s potential weaknesses? Do they explore what directions the researcher might take next?

Discuss the readings and what steps reporters can take to background for an interview, track down a subject and prepare and rehearse questions in advance.

Reading: Stein/Paterno, pages 47-146, and relevant pages of the course text

Assignment: Students should prepare to interview their professor about his or her approach to and philosophy of teaching. Before crafting their questions, the students should background the instructor’s syllabi, public course evaluations and any pertinent writings.

Class 2: The interview and its aftermath

The interview, says Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jacqui Banaszynski, is a dance which the reporter leads but does so to music the interview subject chooses. Though reporters prepare and rehearse their interviews, they should never read the questions they’ve considered in advance and always be prepared to change directions. To hear the subject’s music, reporters must be more focused on the answers than their next question. Good listeners make good interviewers — good listeners, that is, who don’t forget that it is also their responsibility to also lead.

Divide the class. As a team, five students should interview the professor about his/her approach to teaching. Each of these five should build on the focus and question of the previous questioner. The rest of the class should critique the questions, their clarity and their focus. Are the questioners listening? Are they maintaining control? Are they following up? The class also should discuss the reading, paying particularly close attention to the dynamics of an interview, the pace of questions, the nature of questions, its close and the reporter’s responsibility once an interview ends.

Assignment: Students should be assigned to small groups and asked to critique the news stories classmates wrote on deadline during the previous class.

Week 9: Building the story

Class 1: Critiquing the story

The instructor should separate students into groups of two or three and tell them to read their news stories to one another aloud. After each reading, the listeners should discuss what they liked and struggled with as the story audience. The reader in each case should reflect on what he or she learned from the process of reading the story aloud.

The instructor then should distribute one or two of the class stories that provide good and bad examples of story structure, information selection, content, organization and writing. These should be critiqued as a class.

Assignment: Students, working in teams, should develop an angle for a news follow to the study or report they covered on deadline. Each team should write a focus statement for the story it is proposing.

Class 2: Following the news

The instructor should lead a discussion about how reporters “enterprise,” or find original angles or approaches, by looking to the corners of news, identifying patterns of news, establishing who is affected by news, investigating the “why” of news, and examining what comes next.

Students should be asked to discuss the ideas they’ve developed to follow the news story. These can be assigned as longer-term team final projects for the semester. As part of this discussion, the instructor can help students map their next steps.

Reading: Wickham, Chapters 1-4 and 7, and relevant pages of the course text

Assignment: Students should find a news report that uses data to support or develop its main point. They should consider what and how much data is used, whether it is clear, whether it’s cluttered and whether it answers their questions. They should bring the article and a brief memo analyzing it to class.

Week 10: Making sense of data and statistics

Class 1: Basic math and the journalist’s job

Many reporters don’t like math. But in their jobs, it is everywhere. Reporters must interpret political polls, calculate percentage change in everything from property taxes to real estate values, make sense of municipal bids and municipal budgets, and divine data in government reports.

First discuss some of the examples of good and bad use of data that students found in their homework. Then, using examples from Journalist’s Resource website, discuss good and poor use of data in news reporting. (Reporters, for example, should not overwhelm readers with paragraphs stuffed with statistics.) Finally lead students through some of the basic skills sets outlined in Wickham’s book, using her exercises to practice everything from calculating percentage change to interpreting polls.

Assignment: Give students a report or study linked to the Journalist’s Resource website that requires some degree of statistical evaluation or interpretation. Have students read the report and compile a list of questions they would ask to help them understand and interpret this data.

Class 2: The use and abuse of statistics

Discuss the students’ questions. Then evaluate one or more articles drawn from the report they’ve analyzed that attempt to make sense of the data in the study. Discuss what these articles do well and what they do poorly.

Reading: Zinsser, Chapter 13, “Macabre Reminder: The Corpse on Union Street,” Dan Barry, The New York Times

Week 11: The reporter as observer

Class 1: Using the senses

Veteran reporters covering an event don’t only return with facts, quotes and documents that support them. They fill their notebooks with details that capture what they’ve witnessed. They use all their senses, listening for telling snippets of conversation and dialogue, watching for images, details and actions that help bring readers to the scene. Details that develop character and place breathe vitality into news. But description for description’s sake merely clutters and obscures the news. Using the senses takes practice.

The class should deconstruct “Macabre Reminder: The Corpse on Union Street,” a remarkable journey around New Orleans a few days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. The story starts with one corpse, left to rot on a once-busy street and then pans the city as a camera might. The dead body serves as a metaphor for the rotting city, largely abandoned and without order.

Assignment: This is an exercise in observation. Students may not ask questions. Their task is to observe, listen and describe a short scene, a serendipitous vignette of day-to-day life. They should take up a perch in a lively location of their choosing — a student dining hall or gym, a street corner, a pool hall or bus stop or beauty salon, to name a few — wait and watch. When a small scene unfolds, one with beginning, middle and end, students should record it. They then should write a brief story describing the scene that unfolded, taking care to leave themselves and their opinions out of the story. This is pure observation, designed to build the tools of observation and description. These stories should be no longer than 200 words.

Class 2: Sharpening the story

Students should read their observation pieces aloud to a classmate. Both students should consider these questions: Do the words describe or characterize? Which words show and which words tell? What words are extraneous? Does the piece convey character through action? Does it have a clear beginning, middle and end? Students then should revise, shortening the original scene to no longer than 150 words. After the revision, the instructor should critique some of the students’ efforts.

Assignment: Using campus, governmental or media calendars, students should identify, background and prepare to cover a speech, press conference or other news event, preferably on a topic related to one of the research-based areas covered in the Policy Areas section of Journalist’s Resource website. Students should write a focus statement (50 words or less) for their story and draw up a list of some of the questions they intend to ask.

Week 12: Reporting on deadline

Class 1: Coaching the story

Meetings, press conferences and speeches serve as a staple for much news reporting. Reporters should arrive at such events knowledgeable about the key players, their past positions or research, and the issues these sources are likely discuss. Reporters can discover this information in various ways. They can research topic and speaker online and in journalistic databases, peruse past correspondence sent to public offices, and review the writings and statements of key speakers with the help of their assistants or secretaries.

In this class, the instructor should discuss the nature of event coverage, review students’ focus statements and questions, and offer suggestions about how they cover the events.

Assignment: Cover the event proposed in the class above and draft a 600-word story, double-spaced, based on its news and any context needed to understand it.

Class 2: Critiquing and revising the story

Students should exchange story drafts and suggest changes. After students revise, the instructor should lead a discussion about the challenges of reporting and writing live on deadline. These likely will include issues of access and understanding and challenges of writing around and through gaps of information.

Weeks 13/14: Coaching the final project

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The final week or two of the class is reserved for drill in areas needing further development and for coaching students through the final reporting, drafting and revision of the enterprise stories off the study or report they covered in class.

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How to Write a News Article

Last Updated: June 5, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Gerald Posner . Gerald Posner is an Author & Journalist based in Miami, Florida. With over 35 years of experience, he specializes in investigative journalism, nonfiction books, and editorials. He holds a law degree from UC College of the Law, San Francisco, and a BA in Political Science from the University of California-Berkeley. He’s the author of thirteen books, including several New York Times bestsellers, the winner of the Florida Book Award for General Nonfiction, and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History. He was also shortlisted for the Best Business Book of 2020 by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. There are 11 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 2,423,064 times.

Writing a news article is different from writing other articles or informative pieces because news articles present information in a specific way. It's important to be able to convey all the relevant information in a limited word count and give the facts to your target audience concisely. Knowing how to write a news article can help a career in journalism , develop your writing skills and help you convey information clearly and concisely.

Things You Should Know

  • Outline your article with all the facts and interview quotes you’ve gathered. Decide what your point of view on the topic is before you start writing.
  • Your first sentence is the most important one—craft an attention-getter that clearly states the most important information.
  • Proofread for accurate information, consistent style and tone, and proper formatting.

Sample Articles

importance of research in news writing

Planning Your Article

Step 1 Research your topic.

  • If you’ve ever written a research paper you understand the work that goes into learning about your topic. The first phase of writing a news article or editorial is pretty similar.
  • Who - who was involved?
  • What - what happened?
  • Where - where did it happen?
  • Why - why did it happen?
  • When - when did it happen?
  • How - how did it happen?

Step 2 Compile all your facts.

  • 1) those that need to be included in the article.
  • 2) those that are interesting but not vital.
  • 3) those that are related but not important to the purpose of the article.
  • This fact list will help prevent you from leaving out any relevant information about the topic or story, and will also help you write a clean, succinct article.
  • Be as specific as possible when writing down all of these facts. You can always trim down unnecessary information later, but it’s easier to cut down than it is to have to beef up an article.
  • It’s okay at this point to have holes in your information – if you don’t have a pertinent fact, write down the question and highlight it so you won’t forget to find it out
  • Now that you have your facts, if your editor has not already assigned the type of article, decide what kind of article you’re writing. Ask yourself whether this is an opinion article, an unbiased and straightforward relaying of information, or something in between. [2] X Research source

Step 3 Create an article outline.

  • If you’ve ever heard the term “burying the lead”, that is in reference to the structure of your article. [4] X Research source The “lead” is the first sentence of the article – the one you “lead” with. Not "burying the lead" simply means that you should not make your readers read several paragraphs before they get to the point of your article.
  • Whatever forum you’re writing for, be it print or for the web, a lot of readers don’t make it to the end of the article. When writing a news article, you should focus on giving your readers what they want as soon as possible.
  • Write above the fold. The fold comes from newspapers where there’s a crease because the page gets folded in half. If you look at a newspaper all the top stories are placed above the fold. The same goes for writing online. The virtual fold is the bottom of your screen before you have to scroll down. Put the best information at the top to engage your readers and encourage them to keep reading.

Step 4 Know your audience.

  • Ask yourself the “5 W's” again, but this time in relation to your audience.
  • Questions like what is the average age you are writing for, where is this audience, local or national, why is this audience reading your article, and what does your audience want out of your article will inform you on how to write.
  • Once you know who you are writing for you can format an outline that will get the best information to the right audience as quickly as possible.

Step 5 Find an angle.

  • Even if you are covering a popular story or topic that others are writing about, look for an angle that will make this one yours.
  • Do you have a personal experience that relates to your topic? Maybe you know someone who is an expert that you can interview .

