Montana Folks: researching and profiling unique Montanans

I’ve been reading Montana Folks, a new book by Durrae and John Johanek. It includes black and white environmental portraits and 1000-word profiles on 59 Montanans. “The authors sought out those people who are uniquely Montanan, so there’s a third-generation sheepshearer from Reedpoint, a retired road worker who’s job it was to clear the snow off the high-altitude Beartooth Highway, a Missoula-based mushroom hunter and, of course, a grizzly bear expert.”

High school students could do this sort of work: interviews and photographs of Montanans. It seems a good way of interpreting and documenting local culture, encouraging young people to seek out and pay attention to people worth seeking out and paying attention to.  I would love to see a collection of such profiles on this website.

We’ll develop a rubric for writing profiles. If you want a presentation to your students on doing such research and writing, done by me or Katherine or both, let us know. If you are interested in having students do this sort of work, it would be a good idea to have a copy of the book in your classroom as an inspiration and model. Let us know if you want us to order you a copy from Amazon.

Here are tips prepared by Katherine on writing a research-based feature article.

The Johaneks themselves could fit one of the profiles of their book. The couple moved to Bozeman 13 years ago from Pennsylvania, although John is originally from Wisconsin—the giant cheese wedge on his TV testifies to that fact.

A magazine design consultant, he is also a collector of children’s books from the early part of the 20th century, many of which he keeps shelved in his living room. He also boasts an impressive collection of all things 3-D—holograms, 3-D movie posters, stereo-viewers, View Masters, even 3-D cereal boxes.

Durrae is an editorial freelancer who has written articles for Bird Watcher’s Digest and Popular Mechanics. The couple collaborated on a previous book, “Montana Behind the Scenes,” a backroads guide to some of the state’s lesser known but still interesting attractions.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 12/19 at 02:12 PM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalinkPrinter-FriendlyE-mail this page
2004 Montana Heritage Project

Writing a feature article

A feature article is a special or prominent article in a newspaper or magazine. The article can be about anything and is usually much lengthier than a regular news story. Feature writing is sometimes more difficult than straight reporting so it helps to have a few useful tips:

Choosing a subject and making contact: Once you’ve decided on a person to interview, call or visit him or her to ask if he or she would consent to the interview. Talk about what you’re trying to accomplish. If this interview, or excerpts from the interview are going to be published, the person should know up front. This prevents confusion sometime later in the process.

Collecting your thoughts: Write down everything you know about your subject and the time period you’ll be focusing on. Write down everything that puzzles or interests you and what you hope to find out. When reviewing this writing, pay particular attention to the questions you’d like answered and angles you’d like to explore.

Gathering details: It helps the interview go more smoothly if you’ve done some research beforehand. If you’re going to interview someone about their wartime experiences, read as much as you can about that war. If you’re going to interview someone about what they were doing or thinking during a particular time period, research the highlights from that era.

Prepare the questions for the interview: A list of questions should be prepared before the interview. There are several question sets that are specific to wartime experiences located online. There will also be questions that you’ve thought about that you’d like answers to. If you’re planning on asking several abstract questions (“what is the secret of life??) as opposed to specific questions (“how old were you when Pearl Harbor was bombed??), it helps the interview go more smoothly to give the interview subject the questions in advance.

Interviewing: Make sure you’re in a quiet place and do what you can to minimize interruptions and background noise (it’s amazing how loud a refrigerator hum or a furnace kicking in can be on tape). The most important thing about interviewing is to relax and pay attention. Sometimes, people that are being interviewed are nervous and tense. The more you can do to put the person at ease, the better the interview will go. And, if you’re obviously paying attention to what the person is saying, he or she will be more apt to talk openly about their experiences.

Transcribing and note-taking: The interview tapes should be transcribed as soon as possible after the interview. While you’re listening to the tapes, jot down some notes about the things you’d like to include in your article or possible follow-up questions.

