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Guidelines for writing Index articles for news, academics, neighborhood, or sports

So you just left the monthly Index meeting with an article or two placed under your responsibility. What to do? Don’t panic, go through this step-by-step guide as you progress through the stages of writing your article, and you will have a strong article on your hands at the end. Don’t be intimidated: these are only guidelines designed to help you succeed. 

Before Writing

1) Open the Google Doc shared with you by the Editorial Staff. This is where you will be doing your work. 

2) Evaluate what you know about the topic and do some research if it’s more of a mystery to you. See what you can learn from previous Index articles, www.haverford.org, or local or national press. Pose a journalistic question: Why is the administration changing the schedule? Why has x team had five straight wins? Why is someone vandalizing the locker room? Each main question will likely have a few supporting questions (What are the limitations of the current schedule? What’s the new coach’s strategy? What exactly happened in the locker room? These questions will serve as the basis for your interviews.

3) Gather your information. In general 3-4 interviews are recommended for an article. Be sure to vary your sources: students from different forms, teachers, staff members, administration, coaches, managers, captains, benchwarmers, and anyone else who might be of interest. It is recommended that you use a recorder (e.g. from a smartphone), transcribe the most interesting answers, and then pull from them. This ensures that you do not misquote and helps the interview seem more conversational when you’re not taking notes after every response. Try to avoid emailing questions, except as a last resort. Email quotes will read as scripted, not natural.

4) Be sure to have these steps done at least a week before the article’s deadline.

While Writing

5) A normal article should take no more than 1-2 hours of time to write; set some time aside one night when you do not have much work and get it done.

6) If you are late in submitting your article, be sure to keep in contact with Editors-In-Chief and Section Editors and let them know what’s going on.

7) Keep in mind that your article undergoes processing after you submit it — editing and formatting. This process can take a few days or up to a week even with constant diligence, therefore an article submitted merely a week or so before the issue is supposed to be released will potentially not be in the issue. Pay attention to the deadline we give you and stick to it.

8) Take note of the Style Guidelines below

Style & Structure Guidelines

  • 10 pt font, Garamond font.
  • Anywhere you would put a tab, replace it with five spaces.
  • Most articles should be at least 300-500 words. Articles on critical topics are expected to be 500-900+ words. If you are unsure about how long your article should be, contact the Editors-in-Chief.
  • Always use “Fifth Former,” not “V Former,” not “Junior,” not “11th grader.” We respect the nomenclature tied to the school’s history
  • First mention of a student:  “Sixth Former Yan Graf” All ensuing mentions: “Graf”
  • First mention of a teacher [include title appropriate to the article] : “Health and Physical Education Chair Mr. Jeff Potter” or “Economics teacher Dr. Mark Gottlieb” or “JV Tennis Coach Dr. Mark Gottlieb.” All ensuing mentions: “Mr. Potter” or “Dr. Gottlieb.”
  • Single space after periods
  • Try to keep paragraphs short (should appear as maximum five lines each in Word or Docs, and even fewer is better). Break your paragraphs at dramatic moments.
  • Open articles with an attention-getting hook (also called a “narrative lede”) —  a sentence or two that pulls a reader into your article.
  • Follow your hook, with a “nut graf” or “informational lede” that answers the 5qs (who, what, where, when, why). The idea is that if the readers stopped reading after the lede, he would know the basics of what the article offers. Here’s an example of a nut graf:

In a memorable assembly speech designed to re-center the community’s brotherhood after a two-week Winter Break, Student Council President Evan Scott asked each student assembled in Centennial Hall to put his arm around his neighbor. 

  • Quotations should be interwoven with the article, not placed in large blocks at the middle or the end. The key here is to break up quotations interspersed throughout (including the beginning). The basic journalistic style is H-L-Q-T-Q (Hook-Lede-Quote-Transition-Quote) in which you introduce something, have a quote to expand upon it, transition to a supporting or opposing view (or provide data or other information), and insert a quotation about that. If you had four interview quotations, the article would run: H-L-Q-T-Q-T-Q-T-Q. Always use “said” after the name when attributing a quote (i.e. “Go Fords,” Dr. Nagl said.)

After Writing

9) Be aware that due to space constrictions some articles that are not time-sensitive may need to be delayed. If this occurs to one of your articles, you will be given the option to offer it as an online exclusive on thsindex.org or to have it delayed to the next month’s issue.
10) Eagerly await the release of The Index.

Guidelines for writing an Index feature

What is a features article? Features articles are the “beating heart” of a newspaper. Whereas news covers the baseline five Ws and one H of the story, features dives into the detailed literary elements of a story, the human emotions, and human reactions. For example, features articles can document someone’s deep thoughts, someone’s day-in-the-life, the effects of a natural disaster on a member of an indigenous tribe, etc. The possibilities are endless. 

Who would be a good features writer? If you love storytelling and creative writing but also appreciate mundane reporting, features is the perfect section for you. 

What parts make up a features article? Even before the writing starts, you must interview several individuals who are key to your story. For example, if your article is about low attendance at games, it is imperative to interview people like Coach Nostrant, the Fieldhouse Phanatic, and several others.
A features article usually starts off with a longer narrative lede, then the five Ws and one H of a story, just to recap the reader on the news behind the features (this section is optional if there is no background information needed to understand the rest of the article).
After the introduction, start picking at the interesting elements/arguments of the story. For example, if your features article is about low attendance at games, talk about the factors that cause lowering attendance. Features is different from news in that it dives really deep into a few specific things, so make sure to dive really deep into the factors causing lowering attendance.