Step 6 Interview people.

  • People usually like to talk about personal experiences, especially if it will be featured somewhere, like your news article. Reach out through a phone call, email, or even social media and ask someone if you can interview them.
  • When you do interview people you need to follow a few rules: identify yourself as a reporter. Keep an open mind . Stay objective. While you are encouraged to ask questions and listen to anecdotes, you are not there to judge.
  • Record and write down important information from the interview, and be transparent with what you are doing and why you are doing this interview.

Writing Your News Article

Step 1 Start with the lead.

  • Your lead should be one sentence and should simply, but completely, state the topic of the article.
  • Remember when you had to write essays for school? Your lead is like your thesis statement.
  • Let your readers know what your news article is about, why it’s important, and what the rest of the article will contain.

Step 2 Give all the important details.

  • These details are important, because they are the focal point of the article that fully informs the reader.
  • If you are writing an opinion piece , this is where you will state what your opinion is as well.

Step 3 Follow up main facts with additional information.

  • This additional information helps round out the article and can help you transition to new points as you move along.
  • If you have an opinion, this is where you will identify the opposing views and the people who hold them.
  • A good news article will outline facts and information. A great news article will allow readers to engage on an emotional level.
  • To engage your readers, you should provide enough information that anyone reading your news article can make an informed opinion, even if it contrasts with yours.
  • This also applies to a news article where you the author don’t state your opinion but present it as an unbiased piece of information. Your readers should still be able to learn enough about your topic to form an opinion.

Step 4 Conclude your article.

  • Make sure your news article is complete and finished by giving it a good concluding sentence. This is often a restatement of the leading statement (thesis) or a statement indicating potential future developments relating to the article topic.
  • Read other news articles for ideas on how to best accomplish this. Or, watch news stations or shows. See how a news anchor will wrap up a story and sign off, then try to emulate that.

Proofing Your Article

Step 1 Check facts before publishing.

  • Be sure to double check all the facts in your news article before you submit it, including names, dates, and contact information or addresses. Writing accurately is one of the best ways to establish yourself as a competent news article writer.

Step 2 Ensure you have followed your outline and have been consistent with style.

  • If your news article is meant to convey direct facts, not the opinions of its writer, ensure you’ve kept your writing unbiased and objective. Avoid any language that is overly positive or negative or statements that could be construed as support or criticism.
  • If your article is meant to be more in the style of interpretive journalism then check to make sure that you have given deep enough explanations of the larger story and offered multiple viewpoints throughout.

Step 3 Follow the AP Style for formatting and citing sources.

  • When quoting someone, write down exactly what was said inside quotations and immediately cite the reference with the person’s proper title. Formal titles should be capitalized and appear before a person’s name. Ex: “Mayor John Smith”.
  • Always write out numbers one through nine, but use numerals for numbers 10 and up.
  • When writing a news article, be sure to only include one space after a period, not two. [12] X Research source

Step 4 Have your editor read your article.

  • You shouldn’t submit any news article for publication without first letting someone take a look at it. An extra pair of eyes can double check your facts and the information to ensure that what you have written is accurate.
  • If you are writing a news article for school or your own personal website, then have a friend take a look at it and give you notes. Sometimes you may get notes that you want to defend or don’t agree with it. But these should be listened to. Remember, with so many news articles getting published every minute you need to ensure that your widest possible audience can easily digest the information you have provided.

Expert Q&A

Gerald Posner

  • Start with research and ask the “5. Asking these questions will help you create an outline and a narrative to your article. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Interview people, and remember to be polite and honest about what you are writing. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • Put the most important information at the beginning of your article. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0

importance of research in news writing

You Might Also Like

Write a Newspaper Headline

Expert Interview

importance of research in news writing

Thanks for reading our article! If you'd like to learn more about writing an article, check out our in-depth interview with Gerald Posner .

  • ↑ https://libguides.mit.edu/select-topic
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.gmu.edu/writing-resources/different-genres/news-writing-fundamentals
  • ↑ https://libguides.southernct.edu/journalism/howtowrite
  • ↑ https://spcollege.libguides.com/c.php?g=254319&p=1695313
  • ↑ https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/cm360
  • ↑ https://mediahelpingmedia.org/basics/how-to-find-and-develop-important-news-angles/
  • ↑ https://www.northwestern.edu/brand/editorial-guidelines/newswriting-guidelines/
  • ↑ https://tacomacc.libguides.com/c.php?g=599051&p=4147190
  • ↑ https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/subject_specific_writing/journalism_and_journalistic_writing/ap_style.html
  • ↑ https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/punctuation/space-after-period
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/

About This Article

Gerald Posner

To write a news article, open with a strong leading sentence that states what the article is about and why it’s important. Try to answer the questions who, what, where, when, and why as early in the article as possible. Once you’ve given the reader the most important facts, you can include any additional information to help round out the article, such as opposing views or contact information. Finish with a strong concluding sentence, such as an invitation to learn more or a statement indicating future developments. For tips on researching your article, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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importance of research in news writing

What is the Importance of Report Writing? A Complete Overview

Reports are the backbone of effective communication in both academic and professional realms. Discover the significance of report writing in our blog on the Importance of Report Writing. Learn how mastering this skill can enhance your ability to convey information, influence decisions, and propel your career to new heights.


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Table of contents   

1) Importance of Report Writing  

    a) Evaluation 

    b) Development of skills 

    c) Investigation 

    d) Quick Location 

    e) Decision making tool 

    f) Neutral presentation of facts 

    g) A managerial tool 

    h) Proper control 

    i) Professional advancement 

    j) Encountering advance and complex situation 

2) Conclusion  

Importance of Report Writing  

Report Writing is a skill that can benefit you in various ways and contexts. Here is the list of reasons reflecting the Importance of Report Writing:  

Importance of Report Writing


The importance of Report Writing can be reflected during the evaluation process. This is because Report Writing can help you evaluate your own or others’ performance, progress, or outcomes. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to assess your learning outcomes, achievements, or challenges in a course or a project. As a teacher, you can write a Report to evaluate your students’ learning outcomes, strengths, or weaknesses in a course or an assignment. 

If you are a researcher, you can write a Report to evaluate your research methods, results, or implications in a study or an experiment. Report Writing can help you identify the gaps, strengths, or areas for improvement in your own or others’ work.  

Report Writing Training

Development of skill s  

Report Writing can help you develop your skills in various domains and disciplines. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to improve your writing, research, analysis, or presentation skills. If you are a teacher, you can write a Report to enhance your teaching, assessment, feedback, or curriculum design skills. 

If you are a researcher, you can write a Report to advance your knowledge, methodology, innovation, or contribution skills. Report Writing can help you acquire new knowledge, apply existing knowledge, or create new knowledge in your field of interest. 


The Importance of Report Writing also lies in investigating a problem or a topic in-depth and in detail. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to explore a question or an issue that interests you or relates to your course or project. 

At the same time, if you are a teacher, you can write a Report to investigate a pedagogical or educational problem or phenomenon that affects your teaching or learning environment. On the other hand, if you are a researcher, you can write a Report to investigate a scientific or social problem or phenomenon that has significance or relevance for your discipline or society. Report Writing can help you collect, analyse, and present data in an organised and systematic way. 

Quick location  

Report Writing can help you locate information quickly and easily. For example, students can write a Report to summarise the main points and findings of your course or project for future reference or revision. If you are a teacher, you can write a Report to document the key aspects and outcomes of your course or assignment for future use or evaluation. 

At the same time, researchers can write a Report to record the essential details and implications of a study or experiment for future dissemination or publication. Report Writing can help you create an index, an abstract, or an executive summary that can help you access information at a glance . 

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Decision making tool  

Report Writing acts as a decision-making tool that can assist you in making decisions based on facts and evidence. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to support your arguments or opinions with data and sources in an essay or a debate. If you are a teacher, you can write a Report to justify your decisions or recommendations with data and sources in an assessment or feedback. 

If you are a researcher, you can write a Report to validate your claims or hypotheses with data and sources in a study or an experiment. Thus, Report Writing can help you use logic, reasoning, and analysis to make informed and rational decisions. 

Neutral presentation of facts  

Report Writing can help you present facts in a neutral and objective manner. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to avoid bias or emotion in your writing and use facts and evidence to support your points. If you are a teacher, you can write a Report to avoid bias or emotion in your assessment and use facts and evidence to evaluate your students. 

Researchers can write a Report to avoid bias or emotion in their research and use facts and evidence to demonstrate their findings. Report Writing can help you maintain a professional and ethical tone in your communication. 

A m anagerial t ool  

Report Writing can help you manage your work or project effectively and efficiently. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to plan, organise, and monitor your progress or outcomes in a course or a project. If you are a teacher, you can write a Report to plan, organise, and monitor your activities or objectives in a course or an assignment. 

If you are a researcher, you can write a Report to plan, organise, and monitor your methods or results in a study or an experiment. As a result, Report Writing can help you set goals, allocate resources, and measure performance. 

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Proper c ontrol  

Report Writing helps you control your work or project effectively and efficiently. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to check, review, and revise your work or project before submission or presentation. If you are a teacher, you can write a Report to check, review, and revise your work or project before delivery or evaluation. 

If you are a researcher, you can write a Report to check, review, and revise your work or project before dissemination or publication. Thus, Report Writing can help you ensure quality, accuracy, and consistency in your work or project. 

Professional a dvancement  

The importance of Report Writing lies in advancing and developing your professional career. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to demonstrate your competence, knowledge, and skills in a course or a project. In contrast, if you are a teacher, you can write a Report to demonstrate your competence, knowledge, and skills in a course or an assignment. 

If you are a researcher, you can write a Report to demonstrate your competence, knowledge, and skills in a study or an experiment. Report Writing can help you showcase your achievements, contributions, or innovations in your field of interest. 

Encountering advance and complex situation  

Report Writing can help you encounter advanced and complex situations in your work or project. For example, if you are a student, you can write a Report to deal with challenging questions or issues that arise in your course or project. If you are a teacher, you can write a Report to deal with challenging questions or issues that arise in your course or assignment. 

If you are a researcher, you can write a Report to deal with challenging questions or issues that arise in your study or experiment. Report Writing can help you solve problems, overcome obstacles, or discover new possibilities in your work or project. 

Unlock the power of effective communication with our Report Writing Training - start crafting impactful Reports today!  


