Writing Fabulous Features
Nicole Kraft, The Ohio State University
Copyright Year: 2019
Publisher: The Ohio State University Pressbooks
Conditions of Use
Having taught Media Writing for more than a decade with a feature story serving as my final, I have used two different textbooks. Each one offered only a few pages that summed up the feature story. Kraft's "Writing Fabulous Features" provides... read more
Having taught Media Writing for more than a decade with a feature story serving as my final, I have used two different textbooks. Each one offered only a few pages that summed up the feature story. Kraft's "Writing Fabulous Features" provides important information for students regarding the delineation between writing news stories and composing features. The details about what constitutes a feature can provide assistance to students as they prepare to write, rather than relying solely on examples from professional writers. The first section on "Uncovering the Magic of Features" offers the background that journalism students need to grasp the task at hand and how to integrate the skills they already possess, in addition to the new elements that feature writing demands. I found each section of the book valuable, except for the interviewing segment. Although I understand why the author included this segment, students would have already been well-acquainted with personal interviews by the time an instructor assigns a feature, but a nuts-and-bolts review is always helpful
In reading through the text, I did not encounter any mistakes. Of course, as a media writing teacher, my job is to ensure accuracy on each paper that I assign. I am a stickler for accuracy, and I found the text to be well-crafted and well-edited. The variety of writers contributing their work and offering insights helped Kraft put together a text free of bias.
Since feature stories have a much longer shelf-life than news stories, I did not see any discussion in the text of potential cause for concern regarding its relevancy for my students. The layout of the text does lend itself to the integration of updates should any of the information wane in terms of its applicability over time.
I perused the entire book and found its straightforward delivery extremely readable and, with my students in mind, consider it quite manageable for them. I found the text engaging and plan to use multiple sections in the future for my students as they prepare to write their feature stories.
As I evaluated the text, I considered this a winning characteristic of Kraft's work. The introduction of new terms always included definitions with useful examples. Students would not get lost in the jargon of this text, an aspect that I value highly in any book that I utilize in my classroom.
The organization of the text reflects Kraft's extensive work in the writing field. Even students with a short attention span would not have trouble navigating through the different sections and would not tire of the reading. I found the text engaging and pertinent, coupled with the fact that the author did a good job of deleting extraneous info that students would not need in order to compose effective features.
The author employed a logical sense of flow in organizing the text. Students will find the info simple to follow and clearly articulated.
As I read through the text, I did not encounter any problems accessing the material, in addition to the fact that all of the hyperlinks worked.
As a teacher who edits all of the work my students submit, I never turn off my antennae regarding grammatical errors when I evaluate written work. With that said, I did not see any errors in the course of perusing Kraft's text.
The examples of features and the insights offered by contributing writers exhibited a variety of perspectives and types of stories. This is an important dimension of any text, and Kraft did a good job of keeping this in my mind during the process of collecting viable material regarding feature writing.
I have read through a number of books on Open Textbooks, and I found this one extremely useful for what my students need in prepping to write their feature stories. The sections on writing with anecdotes, composing ledes and crafting the nut graph for features provides info rarely found in media writing textbooks. The host of examples of professional writers' work give students a choice regarding types of stories to read and use for guidance in their own features. I plan to use this textbook for my media writing students next semester and in the future.
This book doesn’t try to be all things to all people. That’s a strength. It focuses tightly on those skills essential to feature writing—topic selection, interviewing, writing, and revising. As a consequence, it seems more likely to keep students’... read more
This book doesn’t try to be all things to all people. That’s a strength. It focuses tightly on those skills essential to feature writing—topic selection, interviewing, writing, and revising. As a consequence, it seems more likely to keep students’ interest and be immediately useful to them. Something lacking here is help for students on doing all that background research before and after interviews. The book notes how important all that work is, but doesn’t provide guidance on how to do it.
It’s a pragmatic book rooted in the experience of feature writers who speak with authority. It doesn’t get distracted or stuck in the weeds, and it’s willing to say, from subjective experience, what techniques are right and wrong. Compared to many books on writing for college students, this is refreshing. However, the book is entirely anecdotal, and support from research or at a minimum more triangulation of technique from a larger group of journalists would lead to a stronger book.
These techniques are largely timeless. The writing is up-to-date where practices have changed. There are great passages that are very approachable for students, including the writer spotlights. I love the touch test. There are lots of examples from sports journalism, which may make it hard for some students to connect.
The writing, as you’d expect, is excellent, and the examples are concise and helpful. The anecdotes chapter was a joy to read. There are a few issues with grammar that affect clarity at times, but that’s discussed below.
Yes. The book is consistent—nothing to note here.
Each chapter stands on its own and is easily digestible. The result is a quick, informative read that lends itself to adaptability as a primary or secondary text for many courses.
Organization is generally clear, although there are a few places where the headings aren’t properly nested, making it difficult to understand the relationship between ideas. I’m looking specifically at chapter 4 here. This might fit better under interface. However, the progression of topics is clear and sensible.
Generally solid. I happened to click on a dead link (Perlman, ch. 4), and if I stumbled into one, there are probably more. Some of the images are low resolution, although that may be to make them easily portable into an e-reader.