Writing your first draft: If you were paying attention during the interview, the chances are good the person said something that piqued your interest or produced an emotional response—a gut reaction. Maybe he or she said something that surprised you, made you sad, or made you angry. Whatever it was that stood out for you during the interview would probably be interesting to other people. It might be what you end up writing about. But whatever you write about, write sincerely and honestly. Make sure your article is accurate and fair to everyone involved. Keep your readers interested and entertained. Remember how important your lead and your conclusion are—the lead “hooks? the reader (see below for a note on leads) and the conclusion, which should summarize your article, is generally what stays with the reader. The body of the article, where you hopefully included as many quotes as possible, is where you make your case.

Edit your first draft: When reviewing your first draft, make sure that you stuck with your focus. Do all of your ideas, quotes, and facts support your thesis? As tempting as it is to include a great story or fact, if it doesn’t help you make your case, you should probably take it out.

Editing your second draft: Once you edit your first draft and take out all of the extraneous stuff, read through your article slowly. Does it make sense? Could someone that didn’t know the interview subject or the topic follow it and come to the same conclusion that you did? Did you use the best words you could to express your ideas? Make sure that your sentences, and then your paragraphs, read clearly. Don’t forget to check for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors.

Preparing the final copy: The final copy may be your third or fourth or seventh or eighth draft. Make sure you incorporated all of your edits and then proofread the article before handing it in.

A note on leads: A summary lead is usually for a straight news story. A feature story should begin imaginatively. There are several kinds of leads to “hook? a reader into reading your article:*

• Quick Bursts lead—a series of short, direct statements: “When fire broke out in her home, Mary Rogers rescued her children. After the home was gutted, she rebuilt it herself.?
• Surprise lead—an eye-opening beginning: “All she did was take a break after varnishing the piano. And then the fire started.?
• Contrast lead—an opening with opposites or differences: “It was a big fire and Mary Rogers is a small woman.?
• Figurative lead—an opening figure of speech: “Friends and family always said she was stubborn as a mule. It’s a good thing she is or Mary Rogers would have lost five of her children in a house fire.?
• Allusion lead—an opening reference to literature: “‘When thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.’ Mary Rogers meditated on the words of Isaiah after rescuing her five children from their burning house.?
• Expert lead—an opening quote from an expert. “‘This could have been a disaster,’ said Fire Chief John Doe. “I don’t advocate going into burning buildings but if this little lady hadn’t gone into that inferno to get her children out, we would be lining up body bags right now.’?
• Suspense lead—an open-ended beginning. “A fire started in the living room—and the children were still inside.?
• Question lead—an opening question: “How many of you have the courage to enter an inferno? Would your mind change if your children were inside??

* The list of original leads came from Sebranek, Patrick, et. al. Writers Inc: A Guide to Writing, Thinking, and Learning. Write Source; 1990.
Posted by Katherine Mitchell on 11/19 at 03:52 PM
(1) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalinkPrinter-FriendlyE-mail this page
2004 Montana Heritage Project

How to write a headline for an online article

A headline on a web article is often the only thing the reader reads.  It has to stand on its own, giving the reader the quickest possible summary of what the article contains.

This headline will often appear out of context, in a list of articles on the site, in the hitlist generated by a search engine, or in a list of bookmarks in the user’s browser.  If the headline doesn’t give a clear sense of what the article is about, busy readers will probably not click on it to learn more.

To write a good web headline, try to summarize the key message of your article in a sentence with a subject and a verb, dropping out articles such as “a” and “the” when possible. Boil it down to the kernel message.

Here are some recent headlines from the Heritage Project site:

* Online Magazine ready for postings
* Does Everyone Need to Blog?
* How are Weblogs different?
* More on Web Blog Use
* LOC Veterans History Project Highlights more Stories of Sacrifice
* Heritage Project Helps Family Dealing With Grief

Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 09/29 at 12:08 AM
(0) Comments • (0) TrackbacksPermalinkPrinter-FriendlyE-mail this page
2004 Montana Heritage Project
« First  <  8 9 10