Writing a good article or blog or longer report is a matter of knowing where you’re going (see prior post), keeping your sentences short and crisp, and keeping to one idea or one point only.
This structure works well:
- The crux
- The context
- Key takeaways
- The last word/ so what?
The crux is quick. It has three parts: the hook (1-2 sentences), the point (1-2 sentences), and the key finding recap.
Open with a hook: The first few sentences should entice the reader to read the full story. They should be concise and lean forward. Say something new (don’t restate the obvious or the well trod news of the day) or counterintuitive or fresh. Or maybe something should have happened but didn’t. Or something big is on the line. Or just get to the point.
No history. No string of statistics. No “anecdote.” Don’t ramble. It doesn’t have to be clever or sexy. Readers are impatient.
If trends continue, we risk losing another generation.
We knew housing vouchers worked—we just didn’t know how well.
Turns out Zoom isn’t as great as it seems for business.
State the point: The second sentence states your main point. It’s called “the nut” in journalism.
Recap the key finding: No need to withhold the main finding. Boil it down and let readers know what you found, and why they should care.
EXAMPLE: [hook] Zoom works for some things but not for sharing business know-how, it turns out. [the nut]:Face-to-face business travel is directly tied to economic growth, according to new research by Harvard’s Growth Lab. [the recap] Without business travel, the researchers find, countries share less know-how and as a result grow and innovate less. If international business travel were to shut down completely, global GDP would shrink by more than 17 percent.
You’ve started with a tight camera shot, now it’s time to pan wide. Back up and set the stage. What’s the context? In the above example about business travel, you might talk about the importance of know-how to innovation versus documented information. Or you might talk about how much business travel happens each year and why it persists even when videoconferencing exists. The point is to tie the context to the main finding. Keep it short.
Now it’s time to outline the three or so main points you want to make. Use bullets if you can. Use short topic sentences before expounding. For topic sentences, use active verbs (no “is” “are” “be” verbs). Action: spur, alter, jumpstart, reduce, cut, … Keep all sentences short and concise. Ideally, the bullets should be a march through the logic of your argument. This + this = that.
The Last Word / So What?
End meaningfully, don’t just peter out. If you’re writing for policymakers, give them the “so what?”—what will it mean to their policies, what will it mean to their constituents? If there are next steps or things we can do to address issues raised, include those. Or end with a call to action generally. This is the last words your readers will read, so make sure they are convinced, impressed, encouraged, moved somehow and ready to pass the word about how good the piece was.