Qualities: The four Rs
IWPR editors look for four key qualities in an article:
- Relevance: Is it timely and important?
- Reliability: Is it credible and fair?
- Reporting: Does it provide fresh and complete information or analysis based on reliable and balanced sources?
- Readability: Is it concise and well-structured? Is the tone moderate? Does it have a lead?
One other quality sets off an alarm bell for a piece to be spiked immediately: racism.
Different types of articles merit different approaches. It is essential that writer and editor are clear about the kind of article intended before it is written. The real goal is transparency, so readers can tell exactly what kind of piece they are reading.
The dominant style is news analysis: informative and balanced but with a strong perspective. Articles should make a point, but they should do so with facts, intelligence and restraint rather than hysteria or a sledge-hammer. The reader should end up with information -- and an idea. The best example are news reports (not the leaders) in The Economist.
Features tell stories. Their art is in reporting as much as in writing, and they are dependent on the evocative detail that makes the point. If you are on the scene, don't say what you think, say what you see. Features take the reader there.
IWPR is not a news agency. But from time to time, we publish news. Hard news is detailed, fully sourced, crisply written, and submitted on time. Its purpose is to inform and present, not argue.
There is nothing wrong with having opinions -- far from it -- but they should be expressed in opinion/comment pieces. Such an piece must have something important to say, should be proscriptive as well as critical, and must be well-written. For a good example, see the op-ed pages of the International Herald Tribune.
For greater detail on the various styles of articles we carry, read our Web page on it.
"Reporting" is in our name for a reason. The core job of a journalist is to convey information. To do that, you have to get it in the first place. There is no such source as "everyone knows that", and if everyone does, why tell them again?
A clear overall structure in a piece is essential; better structure leads to better understanding among your readers.
Readers need to have a feeling of where the article is taking them and what information they can expect next. This is particularly true in online publishing, where readers tend to skim and scan more than read in the traditional sense.
Note, however, that the goal is not to churn out formulaic articles with interchangeable parts. Every article should be a unique piece of work.
For greater detail on the basic structure of articles, read our Web page on it.
- When there is a political party, spell the name in full.
- When naming any institution, provide the full proper name and any relevant details needed to identify it.
- Avoid using numerous acronyms - try to write around them.
- When there is a legal case, state the court it is before and the schedule for next stages expected.
- When anyone is mentioned, give their full first and last name, and proper accurate title.
- Avoid over-long quotations or excerpts from speeches. Explain what is being said, and select the most telling part of what is said for quotation.
- Make all efforts to get sources on the record. You are giving voice to their concerns, and to make them really count, they should have a name attached to them. Where sources demand to be anonymous, provide as much specific detail as reasonable to identify where the quotation is coming from, without breaching any agreement with your source. Don't say a "government official", if you can say, a "junior minister in the interior ministry". Please try to avoid the ubiquitous "western official" - is it the ambassador or an embassy intern, is he American or French?
IWPR edits hard. Texts tend to change substantially from submission to publication. This process is sometimes unknown among regional media outlets, but it is the rule in the western, and especially Anglo-Saxon press.
The best way to avoid extensive editorial changes is to match as closely as possible the requirements noted above. Authors also often find that it is less aggravating, more efficient and, in the end, more rewarding to engage in revision and re-writing oneself, rather than to leave editors on their own to try to fix problems.
IWPR's editing is made enormously more complicated by the problem of languages. We accept articles in the main languages in the countries in which we are working. But again, authors may find it more efficient in the end to write even in shaky English than to work through the editing process through two languages until the final international version.