We hope that this blog has helped you understand the Importance of Report Writing and how to use it effectively. Report Writing is a skill that can benefit you in various ways and contexts. So, why not start writing Reports today? You will be amazed by the results! 

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15 News Writing Rules for Beginning Journalism Students

The goal is to provide information clearly in common language

  • Writing Essays
  • Writing Research Papers
  • English Grammar
  • M.S., Journalism, Columbia University
  • B.A., Journalism, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Gathering information for a news article is vitally important, of course, but so is writing the story. The best information, put together in an overly intricate construction using SAT words and dense writing, can be difficult to digest for readers looking for a quick news fix.

There are rules for news writing that result in a clear, direct presentation, providing information efficiently and accessibly to a variety of readers. Some of these rules conflict with what you might have learned in English Lit.

Here's a list of 15 rules for beginning news writers, based on the problems that crop most frequently:

Tips for News Writing

  • Generally speaking, the lede , or introduction to the story, should be a single sentence of 35 to 45 words that summarizes the main points of the story, not a seven-sentence monstrosity that looks like it's out of a Jane Austen novel.
  • The lede should summarize the story from start to finish. So if you're writing about a fire that destroyed a building and left 18 people homeless, that must be in the lede. Writing something like "A fire started in a building last night" doesn't have enough vital information.
  • Paragraphs in news stories should generally be no more than one or two sentences each, not the seven or eight sentences you probably wrote for freshman English. Short paragraphs are easier to cut when editors are working on a tight deadline, and they look less imposing on the page.
  • Sentences should be kept relatively short, and whenever possible use the subject-verb-object formula. Backward constructions are harder to read.
  • Always cut unnecessary words. For example, "Firefighters arrived at the blaze and were able to put it out within about 30 minutes" can be shortened to "Firefighters doused the blaze in 30 minutes."
  • Don't use complicated-sounding words when simpler ones will do. A laceration is a cut; a contusion is a bruise; an abrasion is a scrape. A news story should be understandable to everyone.
  • Don't use the first-person "I" in news stories. 
  • In Associated Press style, punctuation almost always goes inside quotation marks. Example: "We arrested the suspect," Detective John Jones said. (Note the placement of the comma.)
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Finding relevance in the news: The scale of self-reference

Jena barchas-lichtenstein, john voiklis, darcey b. glasser.

Knology, Hunter College of the City University of New York

John Fraser

Associated data.

According to both professional journalists and news users, news should be relevant. While a great deal of research that treats relevance as co-constructed starts from the text of news stories, this paper asks how news users explicitly construct the (ir)relevance of particular news reports, taking a language-centered lens to open-ended survey responses.

This paper makes a methodological argument in favor of a language-centered approach to open-ended survey data. Given the ubiquity of online surveys in many social science disciplines, the present paper provides an example of how this approach can deepen our understanding of survey responses.

We find that news users construct relevance at varying scales, using a number of linguistic strategies of self-reference. Those who said they found the story they saw relevant used pronouns with a different distribution than those who did not, and these differences exceeded chance. In general, those who referred to themselves as members of larger collectivities were more likely to say they found a news story relevant, suggesting that relevance is discursively constructed in part through practices of self-reference.

1. Introduction

How do news users evaluate whether stories are relevant to them? Both professional journalists 1 and news users understand relevance as a core news value, but in different ways. For journalists, relevance is one news value among many (but see Bednarek, 2016 , for a critique of this use); for news users, relevance is one of the most important news values, if not the single most important one. Lee and Chyi (2014) posit relevance and interestingness as the two key elements in audience judgments of noteworthiness, which they contrast with editorial judgments of newsworthiness. Similarly, professionals focus primarily on relevance to the community of coverage, that is, people who live where they report ( Cotter, 2010 ). Meanwhile, news users want journalists to express an explicit rationale for relevance ( Heikkilä and Ahva, 2015 ; Heikkilä et al., 2010 ).

Earlier studies have explored headlines from the perspective of relevance theory. Dor (2003) found that headline writers try to optimize relevance, in its technical meaning. Ifantidou (2009) complicates this picture by showing that readers do not orient to journalists’ norms regarding headlines. We differ from these studies in two key regards. First, we are interested in judgments about the full news story rather than the headline, as a larger natural unit of news. Second, we use relevance to refer to a value articulated by both journalists and news users, not in the technical sense associated with relevance theory.

2. Theoretical Background

2.1. conceptions of relevance.

Relevance is a thorny term, in part because our work sits at the intersection of fields that define it quite differently from one another. Within pragmatics proper, the most influential is likely relevance theory ( Sperber & Wilson, 1986 ; Wilson & Sperber, 2006 ). Building on Grice’s (1975) terse maxim “be relevant,” relevance theory defines a relevant input as one that provides “a worthwhile difference to the individual’s representation of the world” ( Wilson & Sperber, 2006 , p. 608). Roughly, relevance is a trade-off between maximizing new information while minimizing processing effort. Crucially, relevance is always comparative rather than absolute in this view: people pay attention to what is most relevant at any given time.

Meanwhile, the linguistic literature on news values (e.g. Bell, 1991 ; Cotter, 2010 ; van Dijk, 1988 ) has largely included relevance as one value among many. In a summary of linguists’ treatment of news values, Bednarek (2016) notes that those scholars who include relevance have often provided somewhat vague definitions, and largely subsumes this value within the category of relevance (see also Bednarek & Caple, 2017 ). While we agree with Bednarek’s critique of vagueness, we note that impact obscures important questions of positionality that other linguists have raised. That is, relevance to whom? Cotter (2010 , p. 168) observes that the use of second-person pronouns can limit relevance rather than expanding it, and van Dijk (1988) takes a critical approach by raising questions of power. As van Dijk notes, “relevance must be defined in terms of large or powerful groups. … Second, relevance is also determined by the interests of those in control of the social system” ( van Dijk, 1988 , p. 122).

Within the journalism literature, Lee and Chyi (2014) provide a much-needed perspective shift from journalists’ assumptions about news users to the perspectives of those news users themselves. They challenge researchers who take the importance of news for granted, writing that “news is often studied as is and presumed to be innately of value. But news is a product and the decline in demand should be studied from the audience’s perspective” ( Lee & Chyi, 2014 , p. 808). Contrasting journalists’ sense of newsworthiness with an audience perspective on noteworthiness, they break down audience concerns into two dimensions: relevance and interestingness. However, they do not attempt to define either term but start from common-sense understanding of these terms.

We are not the first to bring these two definitions into conversation. Dor (2003 , p. 702) cautions that the “technical notion of relevance should not be equated with relevance in the ordinary sense of the word. Relevance in this ordinary sense may be thought of as the measurement of the association, or congruence, between some content and its context of interpretation. Thus, a news story will be relevant in this sense to the extent that it is about those issues which are directly related to the readers’ lives and interests. Indeed, relevance in this sense may play a role in news value judgments.” It is precisely because the term relevance is so widely used – and because a news report can be relevant in one sense but not the other – that we focused on how news users understand this term.

2.2. Relevance as Discursively Co-Constructed

We start from the premise that relevance is co-constructed by journalists and news users ( Cotter, 2010 , ch. 6). Journalists may frame stories to highlight their relevance to some particular audience, and news users may make additional personal connections that are not explicit in the story, or that emerge only in talk with others. Previous research has explored the linguistic resources that journalists use to communicate the relevance of stories, as well as news values more generally. For example, Spitulnik Vidali (2010) observes that news media project the ‘generic personhood’ of viewers through pronouns, participation structures, and normative ideologies of sincerity, and Molek-Kozakowska (2016 : 5) reminds us that ‘events are not always intrinsically newsworthy, but can be constructed as newsworthy with specific application of images and linguistic devices.’ Similarly, discursive news values analysis focuses on journalistic texts as the locus of these values (see, e.g., Bednarek, 2016 ; Bednarek & Caple, 2012 ; 2014 ).

There is considerably less research on how news users discursively construct relevance, although there is reason to believe they may differ from professional journalists ( Armstrong et al., 2015 ; Cunningham et al., 2016 ; Lee & Chyi, 2014 ). Exceptions include Bird, whose research focuses on news talk, ‘the informal and often very active way that news stories are communicated among people, and meanings are made that may have more or less to do with the original intent of the journalist who created the text’ ( Bird, 2011 , pp. 494-495). Similarly, Spitulnik Vidali (2010) analyzed young American adults’ discourses of disengagement from mainstream news, finding that multiple stances and rationales are clustered together under the umbrella of ‘disengagement.’

A three-year study in Finland found that news users understand the relevance of journalism in terms of their daily lives and particularly their social networks ( Heikkilä and Ahva, 2015 ; Heikkilä et al., 2010 ). In that work, Heikkilä and colleagues treat media routines, interpretation, and public action as discursive practices of equal status that take place in social networks. That means that relevance is “anchored into the everyday social interaction of the members of any given public” ( Heikkilä et al. 2010 , p. 278). Building on their framework, our research proposes a method to narrow in on the interpretation of particular stories and better understand the scale of the social structures and relationships ( networks , in Heikkilä and colleagues’ terms) that inform judgments of relevance. Specifically, we seek to determine whether there are defining linguistic features of news users’ judgments of, and accounts for, story relevance, particularly in self-reference.

2.3. Deixis, Self-Reference, and Scale

To understand how people discursively construct their relationships and networks, we need to look at their practices of self-reference. Self-reference is a special case of deixis, ‘the encoding of many different aspects of the circumstances surrounding the utterance, within the utterance itself’ ( Levinson 1983 , p. 55). It is important to recognize that English contains no linguistic forms that are either uniquely or necessarily self-referential ( Jaszczolt, 2013 ). Deictic frameworks can always be nested in one another such that the referents of even seemingly quintessential first-person forms like I and me shift ( Goffman, 1981 ; Hanks, 2005 ).

We build on previous work that problematizes any “one-to-one mapping between person and reference” ( Hogeweg & de Hoop, 2015 , p. 133). Most such work starts from linguistic phenomena: pronouns and person (see, e.g., Gast et al., 2015 ; de Hoop & Tarenskeen, 2015 ; Helmbrecht, 2015). In contrast, we start from a discursive phenomenon: talk about the self.

