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Writing Tips for News Stories

Story Length: 150 to 300 words
Stories of 300 words or more should have subheads.

Caption Writing: Captions are the copy underneath a photograph that explains what is going on in the picture. It should also make it clear how that picture relates to the story. Captions should be no more than about 50 words long. Tell what is going on in a picture. Answer all questions that come to mind: Who is that? What are they doing? When and where are they doing it?


First Paragraph

Start your story with the most interesting thing you learned researching your story. Set the stage for your reader. Use details to describe what’s going on, where the story is taking place, what the person is doing, looks like, is saying.

Second and Third Paragraphs

Your second paragraph is one of two things: a nut graph or a quote. A quote usually works best. The quote should build on the information in the first paragraph.

The third graph is a “nut” graph. (Some journalists call it a billboard.) This paragraph tells why this story is important to the reader. It should include the where and when. Here’s an example. (Nut graph in bold)

Jane Student, 11, was recently accepted by Scholastic News to be part of the 2005-2006 Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

“I nearly flipped when I got the acceptance letter,” Jane said. “I have always been interested in politics.”

Jane is one of 15 students chosen by Scholastic to cover news stories over the next year. Scholastic Student Reporters have covered presidential campaigns, sports events, and breaking news stories. Reporters are chosen by Scholastic magazine editors based on the quality of their applications.

The Rest of the Story

The next three to four paragraphs, which will complete your story, fill in other information. These graphs should include at least one more quote, which usually goes at the end. The end quote should sum up the point of the story. In the above example, a quote from one of the Editors would be a good followup to the nut graph.

“Jane’s application stood out because of the quality of her writing and her enthusiasm for the project,” said John D. Editor.

The rest of the story would be about how many were chosen, some examples of who else got the job, and what their first assignments were.

The Kicker
The kicker is the last paragraph of the story. It usually sums up the point of the story. It should also refer back to the first paragraph, which ties everything up nicely for the reader.

In the above example, you could end with a quote from Jane, or information about what Jane will be doing next as a Kid Reporter.


Don’t start a sentence with the person and/or title of a person or agency. Put the action first (what is actually happening), THEN tell who or what is doing it. (As noted in the example above, there is an exception to the rule. In that story, the story is about Jane Student’s appointment. Her name and identifier are short and sweet, so they don’t distract or bore.)

BAD: The head of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., Kenneth Johnson today announced that he will be the first man to walk on Mars.
GOOD: To be the first person to walk on Mars, Kenneth Johnson will have to learn how to live for days in a space suit. As the head of blah, blah, blah, he will have plenty of opportunity.

NEVER start a lead (the first paragraph in your story) with a day, date, or time, especially if that day, date, or time is NOT the current day, date, or time. It makes your story look old.

BAD: On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
GOOD: America’s involvement in World War II began with the sound of airplane engines. When Japanese fighter planes swooped down on unsuspecting Americans in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, U.S. citizens went to war.

Avoid too many conjunctive sentences (sentences tied together with “and”.) Break any long sentences into two or three sentences. BUT also avoid starting sentences with But or And. Anytime you write a sentence starting with But or And, take those words out and see if your sentence doesn’t work just as well. Most times it does. If not, try reworking the sentence.

DO NOT start a sentence with “There are,” “There is,” “There was,” or “There were.” Write all sentences as Subject, Verb, Object sentences. The sentence is sharper; the idea you are trying to convey is clearer. “There” are many vague sentences and most of them start with “There are.”


Write with descriptive Nouns and Verbs. Avoid the “to be” verbs of is, are, was, were.

For example:

Please do not annoy, torment, pester, plague, molest, worry, badger, harry, harass, heckle, persecute, irk, bully, rag, vex, disquiet, grate, beset, bother, tease, nettle, tantalize, or ruffle the animals.

From Strunk and White:

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a week or inaccurate noun out of a tight place … In general … it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color.

-- page 71, Third Edition, The Elements of Style

• ACTIVE voice, not passive. Make sure your sentence has a subject doing the action whenever possible. Subject , Verb, Object.

Jack hit the ball.
Not: The ball was hit by Jack.

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