If you’re training up an intrepid team of journalists, you’re likely to find that many of your first-time students and volunteers will struggle with how to write an article for the yearbook. That’s normal (even after a crash course in journalism). To solve that, get your team thinking about the three essential elements to any yearbook article: leads, transitions, and quotes.
Taken together, these elements can pull any writer out of a rut. And, better yet, they’ll make every article better. Let’s discuss each, shall we?
Leads: First Impressions Matter
We’ll start our discussion at the beginning, because, well, that’s where every article starts, right?
The first sentence (or couple of sentences) in a yearbook article are the most important. It’s where a reader gets the essence of the story being told and it’s where the writer is given the opportunity to hook a reader and persuade him or her to read more.
(No pressure or anything.)
This portion of an article has a name. It’s called the lead (or, in more traditional journalism, the “lede”). Without it, a story can’t begin. And without a good one, a reader won’t bother to continue reading.
There are a lot of rules about what makes a good lead. Here’s a few of them: they’re short, they’re filled with action (and, sometimes, conflict), and they’re focused on giving the reader the most important details.
Mostly, though, you’ll know a good one when you see one.
Take a look at these two:
A healthy 17-year-old heart pumped the gift of life through 34-year-old Bruce Murray Friday, following a four-hour transplant operation that doctors said went without a hitch.
From Dan Ralescu’s sun-warmed beach chair in Thailand, the Indian Ocean began to look, oddly, not so much like waves but bread dough.
Though the first gets to the heart (pardon the pun) of the story immediately, the second takes an anecdotal approach. Both, though, do a great job of grabbing your interest. And that’s the point of a lead.
Transitions: Connecting To a Larger Picture
A lead, often, will be a nugget of information or a glimpse into a larger story.
Without some help, getting that anecdote or mini-story to mean something more can be tough. That’s where transitions come in. A transition links a specific aspect of your yearbook article to a larger context. It can also help with moving you from one distinct thought to another without feeling jarring.
In a sense, a transition is a bridge, moving a reader from one part of your article to another without a huge jump. They’re most powerful when they relate to what the writer has just discussed, while also being clear about the next subject matter.
If we continue with our examples, you’ll notice how this happens in two different ways.
(Note: If you’re reading the linked articles, we’ve skipped a few sentences in the first story to get to this example.)
Within a few days, Murray should be able to sit up in bed and, within a week, pedal a stationary bicycle. Murray is the first Syracuse resident to receive a heart transplant.
The devastating tsunami that struck Southeast Asia Dec. 26 killed people from dozens of countries. It also has touched the lives of many tri-state residents who had relatives in the region, some of whom were killed. Ralescu lived through it.
Notice how both connect the specific worlds of Bruce Murray and Dan Ralescu to a larger context?
A reader instantly understands more about the articles as a whole (and what the initial stories represent) while also giving the writer an avenue to relay information that would otherwise feel completely irrelevant.
Quotes: Adding Color to the Context
If leads and transitions are designed to tell a story and connect it to a larger picture, quotes are there to add color.
Because they’re so good at doing that, though, young journalists and well-meaning volunteers can get quote-happy. Don’t let that happen. Too many quotes can lessen the impact of one truly good one. And a good one has a lot to offer, like a unique perspective on an event, a glimpse into someone’s personality, or an injection of emotion.
A good rule for quotes, then, is this: Include it only if it adds to the story.
Again, back to our examples:
The new heart, beating slowly at first, gradually took over the task of pumping blood through Murray’s body. And by 5:25 a.m., Dr. Eric Rose emerged from the 19th-floor operating room and proclaimed the procedure a success.
“It went beautifully,” said Rose, who wore a heart-shaped pin bearing the inscription, “surgeon.” At 33, Rose is said to be the youngest transplant surgeon in the world. “It was routine, nothing unusual. I do it every day, just as you hold that pad in your hand,” he told a reporter.
Moments later amid the chaos, screams and floating debris, Ralescu, a cellist with the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and mathematics professor at the University of Cincinnati, began to understand why.
At one point, “I swallowed water,” he recalled Friday. “I thought, OK, this is my end.”
In the first, we get a picture of the man who plays a key role in our story: he’s understated and he’s confident. In the second, we get put into someone else’s shoes altogether: What happened and what he was feeling.
In both cases, the quotes help bring a reader closer to the article’s subjects.
How to Write An Article With Leads, Transitions, and Quotes
When your journalists sit down to write their articles, they’ll need to have their notes and background information at the ready. That information serves as the backbone of any good article, and it’s often where the best stories are found.
Here are some quick tips to turning those good foundations into great yearbook articles:
- Find a main character. Every good story has a protagonist. And though that type of main character is reserved for works of fiction, we can’t help but stress how important it is to find one in reporting, too. Having a person at the center of your story makes everything more interesting. Period.
- Focus on the details. “Get the name of the dog.” Talk to an old journalist about gathering facts and he or she will tell you to do just that. No detail is too small—even the name of the dog—because that’s the type of information that makes a story shine. (By the way, this is a great time to go read those example leads again. Notice the focus on detail?)
- Always answer your reader’s questions. Because reporters are deep into stories, it can be easy for them to get lost on why the article is being written. So, have your journalists think like a reader. When editing, ask “why” and “how” and “when” (and the rest of the W’s, too.) Answering these questions throughout the article will keep your reader interested in learning more.
Learning how to write an article can a daunting task for any new yearbook journalist, but using these tips and pairing them with the essential elements will save them a whole bunch of frustration. Spend some time discussing each, and show them examples, too. We bet they’ll pick it up in no time.