Writing the Project: Using Story Structure to Shape Your Reporting

By James Neff, Kiplinger Reporting Program
614-292-2607; neff.67@osu.edu


The following is a generic, fits-all story structure that can work for any longer piece. As an exercise, you can force your story into it and then play around with it, making modifications in the sections that don't fit perfectly.

LEAD:

--Inverted or hard news
--Anecdotal

--Extended

If stuck, just fill in the blank after this phrase: "This is a story about...." Fill it in with one or two sentences, as if you were explaining your story to someone on the next barstool.

QUOTE EXPANDER:

An optional piece, but adds nice color or tone, if it works.

NEWS PEG:

Answers the question: "Why am I writing this story now?"

UMBRELLA & FINDINGS:

This is your blanket attribution or summing up of all your records and interviews. Tells the reader why she/he should trust your reporting.

E.g.: "Based on 20 interviews with crime victims and experts, and a review of lawsuits in three states, this reporter found:

(Newsworthy finding)
(Startling finding)
(Interesting finding)

WHY CARE? aka THE NUT GRAF

Tells the reader why this story is important. Why he should read on. Often develops the "outrage element" or "system flaw." Often overlaps with "findings."

BODY:

At this point you need an organizing structure.

--Chronologically (most common)
--By example
--By theme

CIRCLE BACK

In long pieces, it is effective to return to the top of your story somehow, either revisiting the first person or theme and ending with a summing up quote or anecdote.