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Opinions of Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Columnist: Owusu-Ansah, Emmanuel Sarpong

The Art and Craft of Writing a Creative Article

The Art and Craft of Writing a Creative Article and Caption

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah

Following the publication of my article with somehow witty title, ‘Ewes are at War with Akans: Kpegah vs Akufo-Addo’, some readers left abusive comments and sent offensive emails. It turned out, that about 80% of those who issued the insulting commentaries did not even open the page let alone reading the article. It also became clear, that almost all the positive comments that landed in my email box, came from people who read and digested the content of the article, as they were able to quote potions of the article to make their various points.

I have never been apprehensive or discouraged about obnoxious comments on my write-ups since my writing career. However, it becomes quite worrying when such uncouth comments and conclusions are drawn from absolutely no premises.

So the big question is: why on earth would one consider it civil and apt to comment on an article they have not yet read, irrespective of how irritating, biased or beautiful the title appears to be? I understand and appreciate the fact that not all our readers are scholars, or permit me to say, very educated formally.

But no matter how low one’s level of education is, it is still difficult to comprehend why they would base their conclusions on just a phrase, a caption. It’s either you read the article and leave a comment (that’s if you want to), or ignore the article and refrain from writing ill-informed comment. You do not ignore an article and still go on to write a voluminous remark (whether positive or negative) on it, as if you are an omniscient reader.

The obvious presupposition is that many readers do not understand and/or appreciate the art and craft of writing a creative and attractive article and caption for publication in the print or electronic (internet) media. I thus consider it expedient to briefly highlight some of the key principles and techniques that inform a creative or crafty article and title.

Every piece is meant to be clearly understood by the intended audience; hence, one significant aspect of a good article is the use of appropriate diction, language or vocabulary, and of course style. Simplicity – the construction of easily understandable and grammatically spot-on sentences or phrases is thus, always important.

The first paragraph is usually meant to provide a preview of the story. This will help readers to decide if they want to read the rest of the story. The demerit is that presenting a summary pregnant with too much information in the first paragraph may prevent some readers from reading on, as they might feel satisfied with what they gather from the first paragraph.

The opening line of a good article must grab the reader’s attention straight away and escalate their interest; so I do understand that a poor writing style and disjointed initial paragraph(s) or phrases could result in the loss of reading appetite.

But remember, it is one thing being put off by the first paragraph or line of the main text, and another not opening the page at all to attempt to read it, and yet go ahead to write a comment about the text. There is a reasonable excuse for the former, but certainly, not the latter.

One of the outmost objectives of every serious journalist or writer, particularly a print or electronic media person, is to achieve considerable readership or attract a big audience. To realize this objective, one must provide a well-turned, attractive, tempting (in terms of people wanting to read it), and/or magnetic title.

A well-turned heading could be punning, amusing or witty, tactful, alliterative, onomatopoeic, etc. To come up with the right caption, one should also consider the nature and disposition of their intended audience. In the case of the Ghanaian audience, it has been observed, that an article with political, tribal and/or anecdotal touch, ‘sells’ more than others. This means that tactfully placing some political language, if possible, in the caption of an article meant to address, for example, domestic violence, could increase the Ghanaian readership; but this is not always advisable.

In the British media, for instance, one may come across an exaggerative title like: ‘Liverpool and Celtic are atrocious’, when the article is in fact about a little scuffle between an insignificant number of supporters from the opposing sides.

If an article is about an individual, a catchy quotation from a statement made by the person in question could be used as the title. Even though such titles serve to give a clue as to the text’s content and entice the reader to examine the text in more detail, they could be very exaggerative or tarnishing, depending on who is reporting about whom.

However, a title should never deviate completely or significantly from the main text (or content). There should always be a reasonable relationship between the title and the main text.

Please note, that titles are not meant to provide detailed information about a write-up; if that were the case, no one would ever read the main text of an article, and there wouldn’t be any need for articles.

A seemingly pleasant or ugly title does not necessarily make the content of an article beautiful or horrible. If I, for instance, wrote an article with the heading: ‘Ghanaian Women are More Beautiful than Nigerian Women’, would that necessarily mean that the write-up says only good things about Ghanaian women, and only bad things about Nigerian ladies? Absolutely not! The title could be ironic (sarcastic) or argumentative. The only way one could know whether or not the content is hailing Ghanaian ladies and vilifying Nigerian women is to read the article.

Some write-ups, as already indicated, are meant to be debated upon. For instance, ‘Religion is a Much Greater Force for Evil than it is for Good’ (caption of one of my previous articles). It would be supremely erroneous to conclude without reading the article that it argues against religion. One other way of phrasing the caption is: ‘Is Religion a Much Greater Force for Evil than it is for Good?’

But I can bet my head on this: a writer would attract a bigger readership with the first title than with the second, as the first heightens curiosity among both religious people and non-religious people. A more academic way of rephrasing this same title is: Religion is a Much Greater Force for Evil than it is for Good. Discuss.

A great title should induce curiosity. Such captions entice the reader to explore the text in more detail. A heading that encourages curiosity and makes the reader take a closer look at the story ‘sells’ more than any other form of caption. Even though the title of my last article ‘Ewes are at War with Akans: Kpegah vs Akufo-Addo’ was figuratively coined and was meant to be discursive, it was also meant to induce curiosity, which I have every reason to believe, was achieved. The title could have been phrased as an interrogation; but I have absolutely no doubt that the non-interrogative form achieved its objective.

We should always remember, that in the contemporary literary world, almost every single statement could be ironic, ambiguous, figurative (metaphorical), or be interpreted differently by different people. This explains why it is not advisable to make hasty conclusions, and write uninformed comments on articles based on just their captions. Reading the main text, even if partially, would give the reader a better understanding and appreciation of its content.

Long live Ghana!

Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power) is an Investigative Journalist, a researcher, an educator and the author of Fourth Phase of Enslavement (2011) and In My End is My Beginning (2012). He may be contacted via email (