Ciarán D'Arcy, news reporter for The Irish Times, shares 5 tips for creating an article entry for the Drugs.ie "Let's Talk About Drugs" National Youth Media Awards Competition
Make it interesting- Every good story should be a work of art in its own way, and the basic idea or premise of your article is the blank canvas upon which you create it. Without this, no art can be made.
No amount of great writing can make up for a story without substance. Your central idea is the single most important part of the process, so make it a good one. Consider: Is this something someone other than me will want to read about? Can my audience relate to it? If so, is it relevant to the question being asked? Can I build a comprehensive and well-informed article around it?
Paint a picture- You have your canvas, so now you should try and use it to the best effect possible. Facts and figures are important (which we’ll get to later) but if you don’t draw the reader in from the very start, they are not going to want to finish the article.
There are a number of ways of doing this. You can make the introduction hard-hitting- don’t bury the most interesting line near the bottom, put it at the very top and use it to grab people’s attention. If you’re more artistically-minded and less of a newshound, you might choose to illustrate a compelling scene at the beginning and get down to the nitty-gritty a bit later- paint a picture with your words.
Do your research- Every good story must be supported by reliable data. You and I are solitary people, we live our lives and can speak only from our own experiences. This is fine in its own way, but in order to make what you are writing relevant on a societal rather than just a personal level then facts and figures are needed to back it up, along with references to other people’s learnings and experiences already written about. (And always attributed correctly, of course!)
This doesn’t mean you have to overburden every sentence of your article with clunky numbers. But in order to gain the respect of readers, you must demonstrate a deep understanding of the topic at hand while also imparting important information.
Make it personal- Journalists are usually told to leave the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ at the door when writing their stories. Usually, but not always.
Personal experiences often make for the most compelling reading. If you can show how the subject matter at hand has affected your life personally, or that of the person you choose to write about, you stand a good chance of gaining the trust and admiration of readers. The word has come up a number of times already, and it’s true that good writing is often about relatability- the reader being able to find something in common with their own lives in the article, or being able to empathise with the experiences of the author or person written about.
Correct spelling and grammar- A great story is not necessarily contingent on great grammar, but it certainly helps. Poor grammar and spelling can do an injustice to an enthralling tale by making it look sloppy. With spell-check functions on every word processer these days, there is no reason to include spelling errors in stories. Also, know your ‘where’ from ‘were’, your ‘there’ from ‘their’, and your ‘to’ from ‘too’, along with any other grammatical pitfalls that often blight otherwise fantastic writing.
Finally, try to be concise, and use commas where needed in longer sentences- they serve as the waypoints to ensure readers don’t get lost.
Ciarán has helped the Drugs.ie Media Awards judging panel select the winning article entries for previous competitions.Information about the 2018 competition and examples of previous winning entries can be found at drugs.ie/awards