DEVELOPING A FEATURE ARTICLE

A feature article is composed in order to explain how something works or is developed over time, informing the public of something new and/or important, and interpreting complex information in an understandable and appealing way. Basically, you may be doing one or more of the following:

  • describing the parts of your object and their interrelationships,
  • tracing the history of the object and describing its changes,
  • describing the object’s qualities and characteristics, and
  • analysing the object’s value.

To achieve this effectively, use a combination of the following strategies.

(1) Define terms and differentiate them from other similar ones. This is very useful while writing about a large topic with many subdivisions, aspects and categories. By defining it, you are specifying the parameters in which you will explain it. Consider using sentence or paragraph-length definitions for complicated topics, and parenthetical definitions for less complicated ones.

(2) Give an analogy. For example, using the same principle as an overhead projector, an epidiascope projects three-dimensional images onto a screen using a magnified beam of light. This gives the reader the gist of what you are saying and makes complicated terms and processes easier to grasp. In the same light, you can contrast the term to what it is opposite to or different from.

(3) Give examples that illustrate the functions or properties of the topic you are explaining. This helps the reader put the topic in context and thus relate to it better.

(4) Compare the topic with others to show its special features or common attributes. As with analogies, comparisons are useful in helping the reader classify the topic in a category with which s/he is familiar, and/or to understand the innovation or specific nature of the described object.

(5) Describe the properties/qualities of an object or situation and detail how it works or how it occurs and under what circumstances.

(6) Suggest reasons for a situation or development. This is useful when you think the reader is likely to ask the question ‘why’. It justifies a current state of affairs by explaining what caused it to come into being.

(7) Tell a story that illustrates your discussion. This is useful in making conceptual information more concrete by describing a ‘physical’ situation where the ideas you are talking about were at play. Stories are very effective in assisting the reader to visualise and, therefore, to better understand, your description.

(8) Describe a process. This is a way to show how something is done, a protocol or procedure. Describing processes also comes into play when giving instructions on how to conduct a task.

(9) Describe applications. This emphasises the practical aspects of research, by showing how inventions and discoveries can be used in everyday life.

(10) Use visual aids, such as a diagram or photograph. If you choose this strategy, make sure you explain in your text what the visual is intended to show and how it fits in your written explanation. To avoid digressing from your text to explain a diagram, consider using side-bars that contain visuals and text, and provide self-sufficient information that complements the information presented in the body of the article.

Journalistic Style: Language and Techniques

Business and technology journalistic writing make the reader familiar with unknown concepts and happenings. They achieve it by presenting the information that is relevant to the readers in a creative way. This involves a lot of analyzing and synthesizing of information on the part of the writer. The writer must keep the following techniques in mind:

  • Factual: The writer must try to give as much factual information as possible. The 5Ws (What, When, Where, Why, Who) and 1H (How) help in achieving this.
  • Rational: Readers are always on the lookout for evaluative judgment, which can be found only in rational approaches.
  • Specific: The writer must give specific details with examples, wherever possible. People like reading about others: so, quotes, success stories and testimonials can be included. In some cases, experimental evidence can be provided in support of the statements.
  • Technical: Uninformed readers find the usage of technical jargon to be very tedious. In case jargons are used, they should be relevant to the context and easily identifiable. The writer should present the information by acting as someone who knows the inside story of the industry as if he is someone who is experiencing the same as others. That will help the readers to identify with the topic.

PARAGRAPHING

Paragraphing helps in dividing the material into separate interlinked units, which the readers readily cope with and assimilate into their understanding. The main aim of paragraphs and sections is to divide and prioritise the information into meaningful chunks. This, in turn, helps to highlight the points and issues, encouraging a sense of sequence and development. Therefore, for researcher/writer, paragraphing offers a powerful tool for articulating and critiquing their ideas. While, for a communicator, it helps in keeping their reader focused on the topic and line of logic.

Magazine article paragraphs are usually short, comprising two or three sentences only. Even one-sentence paragraphs are acceptable in articles, as long as they do not run in succession. Like short sentences, short paragraphs have a more intense effect than the longer ones as they concentrate meaning into a few words, which stand out from the rest of the text. For this reason, one-sentence paragraphs in magazine articles are often placed at strategic places to provide a striking effect.

