The standfirst is a tool used in journalistic reporting and many other forms of writing that has been around for a very long time. It remains popular today, and in fact may even be particularly beneficial today as compared with when it was first introduced. Read on to learn more about this technique.
Standfirst is a term used in journalism to describe the practice of providing a short summary of an article immediately following a header, before the bulk of the content. This is typically ‘typographically distinct’ from the rest of the copy, meaning that it will either be written in a different font, or perhaps with heavy set or italicized text. The objective of the stand first is to reel in the reader with engaging content and to give them a brief summary. This way, they can then decide whether that content is right for them and whether they should continue reading.
For example, if you had a story about a dog that was missing but was recently found then it might look like so:
Title: Dog Thought Dead Discovered at Bottom of Mountain
Standfirst: Owner Jill Valentine was shocked and relieved to find her retriever alive and well at the bottom of a large sheer drop in Wales. ‘Bixby’ had been missing for over two weeks and presumed dead.
Body: After two weeks of searching, owner Jill Valentine had given up hope that her dog Bixby would return to her. The retriever had gone missing during a walk having appeared to have taken a fall from the steep cliffs in the Snowdown area. Two days ago however, Bixby was found alive and well on the beach down below the sheer drop.
Jill would often walk her retriever around…
Using this style allows for a user who is quickly skimming content to decide whether a story is of interest to them and to get up to speed with the latest events. This saves them time and is particularly well suited to digital storytelling. Today, most people who browse the web are in a hurry and want to be able to quickly find and assess information. This is also why large headers, multiple paragraphs and other formatting changes have become commonplace.
The standfirst system works perfectly with the inverted pyramid approach to journalistic writing. This is a structure for reporting news that places the ‘most newsworthy info’ at the top and then adds important details and finally background information.