In particular, we are interested in the practices of self-reference through which people locate the self as a member of groups of varying size and scale ( Lerner, 1993 ). At one extreme, the pronouns I, me, and my are the most common method of individual self-reference ( Schegloff, 1996 ; Land & Kitzinger, 2007 ). At the other, speakers make statements about people or humans or life on Earth that present the self only by implicature, as a member of the largest possible collective. Other frequently deployed resources at this extreme include universal (e.g. everyone) and free-choice (e.g. anyone) pronouns.

Speakers frequently use first-person plural pronouns ( we, us, our ) to cover most of the ground in between. Canonically, first-person plural pronouns are self-referential; they include both the speaker and at least one other individual. 2 How can one differentiate the range of scales at which speakers use we ? Discourse studies of the first-person have focused on the distinction between inclusive and exclusive pronouns. Although English does not lexically or morphologically differentiate between first-person plural pronouns that include or exclude the hearer, structural and pragmatic differences typically allow English speakers to determine whether a particular token is inclusive or exclusive ( Scheibman, 2004 ). In a research context like the one we analyze here, where respondents are likely to have little information about their interlocutor, the inclusive-exclusive distinction may be less important than a specificity distinction: we can refer to specific individuals (individuated, cf. Scheibman, 2004 ), to some group (class), or it may be generic .While we use Scheibman’s (2004) terminology here, the difference between class and generic is akin to the difference between what Kitagawa and Lehrer (1990) call vague and impersonal uses of we: ‘An ‘impersonal’ use of a pronoun applies to anyone and/or everyone. A ‘vague’ use applies to specific individuals, but they are not identified, or identifiable, by the speaker’ ( Kitagawa and Lehrer, 1990 , p. 742). In this study, we focused on additional linguistic resources people use to clarify the specificity of first-person plural pronouns.

Consistent with psychological theories of moral concern ( Crimston et al., 2018 ), in addition to Heikkilä and colleagues’ findings about the role of networks in making sense of news, we anticipated that respondents who positioned themselves as part of larger collectivities vis-à-vis some news report would also be more likely to find that report relevant.

3. Data and Methods

This paper draws on data collected from seven studies ( Knology, 2020 ; Table 1 ) conducted as part of two multi-year research initiatives on U.S. adults’ news consumption ( Barchas-Lichtenstein et al., 2020 ). The studies were designed to elicit news user judgments of stories at the moment of interpretation (cf. Heikkilä & Ahva, 2015 ). While other aspects of research design differed, all participants were asked to view or read a piece of news content and respond to open- and closed-ended questions about it. This paper focuses specifically on responses to an open-ended question about the relevance of the news story to the respondent: ‘Why [did you find this story relevant to you] or why not?’ 3 Making use of this data allows us to compare the way a large number of people discursively construct news story (ir)relevance in a relatively standardized (but see Speer, 2002 ) linguistic and social context. Because the question text asks respondents to account for a judgment of relevance “to you,” an appropriate answer requires self-reference, whether to the individual self or to some collectivity of which that self is a part.

Studies used for this analysis.

TopicDescriptionPopulation % of data set
Lyme diseaseRespondents viewed one of three pieces (Facebook Live, broadcast video, web article)18-35, not in school29426%
OpioidsRespondents viewed one of four pieces (web article, broadcast video, storified Twitter chat, digital explainer video)24-3317215%
DolphinsRespondents viewed one of three versions of a broadcast video18-35, not in school29326%
AntibioticsRespondents viewed a single broadcast video18+948%
InfluenzaRespondents viewed a single broadcast video18+1009%
DogsRespondents viewed a single broadcast video18+938%
DentistRespondents viewed a single broadcast video18+978%

Notes: The first three studies were part of a larger study about U.S. early career adults’ science news use; the latter four were part of a larger study about U.S. adults’ health news use. All stories were produced by PBS NewsHour, a partner on both studies. All samples were recruited using TurkPrime ( Litman et al., 2016 ) and Mechanical Turk, with the exception of the Opioids study, which was recruited through Soapbox Sample. N here includes only respondents who provided a codeable response to the open-ended question. See Supplement S1 for more details about each news report.

Bird (2011) observes that capturing everyday news talk in situ is often timeconsuming and impractical for researchers. To avoid this challenge, she set up discussion groups as one way of eliciting such news talk. We elicited news talk through a different method, namely open-ended responses in online surveys. Fully understanding users’ reactions to news, which pervades daily life, requires triangulation between information drawn from a wide range of sources, particularly long-term ethnography ( Madianou 2009 , 2010 ). Our method does not replace such methods but complements them both by eliciting news talk and by means of an analytic strategy that highlights the depth already present in survey responses, which has frequently been overlooked.

We were particularly interested in survey responses for two reasons: survey research is frequent in journalism studies ( Moy and Murphy, 2016 ), and researchers typically analyze open-ended questions using content analysis methods popular across the social sciences. These methods shift the focus away from the linguistic form of responses (e.g., Chi, 1997 ). As automated methods of content analysis become more prevalent, linguistic form recedes even further into the distance. In fact, many of these methods systematically change the linguistic form of texts for easier processing ( Boumans and Trilling, 2016 ). As such, we were interested in how an approach that centers language might complement these methods (see also Raclaw et al., in press ).

A full analysis of audience positioning in the news reports is beyond the scope of this paper, but it is important to note that these news pieces varied in how frequently they made explicit reference to some audience. In some reports – including a news video about influenza, a digital explainer about opioids, and an article about Lyme disease – reporters and sources addressed news users directly, repeatedly using second-person pronouns and other second-person constructions like imperatives. In other cases, particularly three versions of a video about dolphins, the relationship of the content to news users was left more implicit.

3.1. Data Cleaning

The researchers excluded responses of three words or fewer because many of them were difficult to parse (e.g. “it just isn’t”). Furthermore, because the questions were set up differently in the Lyme disease study, the researchers coded these responses for comparability with the rest of the data set ( Supplement S3 ).

Because our project focuses on reference in the specific context of appropriate responses to a question ( ‘Why [did you find this story relevant to you] or why not?’ ), we also excluded most first-person evidential and epistemic constructions (e.g. “I think”) from consideration ( Supplement S4 ) before conducting further analysis. We do so in keeping with scholars like Schiffrin (1987) , who treats composite discourse markers like ‘you know’ and ‘I mean’ as functional units. Similarly, Jaszczolt (2013 , p. 68) observes that “in some [functions] first-person reference plays a secondary role, like for example self-attribution of mental states used for the purpose of attenuating commitment in ‘I think’ or ‘I believe.’”

3.2. Data Analysis

In contrast to content analysis methods that assume surveys provide direct access to some underlying mental representation, we propose a language-centered method for analyzing these questions. In this case, our analysis focused on responses to a single open-ended question. The question itself ( ‘Why [did you find this story relevant to you] or why not?’ ) contains an implicit second-person construction that is contextually understood as singular, thereby inviting self-reference in one form or another in the response. Our analysis therefore centers on deixis and particularly self-referential pronouns. Looking at these pronouns – which include not only the first-person singular but a number of other pronoun types – in context allowed us to explores respondents’ strategies for locating the relevance of a given news story in the social landscape.

3.2.1. Pronouns

Researchers annotated responses in the resulting data set by hand to identify relevant constructions. We first noted the presence or absence of specific types of pronouns referring to persons, namely:

  • First-person singular pronouns, including those that were not overt (cf. Scott, 2013 );
  • First-person plural pronouns; 4
  • Universal indefinite pronouns (‘everyone’ and ‘everybody’ but not ‘everything’);
  • Negative indefinite pronouns (‘no one’ and ‘nobody’, plus ‘anyone’ and ‘anybody’ in the presence of a negative polarity item, but not ‘nothing’ or ‘anything’); and
  • Free-choice pronouns (‘anyone’ and ‘anybody’ in the absence of a negative polarity item, but not ‘anything’).

For more details on the initial annotation process, see Supplement S5 .

We anticipated that self-reference at larger scale – including first-person plural pronouns, universal indefinite pronouns, and free-choice pronouns – would be more common among those who found a news story relevant. While not the central focus of this paper, we modeled these differences statistically, using logistic regression (see Supplements S6 and S7 ).

Our goal was to map out the full range of strategies that people use to locate themselves as individuals or members of collectives, rather than to measure the frequency of use. We acknowledge that the form of our experiment was procedurally consequential (cf. Speer, 2002 ) for the overall frequency of each pronoun type we study here. As such, we provide frequencies primarily as a way of characterizing our data set, rather than as grounds for inference.

3.2.2. Pronouns in Context

After the full data set was annotated, the first author examined strategies for communicating scale in all responses in the following categories, which were not mutually exclusive:

  • Responses that contained at least one first-person plural pronoun;
  • Responses that contained at least one universal indefinite pronoun;
  • Responses that contained at least one free-choice pronoun;
  • Responses that contained at least one negative indefinite pronoun; and
  • Responses that did not contain first-person singular pronouns outside of epistemic constructions.

We looked primarily at the types of features that limit or broaden the reference of each pronoun. Such features included co-reference, co-occurrence with other quantifiers such as all, and modifying clauses or phrases. Given semantic constraints on the use of each pronoun, the features we examined differed somewhat from pronoun to pronoun.

In our more detailed analysis of these categories, we also considered modality, to determine whether respondents locate news story relevance in actual worlds or possible ones. Modal auxiliaries provide a primary linguistic resource for considering possible worlds others than the current world by referring to either a counterfactual past and present or a possible or probable future. For the purposes of this paper, we looked at three types of modals. We consider modals that indicate futurity, specifically will and be going to. We also examine modals of possibility or probability (can, could, may, might, and would) and modals of necessity or obligation (have to, must, need to, and should). We anticipated that modals of futurity and possibility would also be more common in responses from those who found a news story relevant, because they can be used to broaden the conditions for relevance. We did not have a prediction about the distribution of modals of necessity or obligation.

Finally, we noted words, phrases, or structures that appeared particularly frequently in each grouping.

4. Characterizing the Data Set

4.1. perceptions of relevance.

Survey respondents said they perceived most stories as highly relevant, with 69% of all respondents claiming relevance regardless of the story ( Table 2 ). Within stories, the proportion of participants who found each story relevant differed significantly from chance (50%). The exception was individuals who viewed one of the four Opioids pieces. Viewers of the other stories were almost twice as likely to rate those stories as relevant, compared to viewers of the Opioids stories. The low relevance rating for the Opioids stories was the only significant difference between stories.

Number of respondents who reported that they perceived relevance, by story.

