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Ace the Structure of a Story

Everyone loves a good story, and no one likes waffle (unless of course it’s a homemade Belgian one covered in chocolate sauce and cream). If your writing doesn’t grab a reader’s attention right away, they’re gone.

As former journalists and seasoned feature writers, it’s easy for us to structure an article or blog post. It comes naturally, as we do it every day.

We have clients who like to write their own blogs, and many say they struggle with nailing the structure of their text. They doubt themselves, and say it takes them ages.

Knowing that a Google-friendly blog post needs to be relevant, easy to read, and have around 1500 words, we see why it can be a challenge for aspiring writers to get it right. That’s why we’d like to share these tips and examples, as it will hopefully help you write a banging blog or article.

  1. The Basics  

Back in Journalism school, the first thing we learned about reporting is the 5W + 1H. Always answer the Who, What, Why, Where, When, and How.

That’s the way to write a news report, but you must also answer those questions in a feature story or blog post. You just have more space to do it, and the lead-in is a little different.

Features are more in-depth than straightforward news stories, and they should grab the reader’s attention instantly. Both features and blogs are aimed to inform, entertain, persuade, or satisfy the reader’s curiosity about a topic. That’s why you should treat your blog post like a feature story, and don’t be afraid to put a bit of character or your personal views into it.

Most importantly, make sure to focus on providing information. Don’t use your blog for outright self-promotion.

2. The Headline

Every story needs a great title/headline, but there’s no need to write it first. I normally don’t even think about a headline until the story is done, just before the final edit. It’s one of the trickiest things in writing as it must be short, strong, to the point and persuasive.

This is your first impression. Just take your time on this one. Play around with it. You’ll know when you got it right.

A great headline:

  • Instantly grabs the attention of the reader
  • Highlights the key content of the story
  • Includes the important keywords/benefits

The use of headlines and sub-headers are different for print and online. For magazines and newspapers, and press releases to pitch to the media, headlines are usually short and catchy.

For blogs, it’s the keywords that are especially important. It’s SEO gold. People use search engines all the time, looking for how-to, when-to, and where to content. When done well, your headline becomes a traffic magnet. Some examples:

List-style posts:

10 Lessons learned from traveling alone
8 reasons why shopping sales is a bad idea
12 tips and tricks for becoming a great writer

Educational posts:

How to crumb chicken without the mess
The ultimate guide to HR Compliance
How to get rid of clutter fast   

Sometimes, as shown here on Bored Panda, newspapers get it terribly wrong.

Here’s a confession… I once wrote big shit in a headline.

It was a story about a ship, thankfully digital, and I spotted it before setting it live.

3. Your intro

The way you start off sets the tone for the whole story. Your introduction can be emotive or a little unusual, as that will grab your reader’s attention. It should give some background information, and the words should intensify to keep the reader interested.

News intro example:

The rain keeps falling and emergency services are on standby in Napieras hundreds of homes are damaged and at least 19 uninhabitable after Monday’s deluge.

The city remains under a state of emergency after record-breaking amount of rain dumped over the city on Monday.

Residents in some low-lying suburbs remain trapped in their houses and a number of cars are still stranded in the middle of roads that have become lakes.

Source: NZ Herald

Feature intro example:

When Johnathan Hetaraka was growing up his life didn’t have many horizons. Prospected by a gang when he was barely out of single digits, he was given his colours soon after.

By the time he was in his teens he was a self-confessed, “hard out criminal” with his only dream, a full gang patch. He only knew a street culture, a gang culture, and nothing of his own Maori culture or whakapapa.

Despite living in the Bay, surrounded by water, he had never been fishing.

There was no one to take him. Those entrusted to look after him were wrapped up in their own problems, their own issues and addictions.

He made his own way, and it was a way headed for a life of crime and punishment.

When sent to a local six-week programme for at-risk youth, he just did it because he had to, with his sights still set on getting patched up, joining the brotherhood, the gang.

But all that changed.

Written by the amazing Annemarie Quill – Source: Newstalk ZB

4. Creating the body text

This is where you get into detail and add the facts, statistics, and other research findings. You can include quotes from people you’ve interviewed and/or your own opinion. Make sure it’s well-researched and well-written to keep your reader’s attention.

Don’t lose sight of your angle, as that’s what you focus your article on from start to finish. The story you are writing needs to be new and original. That’s why your angle is important. Trust me, even if your topic has been covered many times before, there’s always something new to share or a different way to say it.

Look at your theme carefully and do the research. Don’t shy away from controversy and look at things from all possible sides. For ease of reading and a bit of a break in the text, use sub-headings and bullet points when listing information.

Consider the questions that may be raised around your topic and try to answer them. Use quotes, references and credits where appropriate.

Don’t forget to add high-quality images and multimedia such as video and graphs to make it more interesting. Unsplash.com is your friend if you’re looking for suitable photos. From architecture to technology, and from interiors to textures and patterns, this awesome platform is filled with amazing images that are free to use for anyone. The images on this pages are found there, too.

5. The conclusion

The end of your story should leave an impression with the reader and have a quick summary of what they’ve just read. Wrap up your scenario, make it powerful, and if you like you can send your reader elsewhere (to related content).

Sometimes a disclaimer is a good idea. This is a way of clarifying what you’re saying, or an opportunity to reiterate that this is your personal opinion. Make sure your readers take away the correct message from your post.

Add a call to action or suggest the next steps, such as Contact us today, Sign up now, Request a Quote, Share your thoughts in the comments below, Let’s Talk…

More about CTAs on Hubspot.com

Some golden nuggets:

  • Don’t overthink it. Write first, edit later. Brain dumps are fine.
  • Keep your audience in mind. Who are you writing this for?
  • Keep your sentences and paragraphs short. Full stops are powerful.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing. Stay relevant and give substance.
  • Make sure there is plenty of visual appeal alongside text.
  • Beautiful words are great but it’s not poetry. Don’t write fluff!

If you’re still stuck, or if you don’t have the time to do it all yourself, remember that Sweet Orange is here to help. We’re a small team of highly experienced copywriters and we don’t charge the earth.

We’re based in beautiful New Zealand, are fun to work with, and we love giving Word Power to people around the world.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it so others can find it, too.

~ by Martine Pierhagen, content creator and founder of Sweet Orange Ltd

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