How to create great online content – think like a journalist

Think and write like a journalist to produce effective online content that resonates with your readers

When it comes to creating content, storytelling is definitely the way to go. Telling a story that talks to the reader’s hopes, dreams, wants and needs and provides them with information and solutions is a sure-fire way of winning their attention and converting their interest to action. And the trick is to apply the tried and tested writing and storytelling techniques used by journalists the world over. Journalists use a set structure to craft their articles to ensure the relevant information is presented in a logical order. Here are some basic elements to follow:

1. Find a peg to hang your story on

In other words, identify an angle that gives the topic a fresh perspective and clearly explains the purpose of the article. Make sure your angle is included in the headline and the introduction, this tells readers exactly what to expect.

2. Create a compelling introduction

The introduction or lede is the first one or two paragraphs of the article that immediately lets the reader know what the article is about and delivers the most important information. A good introduction will deliver what the headline and angle promised.

3. Answer the Five W’s (and an H)

Write your article in such a way that it answers all of the following questions:

  • What – explains what happened or what will happen, refers to some sort of action
  • Who – provides details of who is involved or who made the ‘what’ happen
  • When ­– explains when it took place or when it will happening or when it is appropriate
  • Where – this sets the scene providing the background to the event, i.e. where it took/takes place
  • Why – explains why something happened, what the purpose of the event/happening is/was
  • How – usually provides the processes involved, but can often be answered by the what and why

A really effective piece of writing provides the answers in the introduction, but not in detail. This is not always possible and could make the introduction too long and clumsy, so decide which of the five W’s is the most important and provide the answer in the introduction and then answer the rest of the questions in the following paragraphs.

Here’s an extract from Rudyard Kipling’s poem included in ‘The Elephant’s Child’ story that always helps me to remember how to structure a story:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I know);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
I send them over land and sea,
I send them east and west;
But after they have worked for me,
I give them all a rest.

4. Use the inverted pyramid technique

Structure the story logically by putting the most important must-know information right upfront. It should include the answers to all the five W’s. This will ensure that readers who scan articles have all the key details. It is also where your keywords should be placed for SEO purposes. The next level contains all the supplementary information and general background that will help further a reader’s understanding, while the third level will contain information that is not essential but interesting and nice to know.


Here’s a great article by Jana Brech of WebWise Wording that explains this in greater detail, highlighting the importance of this technique for online writing.

Other useful tips to help you produce a good piece of content include:

  • Use a quote: This adds a personal touch to the story and gives it authority.
  • Keep your writing concise and readable: Employ the KISS principle (Keep it short and simple) – simple words, short sentences, short paragraphs. A good sentence should be no longer than about 30 words, definitely not two or three lines. Watch out for duplication, sometimes writers say the same thing in two different ways in different places.
  • New information, new paragraph: Each paragraph should provide new and additional information.
  • Link to external sources: This will help users access additional information relating to your article, thereby adding value. And, it adds authority to your content and is good for SEO purposes.
  • Add a visual element: Creating an infographic that breaks down the main points of the article will help you tell your story in a different way. Selecting a powerful image to illustrate the story will also attract readers and lure them into reading the article.

Did you find this article useful? Let us have your comments or questions, drop them in the comment box below.


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