Traditionally, feature articles have been lengthy articles written for magazines that are designed to tell an interesting and informative story about a person, place, event, or institution. Such stories are still written regularly for online magazines and news outlets, and come in all kinds of lengths.
Just as is the case for opinion pieces, there is no one right way to write a feature article. That said, journalism students are taught that features fundamentally include three different things:
Facts, Quotes and Anecdotes
A feature article will be some combination of these three things, intertwining them all in order to create an engaging and interesting story.
To write a feature of your own, you will need to:
- Collect credible facts that are related to your story. These might include statistics, graphs, research studies, or historical evidence and documents.
- Collect quotes from people connected to your story. These might be from interviews you conduct yourself, or quotes from sources you are able to access such as newspaper articles or interviews you can find on YouTube.
- Write anecdotes, either of your own life, or ones that describe the experiences of other people. Anecdotes are short stories about a real incident or person. We tell anecdotes all the time about our lives, recounting moments of humour or interest.
Once you have gathered all of these material, it is then time for you to decide the most engaging order in which to tell the story.
Often, feature articles open with an anecdote. For one example, consider Lindy Alexander’s feature article ‘Rite of passage comes with a high risk for those seeking foreign adventures’. In it, Alexander begins with an anecdote that includes some quotes and she then moves on to some facts.
In the early hours of January 11, Jan Meadows was lying in bed. Just after midnight she had sat up, wide awake. Her husband, woken by her stirring, asked what was wrong. ”I don’t know,” she told him. ”I just can’t sleep.” The time on her mobile phone on the bedside table was 4am.
A few minutes later, Meadows’ phone rang. The flashing screen told her it was an incoming call from her 26-year-old son, Lee Hudswell, who was nearing the end of a two-week trip to Thailand and Laos. Meadows’ mind was racing. ”About 50 things were running through my mind: has he lost his wallet? His passport?” Meadows picked up the phone and asked, ”Lee? What’s wrong?” but it wasn’t her son calling.
It was Scott Donaghy, one of two mates Hudswell was travelling with. ”Jan, it’s not Lee,” he said. ”I don’t know how to tell you this,” he kept saying. Meadows sat up in bed. ”What is it, Scott, what’s wrong?” she asked. ”Lee has passed away,” Donaghy told her.
”When I heard that,” Meadows says, ”I just started screaming.”
Lee was one of the 1138 Australians who died while overseas in 2011-12, with illness the leading cause. Almost 9 million Australians travel internationally in any given year, the number of Australian tourists under 25 having doubled in the past decade. A 2013 report from independent policy think tank, the Lowy Institute, noted activities more likely to cause injury or death, such as adventure travel or extreme sports, are becoming more common.
In the last paragraph here, Alexander moves from anecdote to facts – allowing her to move from the personal to the broader issue that she’s discussing.
Emily Deruy’s feature article ‘Why Boosting Poor Children’s Vocabulary Is Important for Public Health’ is similar in its style:
Airon Pate is bouncing off the walls.
The not-quite-2-year-old is waiting with his mom Dominique and brother Aiden, 4, to be seen at a federally subsidized clinic for low-income women and children here in Macon, Georgia. Sitting still is not in his repertoire of tricks.
Over there to play with a toy. Up on the child-sized table wedged into the corner. Across the room to touch base with mom, chattering the entire time.
The constant babble exhausts Dominique, 25, but thrills the clinic nutritionist charged with implementing a relatively new statewide effort to get parents to talk to their babies. Called simply “Talk With Me Baby,” the program is a multifaceted attempt to fill the massive 30 million-word gap between children from lower- and upper-income families by making sure that babies from all backgrounds hear lots of words.
* * *
Research suggests that poor children hear about 600 words per hour, while affluent children hear 2,000. By age 4, a poor child has a listening vocabulary of about 3,000 words, while a wealthier child wields a 20,000-word listening vocabulary. So it’s no surprise that poor children tend to enter kindergarten already behind their wealthier peers. But it’s not just the poverty that holds them back—it’s the lack of words. In fact, the single-best predictor of a child’s academic success is not parental education or socioeconomic status, but rather the quality and quantity of the words that a baby hears during his or her first three years.
Again here, the writer has begun with an anecdote about one child, but she then moves into a paragraph filled with facts that connects the anecdote with the broader social issue that the writer wants the reader to focus on.
If you haven’t read many feature articles previously, you can read more longform features by visiting the reading list on Opening Class. Familiarising yourself with the style should allow you to develop a clearer sense of the conventions of the genre.