In most cases, magazines are read in leisure time. Writers, therefore, realise that readers will not likely invest their time and attention required to absorb a complex document. Accordingly, the writer presents the information succinctly and directly without elaboration and in-depth analysis. Besides, the tone should have a conversational impact rather than conceptual density. Moreover, magazine articles also compete for attention. As opposed to a formally commissioned report, which assumes that the reader has a vested interest in reading it closely, a magazine article often needs to capture the reader’s attention. In this situation, having long paragraphs would be daunting, as well as discouraging. Hence, the articles should be preferably short, precise and to the point.

Business and Technology Journalism

Types of Articles

Feature Articles

Features are an elaboration of topics that were published in newspapers, magazines, blogs, websites, newsletters, television broadcasts and other mass media. They focus on particular people, places and events. They cover topics the in-depth, explaining the most interesting and important elements of an event. Feature writers have the freedom and time to fill in details of the circumstances and atmosphere.

News Stories

News stories focus on local, regional, national, and international events of importance. For describing the facts, they follow the 5Ws and 1H approach. They should be unbiased and accurate. New articles should contain pertinent information arranged in an inverted pyramid style. To apply the concept to news, the most important details are considered as the widest layer of the pyramid, its base. The least important details are placed at the top. People just skim through the news, so the most important facts and details should be placed at the beginning.

Editorials

Editorials are opinion articles. They comment on a certain issue, topic, subject matter or news event. They build on an argument and try to sway the readers to think the same way as they do. Editorials are meant to influence public opinion and sometimes cause people to take action on a particular issue.

Opinions

Opinion articles provide a personal, often speculative, viewpoint or hypothesis on a topic of current interest. They may be regarding recent publications or discuss any current hot issues from the author’s point of view.

Reviews

Review articles are critical reviews of a topical and significant area of research. They should aim to provide an in-depth discussion of the current progress and problems, and should not consist of an account of every paper on that topic. They do not contain any original research. They aim to compare their analysis with others in the same field, showing its advantages and disadvantages.

Interviews

These articles are in a questionnaire form. They focus on the contribution of an individual to a particular topic.

Transitional Words, Phrases and Sentences

Transitional words, phrases and sentences regulate the flow of paragraphs and sections. Besides, transitional sentences, as well as, in longer documents, transitional paragraphs can be used between one section and another.

Two common forms of transition are described below.

1)  Using a short sentence to state briefly your intended meaning in the next paragraph. For example, you might say, So far we have been discussing unemployment. Now we consider inflation. This could occur at the end of one paragraph or at the beginning of the next, depending on the paragraphs length and its desired effect. However, the new paragraph would begin more intensely, if its topic had already been introduced in the previous paragraph.

2)  Repeating a keyword or phrase, in order to echo the point made in a previous paragraph. In fact, synonyms can also be used for this purpose. For example, observe the following extract, from an article on evolution, for how this technique has been used. Besides, I have italicized the transitional sentences and the cohesive devices in the following paragraph:

Understanding the shape of the tree of life and the details of its branches are more than a quaint sideline of biology, even though the science of this quest, known as systematic, has come to be regarded by many biologists as dowdy and old fashioned, little more than stamp collecting. But, such an understanding is probably the best foundation for a larger appreciation of life, including evolution, ecology and behaviour. As Colin Patterson, a palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum of London, said: To retrieve the history of life, to reconstruct the evolutionary tree, is still the aim of evolutionary biology. Getting it right is therefore important.

COHESION

Cohesion words or phrases define the association between one sentence and the next. These words or phrases link a sentence with its pervious or next sentence, thus, helping readers to relate the sentences and the authors intended meaning. The writer can use but, however, in spite of, or some other similar linking word or phrase; however, one should take care of correct grammatical structure.

Let us take the examples of some cohesion words and the relationship they express.

  • Enumerative cohesion words/phrases introduces the order in which points will be made. Examples: first, second; one, two; a, b; next, then, subsequently, finally, in the end
  • Additive words reinforce or confirm what was said. Examples: again, then again, also, moreover, furthermore, in addition, what is more

These words also highlight similarity. Examples: equally, likewise, similarly, correspondingly, in the same way

  • Explanatory words introduce examples. Examples: for example, for instance
  • Illustrative words note alternatives. Examples: alternatively, or again, or rather, but then, on the other hand

Other cohesion words include synonyms, referential pronouns, parallel structure, etc.