Topic relevantTotal %
Lyme disease20629470%
  Facebook Live7710176%
  Storified Twitter234848%
  Digital Explainer203853%
  Version A649468%
  Version B6910268%
  Version C629764%

Notes: This table characterizes the initial binary judgment (see footnote on p.5) but respondents could and did use the open-ended question to provide additional subtlety. See Raclaw et al. (in press) for an example of a respondent upgrading their initial response.

Based on a logistic regression, differences between topics did not exceed chance, except for the difference between Opioids and other topics ( Supplement S6 ). Differences between stories on any topic did not exceed chance.

Because comparable proportions of respondents found almost every story relevant, subsequent analysis focused on perceived relevance rather than story topic.

4.2. Grammatical Differences by Perceived Relevance

Next, we compared pronoun use across perceived story relevance. For all five types of pronouns, the two groups differed, and all differences exceeded chance ( Tables 3 and ​ and4). 4 ). Those who found the story they saw relevant were more likely to use first-person plural, universal indefinite, and free choice pronouns. Those who did not find the story relevant were more likely to use first-person singular and negative indefinite pronouns. These results suggest systematic differences in practices of self-reference when people are discussing news stories that they do or do not find relevant, particularly since all differences were statistically robust. The next section focuses on the wide range of strategies respondents used to communicate scale that cannot be reduced to pronoun choice.

Presence of first-person constructions, excluding epistemic constructions, by perceived relevance.

Perceived Relevance1 person singular1 pluralTotal

Note: All differences exceeded chance. See Supplement S7 .

Presence of additional pronouns outside epistemic constructions, by perceived relevance.

Perceived Relevanceuniversal indefinitenegative indefinitefree-choice

5. Self-Reference at Different Scales

5.1. first-person plural pronouns.

We first identified the specificity of first-person plural pronouns in our data set, considering the relative frequency of generic pronouns that refer to everyone, individuated pronouns that refer to some specific set of individuals, and class pronouns that refer to some group. Gast et al. (2015) note that personal and impersonal uses of you are not distinguished either lexically or grammatically; we also took a pragmatic approach to the question of specificity.

About two-thirds (sixty-five of ninety-seven) of responses containing first-person plural pronouns were determined to contain only generic pronouns ( Table 5 ). Another one-fifth contained only individuated pronouns. Smaller numbers of responses contained only class pronouns – typically referring to some specific geographic area – or both individuated and class pronouns. We then considered each type of pronoun by group to identify common features that led us to these judgments.

Specificity of first-person pronouns in responses.

Perceived Relevanceindividuated onlyclass onlygeneric onlyindividuated & class

Respondents communicated genericness through a range of linguistic strategies which were not mutually exclusive:

  • They used we co-occurring with all ( n = 22), either as a floating quantifier or in the phrases we all or all of us. One additional respondent used the phrase we collectively .
  • In nineteen cases, respondents used the first-person plural pronoun possessively (our) to modify an abstract noun. These nouns referred either to Earth as a whole (ecosystem, environment, oceans, planet, sea life, world, etc.), to some unspecified grouping of people (society) or to an effect or trait of humanity as a whole (carelessness, impact on the globe, understanding of the world around us, etc.).
  • In fourteen responses, respondents used we to co-refer with either universal indefinite pronouns or free-choice pronouns.
  • A number of respondents ( n = 9) claimed membership in groups defined by the generic noun humans through co-reference (Example 1).
Example 1 5 I’m a human who wants to live and these bugs could kill us all. (Antibiotics)

Fourteen respondents used none of these strategies. However, all of them used we either in the context of general scientific progress ( n = 6), broad environmental action ( n = 6), or to locate the response in a particular moment in time ( n = 2).

About half ( n = 33) of all generic first-person plural pronouns co-occurred with future and modal verbs, typically in the context of an abstract or future action attributable to, or affecting, humanity rather than specific individuals. Specifically, responses with first-person plural pronouns included roughly equal numbers of modals of necessity, such as need to and should ( n = 16), and possibility, such as can and could ( n = 17). Future constructions ( n = 5) were less common.

Meanwhile, respondents most commonly expressed individuation through co-reference or by means of specific possessive constructions. We often co-referred with my family or other kin terms, and often included split antecedents (Example 2). Expressions that indicated some specific joint possession or relative (e.g. ‘We have a dog,’ ‘our yard,’ ‘our children’) also indicated some specific, individuated set of referents.

Example 2 …These two topics are something myself and the people close to me care about. We all try as much as possible… (Dolphins)

In a few cases, absent any motivation for a generic reading, researchers understood we to refer in an individuated fashion to the respondent and their partner or immediate family (Examples 3-6). As Kitzinger (2005 : 245) notes, ‘use of a locally initial and unspecified we is normatively treated by co-interactants as meaning the speaker and his or her spouse.’ In all such cases in our data, respondents portray the collectivity referenced by we as either living together or having joint medical concerns, both of which are culturally understood as characteristic of couples or families (cf. Kitzinger 2005 : 247).

Example 3 It is relevant to me because we live in an area that has ticks. Anyone could get ticks on them and it will be better to have something to cure it so the person does not have to suffer. Plus, I have kids so they could easily get a tick on them. (Lyme disease) Example 4 Yes. I know we are not in the area where ticks are more likely to be found, but I like to be prepared since we do have a large feral cat population as well as dogs. (Lyme disease) Example 5 I find this story relevant to me. In April of this year, I had a tick and we were concerned I was going to get Lyme’s disease. Thankfully, we don’t think I did, but… (Lyme disease) Example 6 I think we could research this as a way to keep my grandkids’ teeth healthy. (Dentist)

Individuated pronouns also co-occurred with modals with a similar frequency: twelve of the twenty-four responses containing individuated pronouns also contained modals. With these pronouns, modals of possibility were much more frequent ( n = 9) than either futurity ( n = 4) or necessity ( n = 1).One response contained a habitual would, which fits none of these categories. In many cases, we and its co-referents are outside the scope of the modal auxiliary. In those cases where it is clearly within scope, respondents use modals of possibility to locate story relevance within some possible world. For example, ‘Yes, it was relevant, because we and our pets can be at risk.’

Finally, first-person plural pronouns understood to have a class interpretation all occurred in the context of some sort of locative expression, such that we referred to inhabitants of that location (Example 4; Examples 7-9).

Example 7 Yes, because in upstate NY we have a lot of ticks and I have found some on my pants and my dogs in past years. (Lyme disease) Example 8 I lived in the south, where we were taught to always check for ticks. :) (Lyme disease) Example 9 I live in Hawaii and feel very connected to the ocean that surrounds us. I love nature and animals and feel much more needs to be done to protect them. (Dolphins)

Only seven of the respondents who used first-person plural pronouns judged the story they saw not relevant. Two of these respondents used class pronouns in their observation that the issue at hand was not relevant to their geographic area, and one used an individuated pronoun to disclaim any immediate connection. The other four respondents used generic pronouns, and three of them explicitly differentiated between relevance to the individual and relevance to the larger social collective (Example 10).

Example 10 I do not live near much marine life, but I guess everything that happens in the environment is somewhat important to all of us. It does not affect me directly though. (Dolphins)

5.2. Universal indefinite pronouns and free-choice pronouns

Both universal indefinite pronouns like everyone and free-choice pronouns like anyone are understood to have broad reference, and both can be modified such that their interpretation is universal within some given context rather than truly universal. 6 Given this paper’s focus, we considered these two types of pronouns together.

5.2.1. Limitations on universal reference

In forty-two out of fifty-three cases, respondents did not modify universal indefinite pronouns. Interestingly, even when respondents used modifying clauses or phrases, they only rarely significantly limited the scale of the pronoun ( Table 6 ). In four cases, respondents used locative phrases to modify everyone. However, those locative phrases typically referred to Earth as a whole: ‘everyone in society,’ ‘everyone on the planet,’ ‘everyone in the world.’ In the last case, the respondent used a specific locative phrase that did meaningfully qualify everyone: ‘everyone in the US.’ In three cases, respondents only modified everyone to position themselves relative to this everyone : one respondent wrote about ‘everyone, including me ’ while two respondents compared themselves to ‘ everyone else.’ Two respondents pre-emptively dismissed limitations to the pronoun’s reference: ‘everyone who ever gets sick (so, everyone)’ and ‘everyone whether you’re living on the coast or not. ’ One respondent hedged the universal reference ( ‘just about everyone’ ). Finally, two respondents used restrictive relative clauses to further define the pronoun’s reference; however, both respondents did so to somewhat facetious effect: ‘everyone who has teeth’ and ‘everyone who ever gets sick.’

Modified universal indefinite pronouns in the data set.

StrategyNumber of casesCases
Broad locative4 feels this is relevant because flu season is applicable to all. … (Influenza)
… The study regarding the life of dolphins is just one of the many important things needs to know more about. … (Dolphins)
I think this story is important to since it can harm all of us. (Antibiotics)
Specific locative1I think the flu and being aware of it is relevant to (Influenza)
Position self3Well, clearly, because I am ultimately as reliant on antibiotics as , so it’s definitely relevant to me. (Antibiotics)
I like am vulnerable to becoming infected with the flu and … (Influenza)
It’s relevant to because antibiotics are a major way that diseases are treated and … (Antibiotics)
Dismiss limitations2It’s relevant to because of how humans affect the ecosystems of the ocean. (Dolphins)
It’s relevant to .
It’s likewise relevant even for those who rarely get sick, but … (Antibiotics)
Hedge1I think dentist visits are relevant to , thus I would affirm that it is relevant to me. (Dentist)
Definition (restrictive relative clause or prepositional phrase)2Dental care and treatment options are important to (Dentist)
It’s relevant to (so, everyone).
It’s likewise relevant even for those who rarely get sick, but … (Antibiotics)
Generic --

Notes: A total of 53 responses in the data set contained this type of pronoun. All others were unmodified.

Meanwhile, respondents more frequently limited the scale of free-choice pronouns ( Table 7 ). Half of the twenty-four cases were modified, and seven of them defined the referent through a relative clause or prepositional phrase. In one case, the respondent limited the interpretation of the pronoun to free choice within a small, individuated group: ‘anyone of my family.’ Only one case positioned the respondent vis-à-vis ‘anyone else,’ one dismissed limitations ( ‘anyone no matter where they are’ ), and two hedged the force of the pronoun ( ‘just about anyone’ ) Finally, one respondent used anyone with a generic first-person plural pronoun ( ‘anyone of us’ ), a strategy that was not available with universal indefinite pronouns.

