The anatomy of a news story
The following article (which can be read in full on the News site) is, in many ways, a ‘typical’ Imperial research story. Take a look through the News site and you will see many structured just like it.
As with many news websites, we aim for our stories to be accessible and understandable for as wide an audience as possible – from members of the public with a casual interest in science, to PhD-holding academics.
So what are the hallmarks of an Imperial news story? When a researcher comes to us ready to announce some fascinating new study, how are we likely to write about it?
To explain our approach to news writing, we’ve broken down the story below.
Our headlines aim above all to inform. We want to refer to the ‘whats’, the ‘whos’, the ‘wheres’.
But our headlines are also written to catch the eye. We want them to be enticing, though of course not misleading. This often means teasing out the most newsworthy element of the story, for example:
- what’s new?
- what’s better or worse?
- what’s unusual or unexpected?
Our summary paragraphs (in bold) aim to build on the title, offering more details but still sticking to the most important information for a reader to know. In this case: who (patients with suspected bowel cancer), what (quicker tests), why (to assess their cancer risk).
Notice too that we often bring to the fore what the impact of our research is on life. How will this benefit the person reading at home? This kind of question keeps us mindful of our general readership, and helps us prioritise the messages in our stories.
Beyond the opening paragraphs, we then ‘widen the lens’, offering further details about the study, such as:
– The methodology
– The deeper ‘whys’ and context behind the study
– The limitations of the study
We will always try to keep concise in our writing, focusing on the main elements and benefits of the study, rather than running off a long list of its many features.
The language we use will also be, wherever possible, written in as plain English as possible.
We also tend to use ‘pull quotes’ – a brief, attention-grabbing quotation taken from the main text of an article. This allows us to pre-promote something exciting that is coming later on in the article. In this case, it’s a quote from Dr Amanda Cross that sums up the main impact of the study.
Subheadings and quotes
We regularly use subheadings (in this case, ‘Changing guidelines’) to break up long passages of text into subsections to make it easier for readers to navigate and digest the story.
The latter half of our stories tend to focus on the next steps of a study, for example:
– What do these findings point us towards?
– What are the wider implications?
We will also regularly include a quote from the lead researcher. We try to limit the number of quoted individuals to as few people. This is partly to keep the word count down, but also to keep the messages clear and concise. Quotes are a great way to add a human and emotional voice to a news story. Whereas the style we write our body text in focuses purely on the facts, quotes allow us to add emotion and opinion.
And very lastly, we end all our news stories with:
– links to the full text journal article
– mentions of the main funding bodies
– a note of the news story author as the main point of contact