Learning how to write a feature article: Studying online with GetSmarter

The last few weeks since our return from our 3-week visit to the USA have gone past in a blur, and I am playing catch-up. I am sorry that things have been so quiet on the blog-front, and apologise in advance that it’s going to remain a little quiet here for the next couple of weeks too.

I have enrolled in a course, you see, and have suddenly found myself in the position of being a student, which means learning new things, meeting new people, doing a lot of reading, taking copious notes, processing information, interacting with fellow-students, and doing battle with deadlines and grappling with assignments. So not much free time for blogging right now.

Are you curious to hear what course I’m doing?

I have registered for a Feature Writing Course with GetSmarter, “a high-touch online education company that works together with top universities and industry experts”. Their courses are run entirely online, which means no time is wasted commuting to venues and searching for parking, and adjusting your own schedule to fit in with other people’s schedules. It’s great!

GetSmarter works closely together with the University of Cape Town and Random House/Struik Publishers, which I think is a reassuring confirmation of the high quality of their courses. Our teacher is André Wiesner, whom I remember from my days studying at UCT, so that further motivated me to plunge into this new challenge; I was pretty certain it would be a darn good course if he was teaching us!

The GetSmarter website

The Feature Writing Course is a 10-week course (although in practice it works out as slightly longer), with a new module being released every Monday morning. It’s a pretty comprehensive course: They start with the basics, defining what feature writing is – and isn’t – and what it entails, then going on to explain the practical issues of developing feature story ideas, conducting the research and interviewing people, before looking at how to write, structure and edit the article. They also cover journalistic ethics, and the difficult matter of how to sell your writing.

So, every Monday morning, I download my notes and read them offline; they supply handy links to informative videos, numerous helpful background articles and examples of excellent feature articles, all of which I can watch and read online. It usually takes a couple of days for me to get through the reading. Each module has an online practice quiz, which is a great way for me to double-check that I’ve understood everything, as it immediately gives feedback on my answers.

And if I have any questions or need clarification, I can interact with the lecturer and my fellow-students on the discussion forum. There’ve been some stimulating and thought-provoking debates on the forums lately, which is really reinforcing the feeling that we’re part of a class. Although it’s a little difficult when you don’t really know who anyone is, and you don’t interact face-to-face, so there’s no body language to help you understand, it’s fun to see how personalities are nonetheless coming through the words on the page, and how you get an idea of someone’s areas of interest and ways of seeing the world.

To keep us on our toes, we also have an assignment to complete every second week (so there’s 5 in total), which is peer-reviewed by three of our fellow-students; each of us has to review at least three assignments, though we can comment on more, if we feel like it. We were given some guidelines on how to do these reviews – the gist being: be nice, give constructive criticism, say what is good about the writing, and make helpful specific suggestions on where you think it could be improved.

From what I’ve seen of Assignment 1 (I haven’t had time to read through all 40-odd submissions), everyone has really put some effort into crafting their 500-word writing exercises; the reviews range from the very short and to-the-point to the more thoughtful and lengthy responses. I’m finding it interesting to see how my fellow students are tackling the assignments.

The Feature Writing Course

But if you want an easy-peasy course? – this is definitely not it!

We’re on Module 4, and I have to come up with four brilliant story ideas by next Monday. So here is a little plea for help to all of you brilliantly creative people! 🙂

I can focus on people who work in certain specific occupations (late-night, dangerous, glamorous and mobile), or people who belong to clubs or societies that engage in intriguing, off-beat or otherwise misunderstood recreational activities, pastimes or hobbies.

Not only that, but I’m supposed to identify and ‘nail down’ some willing interviewees in those areas too. Once I’ve chosen my story, I need to stick with it for the remainder of the course, progressively refining the topic as I do the research and conduct the interviews. What I’m finding most challenging is the fact that I don’t really know that many people, never mind people in dangerous or glamorous occupation, or people with off-beat hobbies.

The pressure is ON!

I’m mulling some things over, but if any of you have some bright ideas or suggestions – please drop me a line. 

19 thoughts on “Learning how to write a feature article: Studying online with GetSmarter

  1. When you do find your subject I’m sure they will be more than thrilled to talk about themselves and their, whatever, with you! 🙂 This venture sounds exciting and fun and has inspired me to look into a writing course myself. Can’t wait to read your results!

  2. Sounds intense and helpful. Call or email all your friends and ask them about their hobbies. You may get some surprises. Email your penpals. Go to an old folks home and talk to some of the residents about what hobbies they had when they were younger. Can you think of any organizations in your area that have volunteers? maybe you could interview those volunteers to find out why they volunteer? Dog rescue units. Volunteer emergency personnel. hmmm ask me some more questions, I will give you some more answers. LOL

  3. Oh good for you, Ms. Reggie! Good for you to keep learning, studying, expanding your world. I don’t have any suggestions–only joy in my heart for your new undertaking. Many blessings!

  4. You already write so wonderfully I hardly think you need this course. Sounds like you are enjoying it though. I would offer to be your topic, but I don’t think gardening would qualify as off-beat!

    • Thank you, Indigigirl, that’s really kind of you. Actually, I am finding this course more challenging than I had anticipated… it’s stretching me in all kinds of ways. It’s forcing me to get out there and engage with people I don’t know, which is really hard for me. If gardening was an off-beat hobby, that’d be great – I’d definitely want to interview you! 🙂

  5. As ever I am IMPRESSED – I know you will do well, you’re already half-way there with all the blogging you’ve done. The size of the course work makes me feel weak at the knees – rather you than me!
    Go for it!

  6. So…how’s the course going?

    Just wish I could help in some way….even as a topic!

    So, if you want to talk to a music therapist with a rather unhealthy interest in the Eurovision Song Contest and chocolate – then I’m your guy!!! 😉


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