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Sep 16 / Nick James

What to think about when you write about football

As a follow-up to Paul Kasabian’s recent blog post with Quality Control reminders for football writers, here are some tips about how to best execute the types of stories common during the football season.

There are common Content Standards violations that you should keep in mind for these types of articles—specifically unsupported opinions, short submissions and misleading headlines. But there’s more to a well-executed article than simply avoiding violations.

All of the sample headlines are hypothetical.

Previews (“Ravens vs. Broncos: Each Team’s Keys to Victory in NFL Season Opener”)

It may seem obvious, but readers come to a preview looking for key information about the game—so get to it early to keep them engaged. This means teams, date, start time, location, TV coverage, etc.

Touch on how injuries will affect each team’s lineup and overall strategy. If a prominent player was injured the week before and won’t be participating, it’s important that you take that into account in your analysis—a run-heavy team would be forced to adjust the game plan if its top running back goes down. Fantasy owners will pay particular attention to this section, so it should be more extensive if your article is fantasy-leaning.

The basics listed above are quite important, but so is your original insight. Your goal is to prepare your audience for the game by providing the relevant information alongside possible developments to keep an eye on. Most games have short- and long-term implications, so give the reader a guide of the overall significance with forward-looking analysis. You should include statements from others in the form of sourced quotes or tweets, but rely on your own commentary—that’s what makes the article unique in the end.

Game Recaps (“Jets vs. Patriots: Sloppy Win for New England Exposes Lack of Chemistry”)

First off, it’s important to get recaps out in a timely manner—anything later than one or two days after the game ends no longer has shelf life.

Like previews, get to the relevant information right away for those who didn’t catch the game and to set the stage for your insight. Final score and location are obvious necessities, but they’re surprisingly left out by many. Then you can get to the fundamental storylines that prevailed throughout the action.

This is not a box score. Don’t just describe the game by listing a series of events. Instead, highlight the dominant figures and overarching themes to give readers a comprehensive understanding of what the results mean. You can give readers a description of the game without getting stuck in a play-by-play narrative.

To accomplish this, provide visual representations of the game to hold the interest of your audience. Images, screenshots, postgame quotes, tweets and tables will significantly enhance the overall presentation of your recap. These should be used to bolster your analysis—not replace it.

This should not be interpreted as “don’t list statistics”—you definitely should. Stats are essential to summarizing the major themes of a game’s outcome. If you mention Texas’ poor run defense against BYU, readers want to know exactly how poor it was (it gave up 550 total rushing yards, 259 of which came from quarterback Taysom Hill).

Recaps are meant to summarize the action, but you should do so with an eye on the future and the true impact of the results.

Argumentative Opinion (“Johnny Manziel’s On-Field Impact Not Worth the Off-Field Distractions”)

Your headline should make your stance blatantly clear, but use your lede to reiterate the topic you’ll be exploring and introduce why you’re taking that particular side. If you’re going to make a firm and bold claim, you must support your argument with specific evidence and in-depth analysis. Many readers are going to disagree with you regardless of logic, but that doesn’t excuse you from your responsibilities as a journalist.

If readers can’t tell what you’re arguing right away, there’s a good chance they won’t follow the rest of the argument.

Using the Manziel headline posited above, you would need to clearly outline his on-field success with stats and analysis, then detail his off-field transgressions and explain why the latter outweighs the former. In doing so, you should acknowledge those on the other side of the fence to show that you’re aware of both viewpoints before swaying the critics to your side.

This is not breaking news, so it should not be treated as such when it comes to word count. This approach merits an extensive explanation in an effort to convince readers that your position is both compelling and believable. You should use factual evidence, corroboration from outside sources and an organized progression of thoughts to bring readers directly to your conclusion.

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Nick James is a Content Moderator at Bleacher Report, part of the Content Standards team.