Environmental journalism is a growing field. This genre of writing has become a primary channel for wildlife activists and writers to raise awareness for nature conservation. In addition, it’s also a highly effective way to educate others on the importance of protecting the natural environment. But how does one write an insightful and impactful environmental article? Here are the basic tips to get you started in this vital field of writing.
Building the next generation of wildlife and environmental media specialists
Step 1: Choose a general topic
If you’re interested in becoming an environmental writer, you probably already have a passion for wildlife and conservation. Now it’s time to pinpoint that interest: which topics do you feel strong about? Which environmental issues are prevalent in your community? What topic, in your opinion, has been widely researched, but needs more media coverage? Asking these questions will help you choose a strong, relevant topic to spark the interest of readers and environmental publications.
Step 2: Narrow it down
Let’s say you’ve chosen to write about a topic like canned lion hunting, climate change, endangered species or plastic pollution. Though these are brilliant topics that definitely need media coverage, journalists have already written tons of stories on them. Your article needs to stand out from the rest. Choose a specific issue within the general topics. For example, if you’re writing about the endangered status of the African penguin, focus your article on a local sanctuary or rehab centre and interview the owner or founder. An environmental article also needs to be timely, so writing about a recent environmental news event – like an oil spill – is also a good example of a focused, relevant topic.
Step 3: Research
Now that you have your topic, educate yourself on it as much as you possibly can. Gather information that you’ll use in your article. This will include long hours of desk research and interviewing experts on the subject. Read research papers to find out what the latest findings are on your specific environmental issue. Read previous environmental articles about the same topic.
Interviews are an important part of this research. Since you’re not an authority on the subject (yet), you need to make sure that the quotes and facts in your article are from scientists, ecologists and environmental activists. Their opinions and knowledge will give your article credibility. Tip for when you’re writing your article: make sure you attribute the facts to the right sources and quote them correctly!
Step 4: Compile a research sentence
After your research, compile a single sentence that will summarise what your article is about. Always keep this sentence in mind while you’re writing. It will direct you in your writing so that your focus remains clear. A research sentence should start like this: “Having done my journalistic research, I look at it this way: toxins from the Big Local Factory in So-and-so Town contributes greatly to the pollution of the local rivers, endangering humans and animals in the area.”
Step 5: More research
In fact, you will be doing continuous research throughout the process of writing your article. There might be more information to add, a new person to interview or new scientific results that were published yesterday.
Step 6: Structure your article
Have a clear structure to make your story flow. There should be an intro, a body text and a conclusion. When planning your article, write down briefly what you want to say with each paragraph. A standard environmental article consists of around 1400 words (depending on the guidelines of publications). Make sure that each part of the article flows into the next to form a coherent storyline.
Step 7: Write a killer intro and conclusion
These two paragraphs are the most important pieces of your article because it’s the first and the last impression that your reader will get from your article. Your introduction should grab their attention and draw them in, so they feel compelled to keep reading. Your conclusion should be a kicker that leaves them pondering the subject. After reading the entire article, it should call the reader to some kind of action. Whether it’s donating to a cause, saving water, becoming a volunteer or spreading the word through sharing the article.
Step 8: Edit your article
Always check for spelling mistakes. Make your sentences and paragraphs short and easily readable. Use Grammarly.com or another grammar and spelling tool while typing to ensure you don’t overlook any errors.
General tips for writing an environmental article
Incorporate your original voice
You are a writer, and you write in a unique style. Make sure you add your own personal touch to every piece of writing you do, and this includes your passion for the environment.
Environmental articles take a lot of research and revision. Make sure you start way in advance to your deadline.
Tell a story
Though an environmental article has a more serious tone, the target audience should still be the public. You want to inform readers on an environmental issue, and you want them to understand why it’s important and needs their immediate attention. Make sure your piece is written in a clear, simple and easily understandable way. Always keep in mind that you’re telling a story about the environment, so apply the elements of storytelling to your article. Include some characters in your story. Even if it’s a lion or an elephant on a game reserve, enduring a drought. Everyone loves a good story!
Check your facts
Important! Every single piece of information should be double-checked and verified. This will make your article valuable and credible.
Know the publication
If you’re writing the article for a specific magazine, newspaper or online publication, they usually have specific guidelines. Make sure you research these guidelines before you start writing, and constantly refer back to them while you’re editing.
Use the active voice instead of passive voice
This helps for readability and makes your reader understand your writing better. It also helps to shorten your sentences and paragraphs.
Be serious AND passionate
Lastly, let your love for the environment be your motivation while writing. Environmental writing is a serious field, but it’s also something that can evoke a strong sense of care and emotion in readers. Don’t get too emotional in your writing, but remember to include a voice of environmentalism in your article. Your story might just be a vital contribution to environmental awareness – on a local or a global scale.
Blogger Profile - Rouxne van der Westhuizen
Rouxne has an Honours degree in journalism and media studies. She is the course director for the Travel and Environmental Journalism and specialises in wildlife conservation writing, travel journalism and blogging.