HACKING IT: Feature writing – Mslexia issue 68 (Dec/Jan/Feb 2015/16)

The term ‘feature’ is bandied about in journalism like warm Prosecco on a hen do. A double-page spread in Good Housekeeping about making Christmas decorations using pasta shapes and loom bands is a feature. Equally, a 3000-word Telegraph piece exploring austerity cuts is a feature. One thing most features have in common is that they take their lead from a news story, whether rock hard or marshmallow soft.

However, features are not news stories. To write a feature is to pan out from the essence of a story and explore the surrounding landscape. Your
words should be underpinned by the usual key tenants of good journalism: differentiate between fact and opinion, and be truthful, fair and impartial

 The kernel of a story may be as simple as ‘Christmas is coming’ or as serious as millions of families bobbing below the breadline, but wherever on the soft-to-hard spectrum it lies, the majority of features focus on the most human element of events.

As a feature writer you need to select an angle. It can be tempting to do this on gut instinct, but thorough research is likely to churn up the most compelling take. For example, if you’re writing about the demise of the independent British pub but all the evidence suggests that the independent British pub is alive and kicking in your postcode, that’s your angle. Be prepared to be flexible.

Research and planning are key. Gather as wide a range of quotes as you can, read around and find out what other journalists are saying. Look for untrodden ground and contentious points. Be prepared to follow ideas into dead ends, turn around and begin new pursuit elsewhere.

This extract is from issue 68 (Dec/Jan/Feb 2015/16) of Mslexia. You can read the rest in our current issue.