Modified free-choice pronouns in the data set.

StrategyNumber of casesCases
Broad locative--
Specific locative--
Position self1 , I could get the flu so it is relevant in that sense. … (Influenza)
Dismiss limitations1Yes because it can happen to . (Lyme disease)
Hedge2… So sure the story is relevant to . (Dentist)
… owning a pet could certainly provide psychological (and possibly physical) benefits to . … (Dogs)
Definition (restrictive relative clause or prepositional phrase)7I guess it’s relevant to . … (Dentist)
It’s relevant to (Influenza)
I think it is relevant to . … (Antibiotics)
I think it’s relevant to (Lyme disease)
…ticks are relevant to . (Lyme disease)
It’s relevant to … (Influenza)
I live in the United States and I have kids so could get the flu … (Influenza)
Generic 1It could affect . (Antibiotics)

Notes: A total of 24 responses in the data set contained this type of pronoun. All others were unmodified.

5.2.2. Modality: Actual worlds and possible worlds

The fifty-three respondents who used universal indefinite pronouns differed primarily in whether they located a story’s universal relevance in current reality or linked it to possible worlds. Twenty-four of them used at least one modal verb, with modals of possibility or probability ( n = 17) used most frequently. Modals indicating necessity or obligation ( n = 5) were less frequent, as were those indicating futurity ( n = 6). In general, the universal pronoun or its co-referent was within the scope of these modals, although there were two exceptions (Examples 11-12).

Example 11 I love dolphins, I think if there is a fundraiser to help this cause I would be willing to donate. Every part of the ecosystem is relevant to everyone in my opinion. Just because I don’t fish or live near an ocean doesn’t mean this topic is irrelevant to me. (Dolphins) Example 12 It’s relevant to everyone who ever gets sick (so, everyone). It’s likewise relevant even for those who rarely get sick, but may visit someone in the hospital, where unfortunately it seems most of the superbugs seem to be picked up. I also have a child who, while she’s been extremely healthy so far (don’t think she’s yet been put on any antibiotics), will possibly face this problem becoming more serious before it gets better. (Antibiotics)

Meanwhile, respondents typically used free-choice pronouns in contexts suggesting a story’s possible relevance rather than current relevance. 7 All but six of the twenty-four respondents who included free-choice pronouns used modal verbs. These were overwhelmingly modals of possibility. Specifically, all eighteen responses contained at least one of these, 8 with only two responses containing modals of necessity and one containing a future. When free-choice pronouns co-occurred with any modal auxiliary, they were always within the scope of at least one of these auxiliaries. One of the six responses that did not use a modal communicated possibility through lexical means (Example 13). All five other responses described the story as ‘relevant to anyone.’

Example 13 I thankfully don’t have a lot of tooth decay, but I do have teeth, and anyone is susceptible to cavities. (Dentist)

5.3. Negative indefinite pronouns

Thirty-seven respondents used negative indefinite pronouns. What was most striking about their responses, was the preponderance of a single verb, know, which occurred in thirty-two of these thirty-seven responses. While these responses took different forms, a first-person singular pronoun (whether overt or non-overt) was the subject of know and the negative indefinite was the object in every single one (Examples 14-16)

Example 14 No, [I] never had a tick bite or know anyone who has (Lyme disease) Example 15 I personally do not live anywhere near the ocean and do not engage in fishing practices. I also do not know anyone who does engage in ocean fishing. (Dolphins) Example 16 No one I know is on any drugs, and I’ve never done any. (Opioids)

The other five respondents used different wording, but they all similarly disavowed social connection to people with lived experience related to the topic of the story (Examples 17-21). Negative indefinite pronouns varied systematically from the other pronouns in that the respondents who judged the story not relevant were much more likely to use them. Furthermore, all seven of the respondents who found their story relevant used these pronouns to problematize their claim of relevance. Five of these responses were structurally similar: ‘I don’t know anyone who [has lived experience] but [justification for claiming relevance]’ while the other two responses began with the justification.

Example 17 It doesn’t personally involve anyone or anything near and dear to me. I do find it fascinating though. (Dolphins) Example 18 I don’t do drugs and nobody around me does either so don’t really affect me (Opioids) Example 19 I neither have nor have come in contact with anyone battling this addiction (Opioids) Example 20 Because even though I don’t have any one close to me that uses drugs but I can positively contribute in discussions and also on social media. (Opioids) Example 21 It’s not relevant to me even tho I find the story interesting, but has no relevance to my personal life because I’ve never done drugs and will never do drugs and I have no one in my personal life that does any such drugs. (Opioids)

5.4. Responses without first-person singular pronouns

As Schegloff (1996 : 447) reminds us, ‘a significant but otherwise hidden feature of ‘I’ and ‘you’ [is] … that they mask the relevance of the referent and the reference at that point in the talk.’ In contrast, other ways of referring to one’s self or one’s interlocutor make this connection more explicit. In the context of the survey question, the absence of first-person singular pronouns is pragmatically marked, and we were particularly interested in how respondents might make their responses intelligible as answers to the question, particularly because we expected to see other forms of self-reference of the type Schegloff describes.

The full data set included a total of 127 responses with no non-epistemic first-person pronoun. Of these 127, seventy-seven used at least one of the pronoun types analyzed in detail above. 9 Meanwhile, the fifty respondents who used none of the included pronouns made use of a range of grammatical constructions and strategies. These strategies varied in their scale, with some indicating a story’s individual relevance or relevance to some particular group, others indicating generic or universal relevance, and still others with multiple readings.

Individualizing strategies included elliptical self-reference (Examples 22-23), 10 while strategies for referring to a class included locative constructions that presented the respondent as part of some geographic group by implicature (Example 24). Meanwhile, universalizing strategies included: second-person pronouns (Example 25); nouns of humanity ( people, humans, the human race ) or life more broadly ( life on earth ), often used with universal quantifiers like all ; and impersonal constructions about the magnitude of the problems addressed (Examples 26-27).

Example 22 Because as a dog owner, it’s awesome hearing these kinds of stories. (Dogs) Example 23 Yes, there is a dog in the house and this is good information about ticks. (Lyme disease) Example 24 I did [find it relevant] - there are a lot of ticks in Minnesota and so it’s important to know how to deal with them! (Lyme disease) Example 25 It makes you pause and think about your environmental impact. It’s not just “some trash stays around for a long time.” It can also be, “some trash immediately affects wildlife.” (Dolphins) Example 26 Because this is really happening all over the world (Opioids) Example 27 Opioid addiction is a real crisis (Opioids)

Meanwhile, some strategies were ambiguous: they could be read on either the individual or generic level. Notably, a number of respondents used impersonal constructions about the interest or relevance of the story (e.g. ‘nothing was very interesting [to me / anyone]’ and ‘it was tangentially relevant [to me / in general], the knowledge of this was important’) or the importance of being informed (e.g. ‘It’s important [for me / everyone] to know about this topic’), both of which were ambiguous in this way.

Only five of these fifty responses included modal verbs. Three of these were modals of necessity or obligation (Examples 28-30), while two were modals of possibility (Examples 25, 31). In all cases, modals served as universalizing strategies, whether alone or in concert with other such strategies.

Example 28 I think that people should be informed. (Opioids) Example 29 It further shows how unchecked human activity has caused an array of environmental issues that need to be resolved (Dolphins) Example 30 It needs to be known for the future (Antibiotics) Example 31 Relevant because it involves a disease that can affect humans. (Lyme disease)

6. Concluding Thoughts: Implications for Researchers and Journalists

The findings reported here represent an important first step in understanding how news users construct story relevance. There appears to be a link between individuals’ perception of story relevance and how they refer to themselves — as individuals or as members of collectives or varying sizes. Focusing on linguistic form rather than on some underlying mental representation demonstrates both a) various strategies of self-reference and b) some of the mechanisms of co-construction of story relevance. It also suggests that further examination of this question may be valuable for researchers and professional journalists alike.

In general, respondents who referred to themselves as members of larger-scale collectivities were more likely to say they perceived a news report as relevant. Similarly, respondents who judged a news story as irrelevant were much more likely to use individualizing forms of self-reference. Respondents who saw different stories judged them relevant at different rates, and the patterns we observed across stories bolster the view of news relevance as co-constructed by journalists and news users, rather than inherent to story topic. We suggest the following provisional definition, which starts from the news user’s perspective: “a news report is relevant if a news user treats it as impacting the everyday experiences or interactions of either that individual or a larger collectivity of which they describe themself as a member.”

What types of larger collectivities do people describe themselves as members of? Although it is not the focus of the present paper, these results suggest that further study of practices of self-categorization ( Schegloff, 2007a , b ) may also be valuable for understanding this question. For example, many respondents in our data set self-categorize either elliptically or directly. While elliptical self-categorizations in our data set are typically adverbial, direct self-categorizations prototypically appear as ‘I am (not) a(n) …’ either solely or as part of a longer answer. For a response of this form to be a good answer to the question, respondents must believe that the story they saw is self-evidently relevant to members of the category in question. Further research might investigate the categories that come to the fore in responses of this sort, and thus determine the commonalities in these judgments of news story relevance. Such research might also ultimately develop research methods for understanding these judgments at a larger scale.

For researchers, our study sheds light into how news users consider story relevance. These findings also support the value of applying language-centered methods to textual data collected through online surveys. As applied researchers, the authors often work in contexts where ethnography and interview methods are not feasible, due to the time required of both researchers and research participants. Online surveys are increasingly common across disciplines ( Boyle et al. 2017 ), but they are vulnerable to the same critiques of context-insensitivity as other survey research methods. We suggest that our approach may reintroduce some of the nuance and complexity that ethnographic methods capture so well, and perhaps highlight regularities that may have gone previously unnoticed.

For journalists hoping to inform a broad cross-section of society, our results make it clear that they cannot hope to produce stories that are of relevance to all news users, nor can they assume that relevance is fully within their control. In particular, simple mappings of topics to types of people cannot take into account the varying scales of social life that inform these judgments. Instead, journalists must make explicit connections to as broad a variety of possible points of relevance as is practical. In this context, better understanding of self-categorization practices might help journalists determine which points of relevance to highlight. Our findings also suggest the need for additional ethnographic research on how people talk about news stories, how they discursively construct the relevance of news in a range of contexts, and how they make sense of news in their daily lives.