Synonyms:

These are words with closely related meanings and help in addressing excessive repetition. If you used approach in one sentence and want to repeat the same idea, then you can use its synonym method in the next sentence. Similarly, for skill, you can use ability, and so no.

However, one should make sure not to overuse them as its excessive usage can make your document confusing and unclear.

Referential pronouns:

If two sentences begin with the same subject, then you can use a personal or referential pronoun in the second sentence instead of the word itself (I, he, she, it, we, they, this, that, these). However, if the use of a pronoun makes the sentence confusing, then you should repeat the noun.

Parallel structures:

Parallelism refers to similar grammatical structures of headings and sentences used within a paragraph, and it adds clarity to your paragraph.

Not parallel: These books are not primarily for reading, but they are used for reference.

Parallel: These books are not primarily for reading but for reference.

Not parallel: Not only is he conscientious worker, but also he is very competent.

Parallel: Not only is he conscientious but also competent.

Parallelism is also important in instructions.

A. Setting up the printer, maintenance, and what to do if something goes wrong are easy with ABC’s step-by-step user guide.

B. Setting up the printer, maintaining it and troubleshooting are easy with ABC’s step-by-step user guide.

Sentences and Style

Tips for Choosing Style

Include Variety

“Sentence variety is a means by which the writer helps the reader to understand which ideas are most important, which ideas support or explain other ideas, etc. Variety of sentence structures is also a part of style and voice.” (Douglas E. Grudzina and Mary C. Beardsley)

Adding variety to sentences gives it life and rhythm. Sentences with the same structure and length become boring for readers. Varying sentence style and structure also reduces repetition and adds emphasis wherever necessary. Long sentences are useful when incorporating large amount of information; short sentences help in maximizing the essential points. To enliven the paragraphs, the sentences should be of varying lengths. This also helps in creating effective emphasis. If many sentences start with the same word (The, It, This, or I), it becomes tedious for readers. Therefore, changing the opening words and phrases can be refreshing. Different beginnings help alter not only the structure but also the emphasis of the sentence. Also, one change often leads another, thus creating an abundance of sentence variety.

Use Subordination Carefully

Subordination is a grammatical strategy, which combines two ideas of a sentence, one being more important than the other. The less important idea is subordinate to the more important idea. The data chosen for subordination depends upon the meaning you want to deliver. The main idea should be expressed in an independent clause, and subordinate ideas should be expressed in subordinate clauses. Subordination enhances the writing style.

Ex:      As the sky turned dark gray, the wind died down. [Focus is on wind].

As the wind died down, the sky turned dark gray. [Focus is on sky].

When, Whenever, After, Until, Before, After, Where, Wherever, Because, Since, So that, If, Unless, If only, Although, and Even though are all effective subordinators.

Proper Use of First and Second Person Pronouns

Usage of first (I, my, me, mine, we, us, our, ours) and second (You, your, yours) person pronouns is important in establishing a link between the writer and the reader. Unless giving an opinion, one should generally write in Third person. Try to keep first and second person pronouns such as “I”, “We”, and “You” out of your writing as much as possible.

CONCISENESS

In professional writing, being direct is important, because in many cases, ‘time is money’, and readers want to know if a document answers their question or addresses their need without having to analyse it in detail. Some writers believe that by including as many details as possible and repeating information, they become clearer. However, by trying to ‘drill in’ information, they may draw attention away from the main message and confuse the reader instead. In fact, by stating the point clearly and directly at strategic points in a document, one has a better chance of getting their intended meaning across.

One can make their writing concise by avoiding long, crowded and wordy sentences, especially if they are in succession. If you write one or two long sentences, make sure the next sentence is short to break the density. Besides, following the below mentioned tips will help for a clear and concise writing.

1. Favour the active voice where possible. Passive sentences are wordier, and can be confusing if they do not reveal the agent of an action.

Wordy: The project was finished by the workers before the deadline was reached.

Revised: The workers finished the project before the deadline.

2. Avoid ‘there is/are’ at the beginning of sentences. In many cases, we overuse these words, even when they are unnecessary.

