Science in Society

How do I structure an article?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

How do I structure a short news article?

Sixty percent of adults do not want schools to reopen amid the COVID-19 peak. This was a key finding from a survey conducted by researchers from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Professor Kate Alexander, South African Research Chair in Social Change at UJ, points out that the survey’s findings will come as a blow to the government as it continues to ponder what to do about schools…​​​​​​​

The article moves swiftly to cover the Who?, What?, Where?, When?, How? and a brief So what? It may include a description of the research project, main findings, conclusions and some more quotes from researchers involved.

A short news-format article may also be used to announce an event such as a workshop, conference, new project or survey requiring a response from the reader.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Many of the same principles apply:

Headline: HSRC webinar on the impact of chronic violence on adolescents’ mental health

Intro: Research has shown that an estimated 90% of adolescents in the Western Cape have witnessed community violence. How has this affected their mental health?

What/Where/When: The HSRC will host an event on [DATE] at [TIME] at [LOCATION] to discuss ….

How and why: During this event, supported by the Western Cape Centre for Violence Prevention, the HSRC’s Dr Susan Jones will …

The discussions will inform …

Contact: For more information, please contact [CONTACT PERSON] at [EMAIL] or [PHONE] or click here [ZOOM LINK]

How do I structure a longer article?

Article headline: Aim for 5–12 words. The title/headline needs to be tight and interesting enough to grab the attention. No academic jargon or unfamiliar acronyms and abbreviations allowed. A long sentence is not a headline.

Deck or lead: A short paragraph (3070 words) that tells the reader what the article is about and who the author is. If written well, it helps to tantalise the reader to read the rest of the article. In an email newsletter (Mailchimp-generated for example), this lead paragraph is often what the reader sees first and it needs to convince them to click through to the full article on the HSRC website or news platform.

Article body (700–1100 words): The article body has an introduction, core section and conclusion.

The introduction of the article needs to be tight and may speak to the challenge that the HSRC’s work addresses, a background issue/event or country challenge.

Next, the author can describe the HSRC’s work in the core section, which may consist of research, findings and projects. If it is an opinion piece, set out the facts to motivate your expert stance.

Finally, the article needs a strong conclusion that satisfies the “So what?” question. In other words, we need to show why the HSRC’s research project or findings or the researcher’s expert opinion is important and the planned or suggested way forward, potential impact, etc. This may include very specific or practical recommendations of what can be done. (“Unemployment needs to be addressed.” is simply stating the obvious and not a recommendation)


Read the section on narrative writing.

Adding digital elements to help raise the voices of ordinary people in research

Using video to tell interesting stories

Link to the next section:

  1. Who is my target audience?
  2. What do I want to share?
  3. What should my word count be?
  4. How do I structure an article?
  5. How can I use stories in my communication?
  6. I need help with language and style
  7. What about footnotes/bibliographies/references?
  8. Tick box
  9. Talking about the HSRC: Are we diluting our brand?
  10. Focus on the researcher: Conveying the So What? and writing a short biography
  11. How do I structure a PowerPoint presentation?
  12. How do I take a useful photograph?
  13. How do I plan the structure of a short video?
  14. Useful links on science communication
  15. I am no digital native and need help with these: ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​creating hyperlinks, tracking edits in Word, making edits in Pdf, sending large documents and folders via WeTransfer
  16. Visualise your communication for impact
  17. HSRC events: Requirements for drafting and sending invitations

This toolkit is designed to help HSRC researchers to communicate information about their research effectively to maximise impact.​​​​​​​