Many nurses begin their writing careers by reporting stories on health, healthcare, nursing and other topics that feel comfortable to them, given their clinical background. If you’re pursuing that route – such as by publishing articles here at allnurses.com – you should follow some formatting guidelines that organize your story and make it easier to read.
First, a little terminology lesson. Journalism has its own lingo that you should become aware of (if you’re not already):
Body: refers to the portion of the story between the lead and the conclusion
Byline: the author’s name as published on the article (“By, Elizabeth Hanes”)
Five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why (and usually How)
Head (sometimes “hed”): short for “headline”
Inverted pyramid: style of article construction that captures the most important information at the very top
Lead (also “lede”): the first few sentences or paragraphs of the story
News peg: timely news story that provides the basis for your own article
Primary source: a real person (expert), or an original document (such as a research study)
Secondary source: anything other than a primary source, including websites, books, news reports (other than eyewitness accounts), etc.
Subhead (also “subhed”): short for subheading
Now that you have a handle on some of this terminology, let’s look at how to organize an article using heds and subheds for a site like allnurses.com.
Write Using the Inverted Pyramid Style
Let’s say you saw new research that found drinking low-fat milk is associated with slowed biological aging in adults, and you want to use this as a news peg to write an article about this study for nurses who work in adult nutrition. To construct a news story, you need to use the inverted pyramid style and put the most important information at the top.
STEP 1 The Head
Write a headline that captures the most important facts of your story. In essence, anyone should be able to read your headline and understand what the article is about even if they don’t read another word. So, maybe your headline is something like:
“New Study Finds Low-Fat Milk is Associated with Reduced Biological Aging Among Adults Who Drink Milk Daily”
Your headline does not need to “tease” or be “clickbait.” For news reporting, avoid headlines like:
“What Does New Research Say About Adults Who Drink Low-Fat Milk?”
Yes, that sort of hed might draw clicks, but as a reporter your main focus should be on informing the reader.
STEP 2 The Lead
For straight news reporting in the inverted pyramid style, your lede should capture most of the Five Ws within just a few sentences. If you read the story at the link above, you’ll see this is exactly how the article is constructed. The lede captures:
Who: 5,834 U.S. adults who drink low-fat milk daily
What: Exhibit longer telomeres, which are associated with reduced aging
When: research published January 15, 2020
Where: Brigham Young University
Why: To investigate whether milk fat has any impact on biological aging in adults
How: Through a study of daily milk drinkers
The Who, What, When, and Where are included in the opening paragraph of the article. If a reader had to stop at that point, he or she still would have the gist of what the research found.
STEP 3 The Body
After you’ve crafted your story’s lede, you can insert a subhed to alert the reader about what information will be contained in the next section. For instance, the story at the link might have included a subhed that read:
What is Telomere Length?
Then, go on to explain to the reader what telomeres are, how they relate to biological aging and how milk fat appears to affect them.
You can continue inserting subheds to walk the reader through the remaining parts of the article. Under each subhed, write one to three short paragraphs that expand on the topic of the subhed and then segue into the next subhed.
Example subheds you could use in this article:
How the Study was Conducted
Implications of the Study for Adults Who Drink Milk
What Should Nurses Tell their Adult Patients who Consume Dairy?
That final subhed represents how you can “slant” (personalize) the article for the audience at allnurses.com, and it also provides an area for discussing the findings or adding context. For instance, you might quote one or more experts who question or disagree with the study’s findings. Or you might interview additional primary sources, such as fellow nurses or RDs, about how they plan to use (or not) this information – and then publish their quotes.
STEP 4 The Conclusion
Straight news stories often lack any sort of elaborate conclusion. However, you can show off your reporting chops by using a quote that ties the ending back to the beginning, or by recapping the study’s conclusions in a sentence. That way, the reader who skimmed through the whole thing will still have the gist of the article.
The great thing about mastering the inverted pyramid style is that it provides you with a solid foundation for organizing any type of story and ensures you never omit an important detail. Even when you branch out into feature writing or content writing, you can rely on the inverted pyramid to help you tell any story you want.