Writing instructions for VerkkoAreena/Webarena

Webarena is the online paper of Kansalaisareena – Citizen Forum, containing topical articles which are largely written by voluntary writers and related to voluntary, peer to peer as well as spontaneous activities. When needed, the final texts are edited by the communications planner of Citizen Forum and the subeditor of Webarena. The best way to get a clue of the type and e.g. length of the articles in Webarena is to familiarize with the online paper.

Choose a topic

To start an article, first choose your topic, idea and your point of view. Consider whether your choice is proper. When choosing a topic, it may be helpful to reflect on it from two different angles: what the readers possibly are interested in, and what they may need information about. Think what would motivate a reader to pick up your text.

The readers of Webarena are ordinary people who are interested in voluntary and peer to peer activities. You may invite some of the readers to join in planning your article if possible. Think what information the reader may already have.

− Think in which order to bring up different issues

− Think how to make the structure of the text logical and understandable for the reader

− Decide how to confine the topic

− Think what you wish the reader and listener to remember and learn about the topic

It is worth while to strongly stress the reader’s point of view when looking at your topic.  To put special emphasis on a certain issue, it is effective to discuss it first and then handle other aspects in relation with it. The most important points should be brought up in the beginning of the text, with the weight lessening towards the end. If the reader does not manage to finish the full text, he/she will not miss any indispensably essential information.

Articles, news, book reviews etc

Most of the texts in Webarena are articles. An article presents and analyses its subject, and is based on facts. The writer may use his/her own knowledge and ideas as material, as well as written sources. Material which has been specially collected for an article should be disposed in the text in a logical way. It may be presented as a description, a reference or a direct quote. When quoting, quotation marks or a dash are used.

Make an outline for your article: think how to proceed in a clear way. All along the text, an article, interview or a reportage should serve the readers points which keep up his or her interests. Try to create a compact entirety. Think what the reader would find interesting and new.

The writer of an article may take a stand, but an article is not an actual opinion writing. Sometimes an article may be reportage-type, e.g. when the writer has participated in an event and thus gives a kind of report of her/his experiences there. This type of an article may handle e.g. the opening of an exhibition, an exposition etc.

Webarena publishes also literature reviews, or rather introductions of publications. A review or a critique introduces a current publication, analyses and interprets its goals and how it succeeds in its intentions, and estimates its ”artistic/substantial value”. A critic is allowed to choose his/her own point of view. S/he can compare the publication with the author’s other production, with publications of other authors, or concentrate on deliberating about the goals, theme or language of the publication in question. A critic has to justify her/his opinions. When a text only describes a publication, it is called an introduction.

A news article will proceed in order of importance. Although there seldom are actual news in Webarena, the same rules apply to articles as to news: fact-based style, use of caption and subtitles etc. In your article, just like in news, give answers to at least these questions: what, where, when, why, how, who (with what consequences)? The structure of a news piece or an article is the following: the most important, important, less important, and the least important piece of information.

Blog, sketch, column, opinion writing

The place for sketches (causeries), columns and other opinion writings is in the blog section, where the style is more free than that in Webarena, and the texts ”look more like their writers”.

Interview

When planning an article based on an interview, the first task is to choose a topic, a main idea and a point of view. After this, seek for suitable person/people to be interviewed, and make an appointment for the interview. Interviews may take place either face to face, on the phone and/or by e-mail. If necessary, all these tools can of course be used.

When preparing for an interview, you can either pick a topic and look for a suitable person to be interviewed, or you may find an interesting person and, consequently, develop a good topic for the interview. Make the topic and your point of view clear for yourself before you contact the person you intend to interview. Plan your questions in advance. The questions must be unambiguous. You have to formulate them so that they cannot be answered just yes or no. The questions must be open: you must not lead the person you interview. Seek information about the person you plan to interview.

Proceed with one question at a time. Be prepared to bring forth additional questions if/when an aspect remains unfinished. Give, however, the interviewee time to answer between your questions. If you ask too many questions at a time, the interviewee may only answer just the last of them.

Based on the questions and answers of the interview, edit your article. Use direct quotations only part of the time. Remember also to take photos, or ask the interviewee to send a recent photo of her/himself. Start to outline your article when the discussion is still fresh in your memory. If the interviewee wants to read and check the story before publishing, send it to her/him. Try to make the wanted corrections. Errors in facts must be corrected, but you can consider yourself whether to make e.g. stylistic changes.

Headline

An article shall start with a concise headline, descriptive of the subject. Pick the most important/interesting information in the headline. With the headline you will raise the reader’s interest to read the entire story.

Caption

After the headline there is usually a boldfaced caption of a few sentences, i.e. an introduction. The caption should give the reader information on the most essential contents of the article. The body, i.e. the main text of the story should consist of rather short sentences and should be divided into paragraphs. In between, there can be subtitles, pictures and diagrams to enliven the entirety and to make reading easier.

Legibility and the length of an article

Keep the interviewee’s opinions clearly apart from your own text in the article. Use direct quotations, but do not write down as quotations everything the interviewee said. The body of the text may also include links. Write in a clear language, but in a relaxed mood. Check carefully all names and figures in your text.

In Webarena, the most recently published article will appear as a kind of main article. Different subjects are not ranked; this is what happens with all the latest articles.

Write clearly: journalistic language is composed of short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Foreign words are to be avoided, and the language is to be accurate, correct, explicit and to the point. More than 18 words in a sentence makes it difficult. Short paragraphs make a text easy to read.

On the Internet, the stories are usually more concise and shorter than in a printed paper. It is a general rule to limit a text to a minimum of approximately 1,000 characters and a maximum of about 3,000 characters. These limits are, however, negotiable, depending on the need and how interesting/important the subject is. The writer´s name is added to the article.

Checking a text

Use feedback from the target group to help you. Re-read the text after a while, and improve it as necessary. Check that the structure is logical. Consider whether all the details are necessary. Also, look at it in the opposite way: is there enough new information in your article, or are you just repeating self-evident facts? Reading a text aloud sometimes helps to finalise it. If you want, you may let some other writer read your text.

Great importance of pictures

One or more pictures will add to the legibility of a text, and make it more illustrative. Non-essential objects shall be cut off from a photo. Remember to mention the name of the photographer, and to ask for permission for publishing, if you have not taken the photo yourself. Write a short and descriptive text for the photo, including names if there are people therein. List names from left to right.

When producing a text, keep always in mind that you are writing to your target group who are interested in the subject in question. Your task is to provide a point of view which interests readers and, at best, makes them comment and discuss the subject and contents of the writing.

After finishing your text, send it to the communications planner of Citizen Forum/Kansalaisareena, address: katja.reinikainen(at)kansalaisareena.fi