The Essentials of a Good Writer

By Sangeetha Rajesh

To be a top-flight writer or journalist, it is imperative to have a few essential and desirable qualities. While the list of qualities may seem far too many, nevertheless, it helps us assess and re-examine ourselves.

Personal Qualities: Excellent news sense: A good journalist is one who understands and knows what leads will make a good top page story. Of course, this comes with time and experience, but it is important that the reporter has a keen sense to find news.

Deadline: In a journalist’s day-to-day life, time management is quite essential. You may have to chase not one but many stories simultaneously and this means that you are often working against time. You have to churn out clean, precise, and high-quality copies at the least possible time. Curious, passionate, flexible: To be passionate about one’s job doesn’t mean being cathartic. You need to be acquiescent, enthusiastic, and curious about any piece you write.

Facts alone: A writer should know the distinction between presenting facts and mixing it with opinions. This doesn’t mean that there is no space for personal experiences. However, when you write a story it has to be substantiated with all sides of the issue so that it is without bias.

Persistent, sensitive, imaginative, clever: Candidates who are not patient, empathetic, or imaginative won’t last long. It is equally important that you are witty and ingenious when the situation requires you to be. There may be some who may be unwilling to divulge important details; then it boils down to your ability to get them to talk.

Keen listener: Being tolerant and amiable helps if you want to be a first-rate writer. At times, you may have to give in to understand the other person’s point of view.

Stamina and inner strength: By now you must have realised that the list of desirables is endless. However, you will go places if you develop a good stamina and inner courage to deal with the situations. You may have to take difficult decisions in defending your story. Legal knowledge, topical issues: Whatever you decide to write – a news story, journal, or a book – it helps if you are within the boundaries of legal rights and responsibilities. Also, any piece that is current and newsworthy raises its chances of success.

Contacts: The only sure-fire way to find stories is to maintain a contacts diary that is updated, well laid-out, and easy to use. Before writing a piece, you can talk to the right people and add credibility to your story.

Atmosphere, human angle: Once you have finished your research on the topic you want to write about, look for the human angle in the story. Do not be mechanical in handling it – find out about the real people concerned, does your piece address those needs, what are the benefits for the readers, etc.

On the professional front:

It always pays to be a thoroughbred professional. In a short span of time, it helps you to know the names of important local people – mayor, police, political party heads, aristocrats, academics, etc – to churn out stories. That means your contacts book is brimming with names and is up-to-date.

While you are working on a particular story, it helps to check for fresh angle. This may lead you to yet another idea. For instance, suppose you’re writing about parenting: How to train your three-year-old to speak and learn. While interviewing parents for your story, you may hit upon such information as – when do kids cry, do they crave for attention all the time, how to know your child is ready to learn and share, etc.

Congratulations! You have just got another idea for your next story – The ages and stages of sharing. When you are looking for the most balanced angle to form your story, you may get involved into writing running features – stories that are somehow related and yet present new dimensions. Look for cues.

Whether you’re a freelancer or are working in a company, you are expected to look for leads on your own without being asked to. By this way, you are on your toes always.

Researching your story thoroughly is another important skill. Unless and until you present your story properly, nobody will invest faith in you.

Conducting interviews are an important aspect of good writing. Speaking to ‘people in the know’ add colour to an otherwise dull piece. Interviewing is an art and can be learnt. The most vital issues in interviewing are:

1) Researching about the person (if he is an achiever or a big personality)
2) Knowing what to ask – prepare some questions
3) Asking questions to the right people (in case of features that involve common people)
4) Persuading the person to talk
5) Picking the moments to ask probing questions, if any
6) Being receptive, courteous, and flexible
Last but not least, whatever you write do it with faith. Let your story speak for you. Present a clean and unbiased copy.

While these qualities alone may not guarantee you a hundred percent success rate, they certainly go a long way to help you chase your dream provided you have the most fundamental skill – that of producing flawless copies.

Sangeetha Rajesh is a freelance writer and currently a journalist for an expatriate magazine, Outpost London. She has written numerous features for the largest daily in the world, The Times of India. She also writes for a newspaper and several websites along with a few of the frontline authors in the writing world. She can be reached at

Copyright Sangeetha Rajesh 2003


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