For a book of this size, and with a section about revision, I was surprised by the number of grammatical errors. They weren’t overwhelming, but in the middle and late portions of the book, they appeared regularly. The quote at the very top of chapter 10 really took me for a loop. Spread throughout a longer book on a different topic, they’d be entirely forgivable. Less so in a short book on writing.
I got the impression from the mugshots throughout the book that the list of contributors might be pretty white, so I browsed through the contributors page. There are lots of ways a text can relate to diverse audiences, but one key way is by providing diverse perspectives from a racially diverse group of contributors. This is an extremely white, midwestern group. EXTREMELY. The stable of experts quoted here is fairly small, making the similarities in race, specialty (sports) and current employer (Ohio State) really stand out. And this criticism isn't to say the contributors included aren't worthy of inclusion. But the glaring absence of diversity is undeniably a major weakness of the text, one that many people will justifiably find unacceptable.
Overall, I like this textbook. It has significant flaws, but I expect the tight focus and clear, engaging writing style will hold students’ attention and help them understand the core techniques of feature writing. I’m planning to shift to this textbook for the feature writing course I teach, but only with a good deal of supplementary content featuring a more diverse range of voices.
The book covers many aspects of the feature reporting process, from story idea generation, to interviewing, to writing and editing/revising. The chapters on interviewing included some advice on effective communications, but I would have liked to... read more
The book covers many aspects of the feature reporting process, from story idea generation, to interviewing, to writing and editing/revising. The chapters on interviewing included some advice on effective communications, but I would have liked to see guidance specifically on reaching out to sources. This tends to be a major stumbling block for students—how to explain who they are and what they want to do, and how to be assertive with, but respectful of, potential interviewees.
There was no index or glossary included.
The guidance on feature writing comes directly from the author, an experienced journalist, as well as several other journalists she interviewed for the book. I found no inaccuracies.
I found much of the advice useful and applicable to the journalistic process. Chapters related to structure (e.g. Types of Features, Writing the Lede, Crafting the Nut) were especially useful.
Although this book is about writing (and not photography, or videography, or social media, etc.), I feel at least acknowledging the increasingly multimedia nature of journalism is important to make this work feel current. Journalists are increasingly expected to do more than just write.
The language is conversational, and the terminology is generally well defined. Some sentences could have been better proofread. I noticed typos throughout, including "Bassmaster Class" (should be "Classic") in the Writing the Lede chapter.
The text is internally consistent, with chapters of similar lengths that begin with quotes, and include some general advice as well as anecdotes from professionals.
The topics were split up nicely. As I read, I made notes throughout of ways I could divide chapters into reading assignments for courses I teach.
Topics were covered in a logical order, beginning with story idea generation, and then moving into interviewing, writing, and editing. The book wraps up with advice and anecdotes from professionals as well as links to examples of feature stories.
I did not encounter any problems with navigation or visuals in this book. I personally would prefer that the links open sites in new tabs, because that makes it easier to get back to the original text.
As mentioned earlier, some of the writing could have been better proofread. There were several grammatical issues. Example from chapter 2: "The greatest ideas in the world don’t mean anything if you are not able to execute it" (should be "them").
The book includes several examples of feature stories and experiences of journalists. These examples could have represented a more diverse range of journalists and stories told. Also, the end of chapter 10 jumped out at me as being a bit insensitive. This section includes quotes from the journalist Brittany Schock about the delicate process of interviewing women who had lost their babies. A text box immediately following that segment compares the interview process to chess. While chess is an apt metaphor for certain kinds of (adversarial) interviews, it was jarring to see it described that way right after the infant mortality story example, without any transition.
Coverage and appropriateness are good, but there is no index or glossary, which would be helpful to the reader in the way they always are, and also helpful to the author in identifying excessive repetition and occasional misplacement of some ideas. read more
Coverage and appropriateness are good, but there is no index or glossary, which would be helpful to the reader in the way they always are, and also helpful to the author in identifying excessive repetition and occasional misplacement of some ideas.
The content is accurate and unbiased, and I did not detect any factual error (although I am a composition teacher, not a communications teacher). However, language error/editing lapses (discussed below) is a major problem. Those errors are not figured into this rating; no reason for a double whammy.
Content is up to date and will not become obsolete any time soon; examples may have to be updated as time goes on.
The author’s relaxed, personal, enthusiastic prose is one of its great strengths. The style may be somewhat too informal for every teacher’s liking, but I found it enjoyable. My sense is that students will find it particularly accessible and engaging. It is not written in typical “textbook-ese,” which is refreshing. Jargon is explained naturally and simply. It is not rated a full 5 only because of the errors/typos (discussed further below) that make some sentences challenging to read. And editorial lapses, such as appears on the second page of the text (p. 8 in download), where the author announces “four tips” and then includes only three, also undermine the overall clarity.
The author’s terminology is consistent throughout. One small exception is an inset author’s use of the word “reporting” to stand for “research,” which gave me a moment’s pause. The chapters create an identifiable framework.
