Thursday, May 21, 2009

Standfirst ... then sit down

In this week's blog posting, Simon Whaley discusses the occasionally seen 'standfirst paragraph'.

Some magazines, though not all, use what is known as a 'standfirst' paragraph. It's not part of the main article, but it often appears in a slightly larger font than the rest of the piece, right at the beginning. It usually always includes the writer's name.

standfirst paragraph is very much a stylist device. It's not seen in every magazine, but if there, it is often used in most articles within the issue. The idea is to help trap the reader into reading the article itself.

But isn't this what the opening paragraph of the article is supposed to do? Well yes, but because a
standfirst appears in a bigger font size, it is more likely to catch the reader who is flocking through the pages relatively quickly.

It is usually written by the sub/editor, not the writer, however, I take the attitude that if you spot the magazine uses
standfirsts, then you won't come to any harm if you have a go at providing one. The worst that can happen is that the editor simply deletes what you've written and decides to write something else. The best that can happen is that it demonstrates to the editor that you've actually looked at the magazine and seen that they use them!

But one other point to examine is the article's start. Does this differ from an article without a
standfirst? A standfirst may grab the reader's attention with a startling fact, or set the scene, but it will give quite a lot of information to the reader about what the article will actually discuss. Look at the standfirst I put at the beginning of this blog. Having read it, you knew what I was going to talk about, even if you didn't understand what I was going to talk about. Because of this, an article with a standfirst, can sometimes get to the gritty detail of the piece much earlier, than one without.

It's quite a stylistic point to look out for, but its worth scrutinising for. Because if you write an article with an introductory paragraph that explains what the article will be about, and the editor needs to write a
standfirst, he/she may then need to rewrite your introduction. The editor's standfirst will do all the introducing, therefore your article doesn't need to do it. And as we know, the less work an editor has to do, the more chances there are of publication.

So next time you flick through a magazine for analysis purposes, check out whether the style of the publication includes a
standfirst paragraph.

Good luck.