Highlights for Relevance in the News

  • Relevance of news stories is discursively constructed through self-reference
  • Self-reference as a member of larger collectivities may be linked to more relevance
  • We provide example of novel language-centered approach to survey data

Supplementary Material


We are grateful to our colleagues at both Knology and the NewsHour for their support in this work, especially Patti Parson (PI on both grants), Elizabeth Danter, Julia Griffin, Nicole LaMarca, and Uduak Thomas. The authors also thank Sarah Shulist for conversations that were formative in conceiving this paper, as well as Abby Bajuniemi, Alison Edwards-Lange, Joshua Raclaw, and Sylvia Sierra for comments on earlier drafts. Finally, we appreciate the generosity of two anonymous reviewers, who provided suggestions that have materially improved this paper.

Funding Statement

This work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 15163471 and the National Institutes of Health under Grant No. #1R25OD0202212-01A1. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health.


Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein is a linguistic anthropologist who leads the media research at Knology. Her research interests include news practices; epistemic authority, including evidentiality in discourse; and applying interactional methods to the analysis of surveys. She was a 2018-2019 American Anthropological Association Leadership Fellow and is a current core member of the Society for Linguistic Anthropology’s Committee on Language and Social Justice.

John Voiklis leads behaviors and processes research at Knology. As a social and cognitive psychologist, he studies both how people think about their social world and how they act in that social world. He is especially interested in how people create and enforce social norms during their everyday interactions.

Darcey B. Glasser received her MA in Animal Behavior and Conservation from Hunter College in 2019, following her research internship at Knology.

John Fraser is President & CEO of Knology and past president of the Society for Environmental, Population, and Conservation Psychology (Division 34 of the American Psychological Association). His research focuses on how collective identification with groups influences self-efficacy and willingness to engage in positive social change.

Publisher's Disclaimer: This is a PDF file of an unedited manuscript that has been accepted for publication. As a service to our customers we are providing this early version of the manuscript. The manuscript will undergo copyediting, typesetting, and review of the resulting proof before it is published in its final form. Please note that during the production process errors may be discovered which could affect the content, and all legal disclaimers that apply to the journal pertain.

Disclosure Statement

No author has any conflict of interest to disclose.

Data Availability Statement

The dataset used for this paper is publicly available on our website ( https://knology.org/article/data-set-the-relevance-of-news-stories/ ) and cited in the bibliography as Knology (2020) . It has been blinded in the submitted version.

1 We prefer news users to audiences to highlight the diversity of ways people engage with news (cf. Picone, 2016 ), but we use audience when referring to literature that uses this term. We use journalist throughout this paper as an umbrella term encompassing specific roles within the news team, such as reporters, editors, and producers.

2 The context analyzed in this paper does not license the ‘hearer-dominant reading’ ( De Cock, 2011 ) in which English first-person plural pronouns can exclude the speaker.

3 In the first study (Lyme disease), respondents saw a single open-ended prompt that contained both questions: ‘Did you find this story relevant to you? Why or why not?’ In all subsequent studies, these questions were separated: respondents were asked to first answer a forced-choice question (‘Did you find this story relevant to you?’), and then a separate open-ended question: ‘Why or why not?’ See Supplement S2 for the visual appearance of the prompts.

4 Initially, researchers attempted to determine if these pronouns were being used in an inclusive or exclusive fashion, but there were relatively few of these pronouns in the data set, and in some cases, there was insufficient discourse context to make a determination. Instead, the first author considered this question later, during detailed analysis of pronouns in context.

5 For ease of reading, we have standardized orthography in all partial and full survey responses quoted in this paper in the following ways: (1) capitalized response- and sentence-initial words and the pronoun I; (2) introduced apostrophes into contractions that were written without these (e.g. dont became don’t ); (3) revised non-standard orthographic representations if and only if there was a single standard possibility (e.g. egosystems became ecosystems and opiod became opioid ). We use bold to indicate phenomena of interest, while underlining indicates epistemic first-person constructions that were excluded from analysis.

6 Semantic differences between universal and free-choice items are beyond the scope of this article, but see Giannakidou (2001) .

7 See Giannakidou, 2001 , for semantic constraints on the distribution of free-choice pronouns.

8 One of these responses included a free-choice pronoun in a context that limited its possible referents to a very small group: ‘I live in the United States and I have kids so anyone of my family could get the flu so I find it very relevant.’

9 There was wide variation in co-occurrence. All negative indefinite pronouns co-occurred with first-person singular pronouns, while only about one-quarter of universal indefinite pronouns did. See Supplement S8 .

10 We are indebted to Joshua Raclaw for this description of these constructions.

Contributor Information

Jena Barchas-Lichtenstein, Knology.

John Voiklis, Knology.

Darcey B. Glasser, Knology, Hunter College of the City University of New York.

John Fraser, Knology.

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importance of research in news writing

Mastering News Writing Fundamentals: Tips, Tricks & Best Practices

  • Published: December 7, 2023
  • By: Yellowbrick

Know Your Audience

Before diving into news writing, it’s important to identify your target audience. Understanding their interests, preferences, and demographics will allow you to tailor your content to their needs. Whether you are writing for a specific publication or broadcasting on a news channel, catering to your audience is key to keeping them engaged.

Grab Attention with a Strong Headline

In the age of information overload, a compelling headline is the key to capturing your readers’ attention. A well-crafted headline should be concise, informative, and intriguing. It should provide a glimpse of the story while leaving readers wanting to know more. Experiment with different headline styles to find what works best for your audience.

Stick to the Inverted Pyramid

The inverted pyramid is a fundamental principle of news writing. Start with the most important information at the beginning of your article and gradually move towards less crucial details. This structure ensures that readers get the gist of the story even if they don’t read the entire piece. Remember to answer the who, what, when, where, why, and how in the first few paragraphs.

Use Clear and Concise Language

News writing should be clear, concise, and to the point. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that might confuse your readers. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short, and use simple language that is easy to understand. Remember, your goal is to inform, not impress with your vocabulary.

Verify Your Facts

Accuracy is paramount in news writing. Double-check all the facts before publishing your article. Verify the information from multiple reliable sources to ensure its credibility. Inaccurate reporting can damage your reputation as a writer and undermine the trust of your readers.

Incorporate Quotes and Interviews

Adding quotes and interviews from relevant individuals can enhance the credibility and depth of your news story. Seek out experts, witnesses, or those involved in the event or topic you are covering. Use their direct quotes to provide different perspectives and add human interest to your writing.

Maintain Objectivity

News writing requires objectivity. Present the facts without bias or personal opinion. Avoid using emotionally charged language that might sway readers’ opinions. Your role as a news writer is to provide information, leaving readers to form their own judgments.

Engage Your Readers

While objectivity is important, it doesn’t mean your writing has to be dry and boring. Find ways to engage your readers by incorporating storytelling techniques, anecdotes, or vivid descriptions. Make your articles relatable and interesting to keep your audience hooked.

Edit and Proofread

Before publishing your news article, carefully edit and proofread it for grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors. Sloppy writing can detract from the credibility of your content. Take the time to review and revise your work to ensure it is polished and error-free.

Stay Updated

News is constantly evolving, and as a news writer, it is essential to stay updated on current events, trends, and developments. Regularly read newspapers, follow reputable news outlets, and stay connected with the world around you. This will not only keep your writing fresh but also help you identify potential story ideas.

By mastering these news writing fundamentals, you will be well-equipped to embark on a successful career in journalism or any field that requires effective newswriting skills. Remember, practice makes perfect, so keep honing your craft and never stop learning.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding your target audience is crucial for effective news writing.
  • Craft attention-grabbing headlines that captivate readers’ interest.
  • Follow the inverted pyramid structure to prioritize the most important information.
  • Use clear and concise language to convey your message effectively.
  • Always verify facts from reliable sources to maintain accuracy.
  • Incorporate quotes and interviews to add credibility and depth to your writing.
  • Strive for objectivity and present information without bias.
  • Engage readers through storytelling techniques and vivid descriptions.
  • Edit and proofread your work to ensure polished and error-free content.
  • Stay updated on current events and trends to keep your writing relevant.

To further enhance your news writing skills and expand your knowledge in modern journalism, consider enrolling in the NYU | Modern Journalism online course and certificate program offered by Yellowbrick. This comprehensive program provides valuable insights and hands-on experience to help you thrive in the ever-evolving news writing world. Take the next step towards your successful career by exploring the opportunities provided by this esteemed online course.

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Writing as thinking: why writing is still a critical skill in business.

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Gregory P. Crawford is President of  Miami University  of Ohio.

I was a science kid in high school; I loved physics and mathematics. When I learned my senior year that I was assigned to the English teacher with a reputation as the most rigorous in school, I dreaded a year of struggle outside my strength areas. Unexpectedly, that class changed my life. She taught me how to think in a way that laid the foundation of my success not only in undergraduate liberal arts but also in science, business and leadership.

I leaned on that teacher’s instruction as I pursued my physics career and crafted peer-reviewed publications with complex research presented in clear, accessible storytelling. I leveraged rhetorical persuasion for grants. My colleagues noticed the edge that one high school teacher imparted — to communicate with sentences as powerful as my science. I was a scientist, but writing has been critical to my career in research, teaching and dissemination.

That writing — that thinking — is still at the heart of my work today as a university president. My physics background equipped me to position my institution for the Industry 4.0 revolution, but I still leverage those communication skills to make this complex connection accessible and compelling. Every day, I exercise those habits of order, structure, logic and rhetoric to create inviting sentences, lucid paragraphs and compelling stories.

The place of the liberal arts, in particular writing, in higher education has been debated as the ascent of STEM disciplines, data analysis, artificial intelligence and other, more obvious job-creating fields have commanded attention and resources. I've found defenders of the liberal arts have often resorted to a rearguard insistence that discrete skills imparted by their programs, such as clear writing and critical thinking, are highly sought-after in a tech-focused workplace.

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I think that defense is necessary but not sufficient. Clear writing is not only a byproduct of a highly respected liberal arts core. Instead, writing is a mode of thinking at the heart of the educational mission to produce professionals with an intellectual and personal formation that liberates them for careers and lives of service and satisfaction.