Wordy: There are several conclusions that we can draw from these results.

Revised: We can draw several conclusions from these results.

3. Use modals (may, might, could, should, must) where possible. Some believe that modals are informal; however, this is not true. Modals, in fact, modify verbs and have a clear place in language.

Wordy: It is possible that the product will be funded.

Revised: The product may be funded.

4. Use verbs instead of nouns where possible. Besides making sentences concise, verbs are action oriented, and give the writing a more direct tone.

Wordy: A tool box is not a requirement for this procedure.

Revised: This procedure does not require a tool box.

5. Avoid weak verbs. Some verbs, instead of signalling action, depend on a noun to support them. In many cases, such verbs can be replaced by other verbs, which do not require a noun, such as ‘take’, ‘make’, ‘do’, ‘give’, etc.

Wordy: This investigation serves to show the findings of the experiment.

Revised: This investigation shows the findings of the experiment.

6. Use punctuation strategically. If your paragraph is getting cluttered with too many words or long sentences, it is often possible to use punctuation to cut down on words.

Wordy: There are many reasons for climatic change, which include toxic pollution, deforestation and volcanic activity.

Revised: There are many reasons for climatic change: toxic pollution, deforestation and volcanic activity.

7. Avoid wordy clichés. Some phrases are so commonly used in spoken English that they have become almost unconscious. Writing, nevertheless, gives the opportunity to become more conscious of how language is used, and thus allows for the elimination of repetitive material. Here is a list of such clichés.

Common Wordy Clichés

Wordy Concise
a majority of many (or number)
a number of some (or number)
subsequent to after
due to the fact that because
have the capability/ability to can
in the event that if
so as to, in order to to
with regard to about
give a summary of summarize
make an assumption about assume
come to the conclusion that conclude
take action act
make a decision decide
make a proposal about propose
end result result
cancel out cancel
enter into enter
completely eliminate eliminate
at this point in time now
there can be little doubt definitely, certainly
in the absence of without
higher in comparison with higher than

Summarizing

Summarizing can be defined as presenting the substance of a given work briefly. A summary should convey the key points of the work, and at the same time, should be significantly shorter than the original. It helps to understand what the paper is all about as it is a shorter version of the detailed original.

It not only neatly ties together all the previous information included in the paper, but also calls for some sort of action. It gives reasons why the reader should do/believe something and motivates them to actually do it.

Purposes of Summarizing

It helps to understand the main points and structure of an authors argument.

A summarized document is easier to file than a long one.

It presents the background information quickly.

Writing Summaries

An effective summary should combine the available information into concise, coherent sentences/paragraphs. If the sentences are not properly formed, the summary will not make sense and the flow of information will be affected. The sentences should be framed in such a manner that the separate facts and ideas fit together to convey the core meaning. It involves deleting irrelevant material and highlighting key points. Three techniques selection and deletion, note taking, and miniaturizing help in summarizing the material.

Things to Remember While Writing a Summary

Read the original text that has to be summarized at least twice or more till you are sure that you understand it.

Highlight the main context.

Identify and mark parts of the text that support the main idea.

For longer papers, you can include the main points from the key sections, such as, introduction, scope of study, methods section, results section, and discussion/conclusion.

Rephrase the points in your own words, but ensure that the purpose and message of the original is retained. This will help to avoid plagiarizing

Your summary should be about 10-25% of the original length.

Crosscheck to ensure accuracy and correctness.

If you are including some other writer’s information, place it within quotes and mention the name of the author(s) or source of the summarized material. Mention how the summarized material is relevant to your own argument.

PLAGIARISM AND HOW TO AVOID IT

The general context

Plagiarism means copying or in some way reproducing someone else’s work without giving them credit or acknowledgement. In many ways, it is a form of stealing consistent with the etymological root of ‘plagiarism’, which in Latin means ‘kidnapping’. Using another’s work without permission and/or credit signals one of three different situations: copyright breach, plagiarism or invasion of privacy (Branscum, 1991; Howard, 2003; Leval, 1990).

