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Dec 13 / B/R Quality Control Team

Common Mistakes, Part 2: Three Article Types

This is the 18th and last chapter of Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher ReportClick here for more information and to download all of Playbook for free.

As we’ve discussed, the three types of stories for evaluation purposes are News Reports, Argumentative Articles and Ranked Lists. Here are the most common mistakes we see for each type, along with a better way to approach the issue for each one.

News Report: Story Angle

Mistake: Assuming game previews and prediction pieces are inherently “forward-looking.”

Better Way: A “forward-looking” preview is one that includes two or more paragraphs about the future implications of a win or loss in the event under discussion. This sets the bar pretty high, so it’s something to keep in mind the next time you take on a predictions piece.

Narrative Structure

Mistake: Not discussing the link between your story’s conflict and its characters. For example, in a game recap, using generalities about the team (“The Orioles hit .088 with runners in scoring position”).

Better Way: Attribute your story’s conflict to the actions of those involved (“Chris Davis, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, the Orioles’ 3-4-5 hitters, combined to go 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position”).

Information Aggregation

Mistake: Failing to properly attribute and/or accurately hyperlink your story’s reported news item when it’s a widely known and uncontested fact.

Better way: Not all news report articles are of the breaking news variety found on CNN’s ticker. For instance, the news item in the article “Lakers 99, Rockets 95: Full Recap, Analysis and Highlights” is simply the outcome of the game, which is a widely known and uncontested fact. Still, in these cases, you should include a hyperlink to an official game recap as a service to readers looking for additional info. For example: “The Los Angeles Lakers pulled away at the end with a 99-95 victory in overtime, and now they’ll face the San Antonio Spurs.”

Argumentative Article: Thesis

Mistake: Assuming your thesis is the same as the lede.

Better way: Think of it this way: The primary goal of a lede is to make the reader want to keep reading. The primary goal of a thesis statement is to clearly articulate the terms of your argument.

Of course, it’s possible to achieve the goal of the lede by stating the thesis in the first paragraph, but it isn’t necessary, or always desirable, to do so. For example, here’s a good lede/thesis combination in which the thesis appears in the second paragraph:

Conventional wisdom says that Joe Montana is the best quarterback in San Francisco 49ers history. But let’s not forget that Steve Young spent his entire career turning conventional wisdom on its head.

Upon further review, a comparison of the two legends’ passing statistics, scrambling ability and primary opponents suggests that Young more rightfully deserves the title of GOAT—even if Montana will always hold a hallowed place in the annals of Niners lore.

The take-home point is that a thesis is typically going to be a bit less snappy than a lede would be. That doesn’t mean a thesis won’t ever be suitable for inclusion in the lede, but it does suggest that it shouldn’t always appear in the first paragraph.

Honorable Mention Mistake: Not including a single-sentence thesis statement anywhere in your argumentative article, let alone near the beginning.

Rhetorical Structure

Mistake: Forgetting what your headline says.

Better way: If your headline is a question, the article should answer it. If it makes a bold statement, your text should back it up. That seems straightforward, but like repetition, we often read past tangents in our own writing because … well, our thought processes aren’t always logical. A large enough digression can cost you readers. It can also make your writing seem insecure, as a confident point is most often a concise one. To avoid unintentional digressions, make an outline before you write. Or, if you’re short on time, jot down your headline on a piece of paper and stick it to the corner of your monitor.

Factual Evidence

Mistake: Thinking stats are the only way to factually support your opinion.

Better way: Don’t get us wrong. Stats are helpful, specific and smart-looking. But they are by no means the only way to factually show that your point of view is valid. You could also describe, diagram or—best of all—use multimedia assets to support your statements. Facts don’t have to be in number form to be convincing.

Honorable Mention Mistake: Thinking that linking out to pieces that support your view counts as factual evidence. Citing or linking to another writer who has the same opinion you do is fine, but supporting one opinion with another opinion doesn’t qualify as “factual.

Ranked List: List Topic

Mistake: Thinking a snazzier adjective will make an unoriginal list topic original. Changing “Arsenal vs. Chelsea: Rating the Gunners Players” to “Arsenal vs. Chelsea: Rating the Most Horrific Gunners Players” doesn’t make the topic original because it still fails to elaborate on either the list’s category of items (“Gunners players”) or the method of ranking the items (“Best/Worst”).

Better way: Here are three alternatives that WOULD be substantively original:

  • “Rating the Arsenal Reserves”
  • “Ranking the Gunners Most Likely to Score”
  • “The 5 Most Overrated Gunners”

All three of these list topics elaborate on the generic criteria. They’re not just another “best of” list. In the first two cases, we’ve changed the category, from “Players” to “Reserves” and “Players Most Likely to Score.” In the third case, we’ve changed the metric,  from “Best/Worst” to “Most Overrated.”

Ranking Logic

Mistake: Defining a list’s eligible candidates but neglecting to mention how you included or excluded them.

Let’s say you’re ranking the “10 Best Individual Performances in Super Bowl History,” and on your introduction slide, you write, “These rankings considered every on-field position.”

In this case, you’ve only told readers who you’re considering for placement on the list. What’s missing is an indication of the fact-based conditions you’ll use to narrow things down. Will it be “statistical output” or “performance under pressure” or “defiance of odds or expectations” or some combination of all three?

Better way: Tell readers who you’re considering for the list and explain how you’ll consider them.

List Composition

Mistake: Assuming your list is better unranked.

Better way: Rank your candidates whenever possible.

Some lists are certainly tougher to rank than others. But even the most difficult lists can in fact be ranked with a bit of creative thinking. More importantly, a ranked list is invariably more engaging for readers than an unranked list, because the ranked list lends itself more easily to discussion and debate.

For example, the headline “New York Jets: Rex Ryan’s 5 Biggest Worries Heading Into the Preseason” implies that there are a bunch of worries, but you’ve pared down the lot to just Ryan’s “biggest,” and you’ve done so in a logical way.

Honorable Mention Mistake: Not presenting items in ascending order of rank. The ideal order in a slideshow: Intro slide — slide with all Honorable Mention candidates — No. 10 — No. 9 — etc.)

Previous post: Common Mistakes: General

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Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report Writers is an 18-part series outlining the metrics and criteria of B/R’s objective Writer Evaluation system. The system complements the subjective assessments made by members of our Editorial Team, which means that a solid evaluation is a necessary but not sufficient condition of success with B/R. You can find more information and download the full Playbook for free at this link

Playbook Table of Contents:

Three story types
News Report Story Angle
News Report Narrative Structure, Information Aggregation
Argumentative Articles: Thesis, Rhetorical Structure, Factual Evidence
Ranked Lists: Ranking Logic
Ranked Lists: Topic, List Composition
Attribution and Hyperlinks
Textual Correctness
Sentence and Paragraph Structure
Authorial Voice
B/R Style and Formatting
Multimedia Assets
Common Mistakes: General
Common Mistakes: Three Article Types