Today’s industry leaders can empower their employees, themselves and their organizations by promoting this powerful skill. I believe those who do will elevate their own reputation and success in commerce and society. 

As a leader, you can gain effective insight into your employees’ and applicants’ thinking skills by evaluating their writing. Precise word choices and well-structured sentences, for example, can help indicate clarity of thought. Similarly, a logical, easy-to-follow narrative flow could suggest an organized mind capable of critical analysis, including self-analysis. More generally, writing can provide a window into a person’s characteristic approach to tasks. Are they hasty or careful? Are they thorough or superficial? Are they attentive to how their work is received by others? Good writing requires reflection and openness to revision. It seeks to serve the audience, as the writer’s hard work makes the reader’s job easier. From my perspective, such writing means their communication with others on their team and outside stakeholders is likely to add significant value to an organization.

Leaders should also hone their own writing skills. Among other things, writing is a shortcut to rapid-prototype a new idea. That flash of insight sounds great in your head, but what happens when you try to commit it to paper? Writing forces a higher level of precision, consideration of broader impacts and attention to overlooked obstacles — or opportunities — that can affirm, modify, discard or enhance the idea. Similarly, writing elevates spoken communication skills. Thoughts come to mind in succession. Writing puts them all in view in one place, outside of you, so you can make an objective critique of their validity, cohesion and effectiveness.

Organizations should elevate the importance of writing skills for more effective communication both internally and externally. This attention is even more vital as we emerge from Covid-19, where modes of communication were altered in ways that I believe are likely to endure. At the same time, the rise of big data has called for more storytelling to translate complex analysis effectively.

Written words outlive the writer; we are still learning from the texts of people who wrote generations ago without benefit of a Q&A. An organization that values writing can reach for such a level of accessibility and audience comprehension in all its communication. More satisfied workers, stakeholders, and customers will spread the word so the organization will flourish.

Leaders and their teams can enhance their writing skills in practical ways. First, expose yourself to good writing. When you feel more informed or even energized after reading an article, go back and see how the writer did it. How did they draw you in? How did they guide you, step by logical step? How did they reward you for staying with them? Ask why you found the piece effective. Next, apply the same questions to your own writing, and practice the skill. Take the audience’s view. Would this draw them in? Is this easy to follow? Where would your mind wander if you were a stranger reading this? Did you state exactly what you meant to convey?

Writing is a vital skill and is crucial to your organization. No matter your field, role, industry or passion, effective writing can help sharpen critical thinking and position you to thrive in your environment. That’s what my once-feared high school senior English class did for me.

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Gregory Crawford

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importance of research in news writing

importance of research in news writing

  • Fiction , Writing Tips

The Importance of Research in Fiction Writing: Tips and Techniques for Incorporating Real-Life Details

importance of research in news writing

Would you believe us if we told you that the most common ‘unsung hero’ in fiction writing is – [drumroll, please…] research ? Now, we know what you might be thinking: “ Research ? But isn't fiction all about making things up?” 

Well, yes and no. 

Let’s dive into why research is not just important but absolutely vital in fiction writing, and how you can seamlessly weave real-life details into your stories to make them truly come alive.

1. Why Research Matters in Fiction

Picture this: You’re lost in a book, totally enthralled in a world of intrigue and drama. Suddenly, you stumble upon a detail so out of place that it yanks you right out of the story. Frustrating, right ? This is exactly why research is crucial. It’s about credibility, authenticity, and respect for your reader. Whether it’s historical accuracy, geographical details, cultural nuances, or professional jargon, getting these elements right adds depth and believability to your narrative. It really is that secret sauce that makes your fictional world believable .

2. Starting Your Research Journey

Research can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Start with the basics: Who? What? Where? When? How? If your story is set in a specific time or place, start there. Dive into the history, the culture, and the landscape. If your character has a specific occupation or hobby, learn everything you can about it. Luckily, the internet is a treasure trove of information, but don’t forget about other resources like libraries, documentaries, interviews, and personal experiences. 

3. Balancing Fact and Fiction

While research is key, remember you’re writing fiction, not a textbook. Your primary goal is to tell a compelling story. Use research as your backdrop, not your main event. It’s like seasoning a dish – too little, and it’s bland; too much, and it’s overpowering. Find that happy medium where your research supports and enhances your story without overshadowing it.

4. Incorporating Research Naturally

So, how do you incorporate research without making your story feel like a Wikipedia page? The key is subtlety. Use sensory details to bring a setting to life. Let your characters interact with their environment by revealing historical or cultural truths with a natural touch. Use dialogue to introduce professional jargon or expertise. Show, don't tell. Let your readers feel like they’re discovering the world with your characters, not sitting through a lecture. (Zzz…)

5. Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Beware of the infamous info dump! It’s tempting to show off all the cool stuff you’ve learned, but resist the urge. We repeat, resist the urge! If a detail doesn't serve the story or develop your characters, it probably doesn't need to be there. 

6. Research for Character Development

Research isn't just about settings and jargon; it’s also key to developing well-rounded characters. Understand their backgrounds, motivations, and the world they live in. This could mean researching psychological conditions, cultural traditions, or even the smallest of details of everyday life in a different era. The more you understand, the more authentic your characters will feel.

7. Staying Flexible and Creative

Remember, research should fuel your creativity, not limit it. If you find that certain facts are constraining your story, it’s okay to tweak them for the sake of the narrative. Historical fiction often takes creative liberties for the sake of the story. The goal is to remain respectful and credible, not necessarily to provide a historical account.

8. Engaging with Experts and Beta Readers

Don't be afraid to reach out to experts or use beta readers, especially if you’re writing about experiences or cultures different from your own. This helps enrich your story but it also provides accuracy. It’s a great way to build credibility and avoid unintentional missteps.

9. Enjoying the Process

Most importantly, enjoy the research process! It’s a journey of discovery that can be incredibly fun. You never know what fascinating tidbits you might uncover or how they could inspire new plot twists or character traits. 

Incorporating research into your fiction writing isn't just about dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s. It’s about breathing life into your story, giving it depth, color, and authenticity. So go ahead, delve into the details, and let them enrich your storytelling!

Your readers – and your writing – will thank you for it.

Happy writing!

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Casey Cease

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The importance of research for creative writing.

Research is necessary for all creative writing projects. Learn the basics of research for creative writing from an award-winning author.

Why you need to do research for creative writing to build setting, accuracy and craft

I set out to write this blog post, in part because I was planning to write a novel about a historical event. Yet, beyond having a vague awareness of museum and newspaper archives, I really wasn’t sure what type of research I needed to do for my creative writing project.

So I called up my friend, Liz Walker , who wrote a mystery novel set during WWII (which has won several prizes !), to chat about her research process. What surprised me, was how similar it was to the research I put into most of my writing.

That statement does require some qualification… while every piece of creative writing requires background research for accuracy and details, historical fiction requires significantly more research.

For example, Liz had no idea that Londoners don’t describe locations by blocks. So the pub isn’t three blocks away… it’s around the corner from the church. She had to remove over 30 references to blocks in her manuscript!

Different Types of Research For Creative Writing

If you’ve never written anything before, there’s actually quite a bit of research required to turn out a decent piece of work.

  • The craft : First you need to know how to write. It’s important to learn about the language and craft of writing , particularly in regard to the genre that you’re going to write in. For Liz, this meant learning about how to develop a mystery. She spent a bit of time reading a lot of Agatha Christie along with more contemporary mysteries.
  • Historical and cultural knowledge : Pretty much every topic, from a sci-fi adventure to a fairytale set in another country, begins with historical and cultural research. It’s important to explore relevant books, documentaries, archives, etc.
  • Personal i nterviews : Interviews are an excellent way to get a deeper look into your topic. This personal knowledge will infuse your writing with a sense of actually having been there by giving you details that only a local would know.
  • Details research : There are all sorts of little details that make your writing feel real. Like making sure your characters are wearing the right clothes and using the right technology. This is how you get the right voice and tone for your story.

Learn about how to do research for your creative writing project, fiction or non-fiction

The Research Process

Writing is a very personal activity. Everyone will have their own research process and every genre will have its own research requirements. Regardless, there are three stages of background research for most creative writing projects.

1. General Research

When first starting a project, you might know the general area that you’re interested in, but not specifically what aspect of that project you want to explore. Liz was interested in the role of women in WWII. However, that’s a really broad subject. Starting with general research allows you to explore exactly which aspects you want to write about.

Here are a few general research techniques:

  • Do a keyword search for the topic at your local library and read as many books as possible on the subject.
  • If possible, interview people with personal knowledge on the subject, you might find something in their stories to inspire you.
  • Watch documentaries, go to museums, and explore every facet of the subject area.

2. Focused Research

Once you have narrowed down your topic, then you’re ready for focused research. In Liz’s case, she decided to focus specifically on the 1942 Dieppe Raid. Here are a few of the ways to focus your research.

  • Read every book available on the topic, including any personal accounts and compilations.
  • Read archival news articles on the event.
  • Explore national and regional archives, both online and (if possible) in person.

3. Double Check Details

Once you start to write you’ll probably need help with developing authentic scenes and providing details. In general, I always believe that it’s best to keep writing whenever inspiration hits you , so just mark any details that you want to double-check then do the research later.

The internet is amazing for helping with specific details.

  • Maps : Google maps are great. You can virtually “walk” down the street to see the stores that are there, etc. However, if you’re not setting your book in the present, then you’ll need to delve a little deeper. For example, the National Library of Scotland has WWI trench maps online. Other cities and regions also offer historical maps .
  • Clothes and technology : The internet is full of websites that are focused on a particular time period or piece of culture. You should be able to find out everything you need to know about fashion, culture, and technology.
  • Language : The Google Ngram Viewer is an amazing resource for historical writers. It searches books to determine the popularity and use of a particular word. You can even check the difference between British and American usage. Even if you don’t need to check the usage of a particular word… it’s still a pretty fun tool.
  • Google Alerts : Setting google alerts for your topic will let you know whenever anything new comes out. It allows you to keep up with the latest information, even after you’ve started writing.
  • Sources : Save a record of all your sources, so you can go back and double-check if needed. Buy any books that you might want to refer to over and over again. If you’re working off a website, you might want to save a screenshot, in case the website goes down. It’s also important to save a list of sources so you can give credit in your acknowledgments section.

Check out more writing advice:

How small changes in word choice can have a big impact on the tone of a story

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