Copyright is a legal issue. If you use without permission work that has been published in a tangible medium or patented, you breach copyright and are liable to lawsuits. However, copyright expires after a certain amount of time, when the work becomes part of the public domain. Copyright law was designed to protect the rights of producers of literary and artistic artifacts. However, public access to such artifacts also needed legal protection, so the doctrine of fair use was created as an amendment to copyright law. Fair use entails using a part of a work for purposes that benefit the public good, such as for education. According to fair use, you may use another’s work without permission if:

  • You are using only a fraction and not the complete item.
  • You give credit to the original source.
  • The item has been published and is, therefore, not private.
  • The purpose is educational.
  • Your use of the material will not affect the market value of the original.

Government documents are considered public property and are not copyrighted. This does not mean to say, that you can copy material from them without citing the source. Or else, this would be plagiarism. If you reproduce a work or part of a work without acknowledging the original creator, and present it as being your own, you are plagiarizing, even in cases where the work is not copyrighted.

Copyright protects only the tangible expression of an idea, not the idea itself. Plagiarism regulations cover the unacknowledged reproduction of the idea itself. Individual scholars produce and publish ideas for their livelihood, and any unacknowledged use of their hard work is both injury and insult. These accounts for the heavy penalties universities impose on students convicted of plagiarism; although legal sanctions do not apply in such cases, the ethical violation carries an equally serious consequence, exclusion (temporary or permanent) from the community.

Plagiarism can be avoided by:

  • Summarizing – expressing in your own words the gist of a document, and citing the source.
  • Paraphrasing – expressing in your own words the gist of a part of an idea, and citing the source.
  • Quoting – copying the exact words of a section of the original document, putting them in quotation marks to set them off from your own words, and citing the source.

All ideas that you take from other texts need referencing. The only exception is common knowledge. Common knowledge consists of propositions and statements that did not originate with the writer, but that are accepted facts in the wider community. Examples include such propositions as ‘Berlin is the capital of Germany’, ‘The Earth is a planet’ and ‘Three plus two equals five’. This, however, is not always so straightforward because knowledge, in many cases, is dependent on the community in which it is used. When using another’s work you may also be invading their privacy, a legally sanctioned offence. This generally occurs when you publicize information that the originator kept personal or private. If you publish your roommate’s journal on the Internet, for example, you are infringing on their privacy. If you publish the journal and present it as your own, you are also plagiarizing.

The professional context

As the last example shows, the professional world presents a challenge to conventions regarding plagiarism. Instances exist in business and industry where presenting another’s work as your own is an accepted practice. Examples include boilerplate text and public relations documents. Boilerplate is standardized text that can be reproduced verbatim, or with minor alterations, for different audiences and documents. For instance, letters sent to clients to inform them of company developments or changes work on the boilerplate model, all recipients get basically the same letter, with only the opening address differing. In such cases, the individual whose name appears on the document is not the same as the one who wrote a section of the document.

Public relations documents are also often anonymous, attributed to anyone who may be a PR officer at a particular time, or written by someone other than the one whose name appears on the document. For instance, corporate websites and promotional material, such as brochures, often contain segments written by different individuals, and they can be updated by rewriting some sections, reorganizing information by cutting and pasting from different sections, etc.  all without acknowledging the original source. Furthermore, speeches and articles of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs), and other senior personnel, are more often than not written by the company’s professional writers, but presented as the CEO’s own words. The original writer in these cases has nothing to show but financial remuneration and secret pride. These cases are more variants than aberrations of the plagiarism conventions discussed in the previous section. In the corporate world, the company takes precedent over the individual in matters of production. In many cases, new staffs are asked to sign agreements stating that their work belongs to the company; producing material that the company can use is part of their job description. This is publicly known and acknowledged as business convention; therefore the CEO who puts his name on an article written by his writers is not morally or legally reprehensible. In such instances, the corporation is seen as a body, and acting as an individual. Stepping outside the boundaries of a company, however, would transgress this convention. If a writer of X company, for example, used material that a writer of Y company wrote, he/she would no doubt be plagiarizing. Other documents, especially those that involve major finalisable projects, follow rules akin to those of academic contexts. For example, proposals to management for funding and/or approval of a project always include writers’ names, and so do reports describing the results of an investigation. Also, in such reports, the writers are expected to cite their sources of information, and to quote, summarize and paraphrase as appropriate. Besides giving credit where it is due, citing sources, in both professional and academic contexts, enhances a writer’s accountability as well.