What Is a Magazine Feature Story?

Couple reading magazines at breakfast

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Not all news stories and articles are created equal. If you’re considering a career in journalism, your success can hinge on knowing the difference between writing a straight news piece and a feature story.

What Is a Feature Story?

A feature story is often defined by its length and style, not its subject matter. The most notable differences between features and hard news stories are:

Time: News stories tend to timely, reporting events in real or near-real time, whereas features aren't dependent on timing.

Style: News stories tend to be to the point, delivering its reporting in straightforward facts, whereas features use more of a storytelling style.

Length: While news stories can be long, usually they're short, only a couple of hundred words. Feature stories are longer, often 1,000 to 2,000 words, sometimes more.

Format: Because news stories are shorter and designed to inform, they deliver the purpose of the article in the first lines, indicating the "who, what, when, where, and how" of the topic. A feature, written like a story, can take its time to get to the point of the article.

The important component that separates a feature story from the hard news is that features humanize events and issues rather than just reciting facts.

Features in Magazines

While features can be found in newspapers and online publications, they're usually associated with magazines, where they're commonly found in the middle section known as the "feature well."

Like a newspaper feature, a magazine feature is delivered in a style that is more entertaining or thought-provoking, weaving a story, even when delivering the news.

Features can come in a variety of formats including how-to, profiles, interviews, behind the scenes, and color pieces that shed light on a topic.

How to Write a Feature

Writing a feature begins with two important factors: your topic and how much space you can devote to it—your assigned word count. You must work within these parameters, which means you need to balance between offering in-depth content while sticking within the word limit. To provide the insights and background to a feature usually requires conducting interviews and researching to gathering information.

The components of a feature story include:

The Opening: This is where you hook your readers into the story. Whereas a news story will say who, what, when, where and how in the first line, a features story often opens with an anecdote, statistic, or description.

The Middle: This is where your feature story unfolds. Because you have more space than a news story, you can take your time to deliver the information and details of the feature.

The End: This is where you wrap up what you've said, and bring the lessons or emotions home for the reader.

When writing your feature, remember that you can be a storyteller over a news reporter. That means you can show your readers what's going on over telling them.

For example, a news report might read: “Witnesses report that the pipe burst at 1:32 p.m.,” while a feature might read: “Joe Smith was washing his lunch dish from his daily peanut butter and jelly sandwich when something caught his eye out the window. He heard a loud bang and saw water gushing up like a geyser."

Along with personal accounts, features typically include expert opinions. In the above example, you might get statements from a knowledgeable pipefitter explaining likely problems the pipe may have had that led to the burst.

If any passersby sustained injuries, a news report would most likely cite the number of injured bystanders, whereas a feature would interview a victim of the water deluge, and delve into whether the city or municipality that was responsible for maintaining the pipe might be liable for those injuries.

The idea behind a feature is to go one step further over simply delivering news. You’re not just telling your reader what happened, you’re explaining why it’s important, who is affected and presenting the big picture.