QUOTES, QUOTES, QUOTES. Make sure you have many quotes from key people by asking an excessive (but not an annoying) amount of questions to those people. These quotes give validity to the interesting elements of your story. For example, if you claim that lowering attendance at games is caused by the school’s shifting more focus to academic teams like robotics, put in quotes from Mr. Nostrant and Ms. Surdel confirming this claim. Remember: if someone you interview says something interesting or makes an interesting point, but you want to make the same point in your words, don’t. Readers are frankly more interesting in hearing your interviewees’ words more than your own.

What writing style do I need for features?
The features section needs good writers. By good writers, I mean people who can write concisely but powerfully. Here are the things you should be able to do:

  1. You need to know how to vary your sentence structure. The human mind gets tired of repetition, so engage your reader with a smattering of all four sentence types.
  2. Know how to use participles, gerunds, and other complex structures to vary sentence structures and put more or less emphasis on pieces of information.
  3. Have free will. Violate the laws of writing for literary power. If you want to make a sentence that has a subject but no predicate to leave your reader in ambiguity and hook the reader, do it.
  4. Seamlessly weave quotes into your story. Never force a quote into your story if putting in the quote brakes the logical train of thought of your writing. Your quotes should always compliment your argument.

How long are features article? Features articles are as long as you want them to be. If you feel you have thoroughly informed the reader on what factors have caused lowering attendance at games in 200 words, so be it. If you think you need to write 3,000 more words to fully convey the thoughts and emotions of a victim of a horrific car accident, write 3,000 more words.

Remember: features article are not good because they meet a word count, they are good because they are concise and powerful. 

But please do not misinterpret concision. Concision means conveying the same point using the least amount of words. For the mathematically minded, think of concision as an optimization problem. You are trying to maximize the quality of your writing by increasing the amount of information written on the least amount of paper. Concision DOES NOT MEAN getting rid of words that truly add value to your writing; otherwise, you are throwing away key information that the reader needs to understand the point you are trying to make.

What are some examples of great features articles? What a great question! I understand that many new writers learn by examples, so here are some great features articles written by Haverford students:

Toby Ma’s Soft Robotics gives a hand to the ceramics program
Joe D’Ignazio’s B.J. Barlow House of Iron: giving the community a lift 
David McKay’s Protest and religion meet at Planned Parenthood

Guidelines for writing an Index opinion

Opinions Pieces

The Index’s purpose is threefold: to inform the Haverford community, to entertain the Haverford community, and to serve as a platform with which students can make their thoughts heard. The Opinions section exists to fulfill the third part of this goal. Haverford students often have no say in school policy decisions, but students can speak to a much larger audience by using The Index as their medium of communication. The Opinions section also showcases student opinion about a variety of contemporary issues. 

Use of First Person – Some opinions pieces can be written with first person, but otherwise refrain from using “I” too much. Use your judgment and talk to the Opinions Section Editor or an Editor-in-Chief if clarification is needed. 

Interviews – Opinions pieces are not supposed to inform in the same sense that news pieces are, but this does not excuse the writer from adhering to the principles of responsible journalism. Conducting interviews and obtaining quotations is necessary for many opinions pieces. If you are writing an opinion about a school policy, it is imperative to first interview the teachers and administrators that created that policy. Once you have established why things are the way they are, then you can form an opinion. 

The Difference between News and Opinions Pieces – News pieces require that all perspectives are represented; Opinions pieces require that all perspectives are represented, analyzed, and then compared to each other until the writer can form a well-supported opinion. 

You must have a clear stance on a subject to write an Opinions piece. Expressing your opinion on an issue that doesn’t matter to you will not be effective. An Opinions piece must have an unambiguous, clear point of view.

How to Structure an Opinions Piece – There is no strict formula for a successful Opinions piece.

However, for those unfamiliar with Opinions writing, one effective method is to first introduce the contentious topic (What are you about to write an opinion on? What recent events make your topic relevant?), then introduce an opposing argument (e.g. “Many teachers have claimed that……”), and finally build a rebuttal to the opposing argument (supported by evidence, of course). 

Off-Campus Opinions Articles

This section of the Index is unlike any other section. It is the only section that deals almost exclusively with off-campus issues. However, it provides a platform for students to argue their political opinions and also serves as the Index’s contribution to a well-educated electorate.  Important note: make a case for why a student should care about the issue. If you can’t make that case, you should leave the topic for another publication.

Use of First Person – Not in most cases. 

Should Off-campus opinion articles include the writer’s opinion? As a monthly publication written by amateur reporters, The Index cannot publish unique journalistic content on current global events. However, every politically aware individual can contribute a unique opinion. This is why all Off-campus opinions pieces are, at their core, opinions pieces. We expect some form of opinion or commentary. The exception would be analysis-type pieces, which are typically shorter in length.

Requirements for Research – Politics articles should be replete with factual information from outside sources that validate the writer’s opinion. Spend a significant amount of time reading about the topic of your article and taking notes before you begin writing. 

Sources – You do not have to provide a bibliography for factual information, but be sure to refer to sources in your article, especially when citing statistics (“According to [source]…”)

Research for some articles may be a daunting task, but research skills can only be learned through practice. It is important for a writer to become facile with compiling evidence to support his argument. 

Structure – The structure for an off-campus opinion article is generally the same as that of an opinions article (see above), but it is important to provide enough background information on the issue being discussed so that the reader understands the basic premise of the article before the writer begins making his case.