Several features of this book make it possible to use smaller reading sections in variable order. For one, there are lots of headings. In the “Writing to Be Read” chapter, specific elements of writing such as strong openings (“Writing the Lede”), defining and communicating main purpose (“Crafting the Nut”), or developing the body of a piece (“Body Building”), could be excerpted and used separately. The book also contains many multi-paragraph insets—comments from an established feature writer, extended examples—that can stand on their own. The last chapter, “Learning Features from the Experts,” is a collection of “essays” (feature-style: informal, heavy on description and dialogue) by different authors, each of which can also be used separately. The opening chapter, essentially an overview of feature writing, has such a good subsection on “Research” that I am planning to use it in my comp courses.
The textbook is organized into identifiable and logical chapters, and the many subheadings further organize. The breezy, flowing authorial voice does not lead to a really tight organization, but it is good enough. The one complaint I have is that there is a lot of repetition of ideas, particularly noticeable in the section on “Interviewing”: do your research; develop rapport with interviewee; have a conversation not an interrogation; be—or act—interested in the subject of the interview; really listen to your subject; don’t necessarily record or take notes right away. The author says this; the long inset from Adam Jarvy says this; ditto extended quotes from Lucas Sullivan and rest of Section. Another chapter on interviews appears later in the text in Chapter 19, “Spotlight on: Ted Conover.” Individually, these are all good comments/sources, but together they are overly repetitive. The different parts of this Section also say other useful things about interviews, but there is a steady drumbeat of reiterated points. I believe some repetition is useful, but parts of the book overdo it.
No navigation problems; images are clear; live links work. But two glitches show up consistently in my downloaded pdf. Whenever the letters “fi” should appear, a bracket shows up instead. E.g., pro[le (profile). Ff also comes up as Z: oZ bounds (off bounds). I’m still giving the book a 5 on this score with the assumption that the above glitches can be easily fixed (and may be a function of my machine?). This is a highly formatted text with many images and insets, all of which look good.
This is the book’s big weakness. There are way too many errors. Some are obviously typos/inadequate editing, such as missing and extra words: “…Brian Klems writes [about] the need to travel “deeply” as opposed to just widely....” “A profile on a new trend…has to be pitched in relatively short order, or it will not really [be] marketable anymore.“ “See how you can pitch stories to bring make outsiders insiders.” “One pitfall of being not completely ethical is that is you change the outcome for the story.”
Some sentences fall apart or become illogical: ““I wasn’t going out to dinner…with someone I was writing about unless there was a journalism reason for me that.” “Now I am friends now with people I once wrote.” “The angle is all about the audience, so think how you can spin…to toddlers, teens, seniors, your local community, pets, business, food, travel and you may suddenly have 10 stories from one topic. “[As the sentence goes on, the “audience” becomes pets, food, and travel; I don’t think any of these entities are big readers.]
One actual error that appears repeatedly is lack of parallel construction. To some, lack of parallelism may seem minor, and often it is subtle and I suppose can be given a bye. But sometimes it is more egregious: “Nut graph/Theme: A paragraph that shows the reader what exactly this story is about and why does this entity matter now?”
One really awful error: a reference to “yes” or “know” answers.
No culturally insensitive or offensive comments. Examples are inclusive.
I wish this book could be revised, and much better edited, with input from people with more expertise than I have in feature writing, like communications faculty, because it has much to offer. I imagine the audience for this book—aspiring student writers—feeling excited and confident after reading it. It makes writing sound tremendously interesting and enjoyable, which we know it can be, but students don’t always. It makes writing sound accessible, not forbidding and monumental, as much academic writing feels to the students I teach, but rather familiar and doable. The section on research is strong, and the author’s relaxed, personal voice makes that activity a lot more enticing than many rhetorics. There is good writing advice throughout. I like this book, but think it needs to go through another draft or two.
Table of Contents
- I. Uncovering the Magic of Features
- II. Interviewing
- III. Writing to be Read
- IV. Revising and Being Read
- V. Learning Features from the Experts
About the Book
"Writing Fabulous Features" teaches the art and craft of feature writing to help readers learning to write non-fiction with flair.
About the Contributors
Dr. Nicole Kraft spent 25 years as an award-winning reporter, editor and magazine journalist while also working in public relations for professional sports and government communications.
She joined the Ohio State School of Communication in 2010, where she teaches Media Writing and Editing, Sports Media, Feature Writing and Media Law and Ethics. As an associate professor of clinical communication, her research focus includes the academic use of mobile technology among student-athletes, mobile technology use in journalism education and using technology to enhance classroom communication.
Nicole is the director of Ohio State’s Sports & Society Initiative and chair of Ohio State’s Council on Distance Education, Libraries and Information Technology. She remains an active sportswriter, covering the Columbus Blue Jackets, Ohio State basketball and horse racing for the Associated Press and The Columbus Dispatch.
She is the author of the book, “Always Get the Name of the Dog,” published by Routledge and available through Amazon.
Nicole earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Temple University, a master’s degree in communication from Ohio State University and a doctorate in educational leadership from Lamar University.
She was named an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2015.