Stories are best organized as you report them. While gathering information, Continue to think about how best to tell the story. Often, selecting the simplest story structure is the best way to let the information shine through. In this section, we’ll learn how to organize your stories to greatest effect.


An outline helps you see holes in your reporting. It also helps you map out where your story is going and how to get there.

Play the video clip of Oscar Avila of the Chicago Tribune discussing the importance of an outline.

Different newspaper require a different writing style. Read the Washington Post and compare it with the Detroit Free Press, for example, or select two papers you regularly read and compare them with the following questions in mind. Write down you answers.

  1. What types of stories run on the front page?
  2. How are major stories played?
  3. How would you describe the overall tone of stories?
  4. What sorts of word choices are made in stories?
  5. What kind of leads are commonly used?
  6. Is there a general format or organization to major stories?

Some stories are organized chronologically, others by subthemes. Find examples of both organization techniques.

Discuss what kinds of stories work best with chronological organization.

For stories organized by subthemes, identify each subtheme as it arises in a story.

Cincinnati Enquirer editor Annie-Laurie Blais emphasizes that a reporter must think of a story’s key elements when writing. This means focusing on a theme that will carry through the entire story. She suggests ruthless editing to make a story as strong as possible.

Now, read a profile story written by a student journalist. Print out the story to edit it following the guidelines below.

  1. Read the story the first time for technical accuracy, for spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, Mark changes necessary.
  2. Read the story a second time for content: Does the story have a distinct focus and are ideas organized into subthemes? Circle the nut graph and label the subthemes in the story along the right hand margin of your printout. Are there obvious holes in the reporting?
  3. Read the story a third time for style. Is the story too wordy? Tighten sentences wherever possible. Is the word choice as specific and lively as it can be? Write your changes above the lines.
Read Story

Sometimes the easiest way to tell the story is also the simplest way. Don’t make story organization or writing a lead any harder than necessary. Stephanie Esters of the Kalamazoo Gazette writes simple sentences for her leads that are based on subject-verb-object structure.

Play the video clip to hear how Esters builds from that structure to set the tone of a story.

Anecdote and detail are important parts of any story. Play the video clip of Louise Kiernan as she talks about selecting telling details that support her theme.

Kiernan also strives to show and not tell reasders, and talks about how she uses observation to make a point in her story.

Craig McCool of the Kalamazoo Gazette describes news articles as if they are narrative stories, with characters, settings and plot lines.

Play the video clip of McCool on using the techniques of fiction writing to tell stories.

Take a simple news story from your local paper about a crime and rewrite it to read more like a narrative story.