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types of writing

Writing a Magazine Article

Lisa L., Writing Center Tutor

Please keep in mind that these are only general guidelines; always defer to your professor's specifications for a given assignment. If you have any questions about the content represented here, please contact the Writing Centers so that we can address them for you.


Many of the journalistic standards and processes used in news writing apply to magazine writing. Both should use storytelling formats that draw readers in and take them on a journey into the lives of people, present newsworthy topics and issues, and reveal interesting or unique places. Where the two diverge is often in their story structure formats.

News stories rely on brevity to inform the reader by answering key questions: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? Inverted pyramid styles—where the most important information exists at the top of the piece via the lead/lede or delayed lede and a layering of facts—tend to be the structural foundation of these shorter stories featured on a website or in a newspaper. But magazine articles lean on the longer, yet concise side, provide context through various structural devices, and conclude with ideas to reflect on or a reflection.


Content and Format

Peter Jacobi, professor emeritus at Indiana University, has a book that provides a “formula” for constructing the magazine story. He believes writers should be passionate about their subjects, and bring them alive through vivid writing. Even the facts of a public hearing can be enhanced through good storytelling.

In fact, Jacobi revels in finding stories in unexpected places. In his article, “There’s no shortage of editorial ideas,” he writes that “Ideas are anywhere, everywhere.” He says they can come from:

  • Neighbors, news and nuts.
  • Publicity releases.
  • Eccentrics—such as the president of the American Society for the Conservation of Gravity.
  • People watching people.
  • Celebrations and commemorations.
  • Words of wisdom.
  • Areas of interest and expertise (food, fashion, travel, technology, parenting).

Lastly, he says, read, observe, listen and be open to the power of suggestion.

Special note: If you are interested in submitting to a particular journal or magazine, study each issue carefully to determine its editorial stance and the types of articles it prints. This will help guide you and maybe even spark a few story ideas, too.  

Jacobi goes on to explain how to organize these ideas in his book, The Magazine Article: How to think it, plan it, write it. Jacobi argues that the following formula will help writers to construct and even test their piece’s strength:

E/A + I + I² + I = S

  • “I” is for Information. Passing on information to the reader should be the focus; however, it is just one component of a magazine article. Jacobi says that in news stories, the facts remain at the core. But more layering occurs in magazine pieces. 
  • “E” stands for Entertainment, which Jacobi argues is vital, particularly when presenting information packed with facts. Effective use of language should cause the reader to be engaged by the content. The “A” is for Artistry, which means knowing how to handle the subject matter so it stands out and remains memorable. Careful blending of the two is a part of the craft of writing. 
  • “I²” is for Intelligence in two ways. One: Use language that is familiar to the reader and makes sense. Two: Provide information that allows the reader to seem like an insider and that you, as the writer, let them in on a secret by writing an enriching story.
  • “I” is for Insight. Through your writing, you must help readers to understand why they should be reading the story. Jacobi says: “Don’t simply imply; come right out and say it.”

Another magazine format featured in Melvin Mencher’s News Reporting and Writing, can also help to guide the writer. It comes from journalist Art Carey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

  • Start with a scene setter that introduces a particular situation or, in a profile or feature, set the protagonist in a colorful situation that embodies him/her.
  • Create a “‘nut’ section or ‘hoohah’ that states the premise of the story, outlines the major points, and sells the story by tempting readers with some of the most engaging quotes, tidbits of information and previews of coming attractions.” Here is where you tell the reader why the story is important and why they should care about reading it. Infuse it with enough “fanfare” to keep them reading for 20 minutes.
  • Include a background section to help explain how the main character evolved into the person they presently are or how a particular situation or controversy developed.
  • Pump the piece with several sections of details in a chronological or orderly progression. Include this information prominently and up high in the piece.
  • End the magazine article with a “kicker” section that includes a “dramatic wallop” that  “wraps everything up in a neat bow.” Leave the reader with some insight, a reflection, or an element or idea to ponder. 

Other structures to consider for organizing information in a magazine story include chronological, compare and contrast, lists and Q&A.

While formulas and structures are good to follow, Pultizer Prize winning journalist Jon Franklin cautions against being mesmerized by them, for adhering to them does not make you a good writer. In his book, Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, he says: “To become a writer of nonfiction short stories, and later more complex works, you must learn the key implications of the formula. "A story, any story, involves a special relationship between character, situation, and action. If all parts are not present, and if their necessary relationships are not in order, then the story, like the human, cannot live."

Additional Resources

Kramer, Mark and Wendy Call, eds. Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. New York: Penguin Group, 2007. Print.
This edited compilation engages writers in every aspect of the writing process from interviewing to researching topics to story structure. Contributors include Nora Ephron, Tom Wolfe, and Debra Dickerson.

Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Nieman Storyboard. 2010. Web. 26 May 2011.
Numerous contributors such as Gay Talese, Laurie Hertzel, and Roy Peter Clark offer advice on new journalism, crafting scenes and the line between fact and fiction.

Poynter. The Poynter Institute. 2011. 26 May 2011.
This is an invaluable resource that provides the most up-to-date information about news-gathering and storytelling.

Tenore, Mallary Jean. “William Zinsser’s 5 tips for becoming a better writer.”, 5 Jan. 2011. Web. 28 April 2011.
Zinsser offers his wisdom on how to become a better writer. His first piece of advice: “Learn to take people on a journey” by omitting needless words and abstractions that could obstruct telling a good story.  

Zinsser, William. On Writing Well.
New York: Harpers Paperback. 2006. Print.
Zinsser informs readers about the tenets of strong creative nonfiction. He breaks the book’s contents into four parts, which include areas under the following: principle (style, clutter, and simplicity); methods (unity, bits and pieces, and lead and the ending); forms (writing about people, memoirs, humor); and attitudes (sound of your voice, enjoyment, fear and confidence).

Sources Consulted

Franklin, Jon. Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction, New York: Plume, 1986. Print.

Jacobi, Peter P. The Magazine Article: How to think it, plan it, write it. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1991. Print.

Jacobi, Peter P. “There’s no shortage of editorial ideas.” Folio: The Magazine for Magazine Management. May 1985. Web. 28 May 2011.

Mencher, Melvin. News Reporting and Writing. 10th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2006. Print.



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