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Thursday, August 9, 2012

How to write a gripping article on office lunch thieves (yes, you read that right)

If you have read "25 commandments for journalists" and "How writers can overcome reader resistance", you are sure to appreciate a Bloomberg BusinessWeek feature on, of all things, office workers who steal your lunch.

I hear you ask, "Is that even a story idea?"

Yes, big-time. Ask anyone who has been the victim of lunch theft at work. Ask youngsters who live in a hostel that provides a common kitchen and refrigerator. Ask Tapasya Mitra Mazumder who told me earlier today that she stopped leaving food in her hostel refrigerator after she found a creepy bite mark in her wad of butter.

"But," you continue, "what can you write after you have put down a couple of points? How do you make this story interesting enough for readers?"

Well, there's a lot you can learn on that front from Claire Suddath, who wrote this piece on office lunch thieves in the July 30-August 5 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek.

She begins with a colourful anecdote to engage her readers:

My friend Peter’s boss always eats lunch in the office — it’s just not always his lunch. If his boss finds a sandwich lying around, he scarfs it down without a second thought. People warned Peter about this when he took the job, at an aerospace tooling company near Seattle. Once his boss snatched an apple right off his desk; Peter has now taken to hiding his snacks in drawers.

Having engaged her readers, Suddath proceeds to "entertain" them. The opening line of the second paragraph makes it clear that Peter's boss is not the only aberrant around:

Everything is up for grabs in office kitchens: soda, coffee creamer, potato chips, it doesn’t matter.

Then we get an example from Suddath's own experience, which is followed by advice from a business etiquette expert. You will marvel at the wit in this particular paragraph.


After some more interesting nuggets of information presented in a smoothly flowing manner, Suddath tells readers how the problem can be tackled, with the help of Kerry Miller, the creator of a blog (you have to read Miller's advice, and also visit the blog concerned).

By the time you have come to the final sentence of the feature, you realise you have not only been engaged and entertained but also enlightened. What more can you ask of a writer?
  • Illustration courtesy: Bloomberg Businessweek/Erik T. Johnson 
    FROM PASSIVEAGGRESSIVENOTES.COM: “People steal other people’s food and drink so often in my office that security put up a notice,” says our submitter in Florida. “Apparently, the sign isn’t working.” Instead, the notes left by the victims have turned into an ongoing office-wide joke.