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:
Lastly, he says, read, observe, listen and be open to the power of suggestion.
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
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.
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."
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.
Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Nieman Storyboard. 2010. Web. 26 May 2011.
Poynter. The Poynter Institute. 2011. 26 May 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 ConsultedFranklin, 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.