Skills for journalists in print and digital media.

Alternative story forms

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Alternative story forms offer different ways to convey information and tell stories. From charts and graphs to more elaborate annotated maps or diagrams, begin with a concept and ideas on format and design. Then report and write to that concept. Breaking apart a story to turn it into an alternative story form is usually the least effective way to work.

From the AMA News’ Graphic Handbook, consider these questions when planning an alternative story form:

  • Can we show meaningful comparisons? Pro-con. High-low. Locations. Items. Services.
  • Can we offer guidance or tips? Policies. Guidelines. Steps or methods.
  • Can we break it down to provide more context? Numbers. History. Circumstances.
  • Does the trend tell the story? Progress. Change. Growth. Decline.
  • Can we show what words can’t easily explain? Maps. Diagrams. Floor plans. Formulas. Objects, forms, paperwork.
  • Can we forecast or handicap an issue? Projections. What to watch. Timelines.
  • Does the reader need the highlights? Short summary or important parts of a large body of information. Profile of a person, organization. Parts of a complicated issue.

And here is a sampling of alternative story forms that can be considered:

(Topic) 101: An introduction or primer on a topic, event, activity or person.

Advice: Expert views on a topic, event, activity. Can include how-to formats, Q&A, simple copy blocks.

Annotation: Photo or graphic with annotations that break down the information contained in the image.

Charticles: Combinations of text, images, charts or graphs, in a display presentation that takes the place of a full article.

Chronology: Information organized by a time sequence. Can include timelines, charticles, lists.

Do’s & Don’ts: Information presented in the constrasting form of opposing lists on what a reader should do and should not do regarding a topic, activity or event.

Games: Information presented in board game format.

Glossary: Lists and definitions of key terms on a topic, event, activity or person.

Grids: Information presented in grid or table formats, often to compare and contrast.

Guides: Information, much like a 101, that leads a reader through a place, topic, event or activity. Can include annotated maps, grids, lists, etc.

He Said, She Said: A Q&A or other short quote format that comprises two or more people talking about the same topic.

How-to: Similar to a 101 and Guide, but with the emphasis on specific directions to complete a task or activity. Can range from a list of directions to photo or graphic package.

Lists: Lists of items arranged or categorized in meaningful ways. Can include Out / In, checklists, numerical rankings, best of / worst of, Top 10, significant background facts, and many more.

Map Art: Annotated maps where the map is the dominant art.

Panel / Roundtable: Comments or discussion from a group of people presented in short quote form. The quotes can be strung along a Q&A-style format, or presented in grids, lists or other easy to read formats.

Photo Stories: Information or short narratives presented through photographs and cutlines.

Pro / Con: Similar to Do’s and Don’ts, information presented with the compare and contrast of the positive versus the negative qualities of a decision, item, topic, place, activity etc.

Profile: Formatted biographical information on a person, place or organization. The emphasis is on a format that is focused and easy to navigate.

Q&A: An edited interview presented in question and response format.

Quiz: Information presented in a test or quiz format designed to challenge, inform or validate a reader’s understanding of a topic, event, activity or person.

Reader Participation: Formatted information derived from readers’ input or response to a solicitation from the newspaper.

(Person) On: Short quotes from a person on a specific topic or series of topics. Like a Q&A but usually with just a topic instead of a question for each response.

Tips: Lists of tips designed to help a reader with an activity, event, task or place.

Worksheets: Formatted templates or forms designed to lead readers through information, tasks, activities or processes.

X Ways, X Things, X Reasons: A variation on lists, distinguished by the number of items, a number that can be arbitrary or meaningful.

Short related video: Alternative Story Forms

Written by mroberts8

October 27, 2009 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Editing, Writing

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