Financial writers clinic: Lessons from Floyd Norris of The New York Times

I’m a big fan of New York Times columnist Floyd Norris. His Feb. 27 column illustrates techniques you can use for your financial articles and blog posts. 

Lesson 1: Make your title provocative–and consider giving away your conclusion. “Think Banks Are Out of the Woods? Maybe Not,” says Norris’ title. 

The title achieves two positive results. First, it challenges a growing number of pundits who believe banks are in much better shape than one year ago. That’s provocative. Folks will want to know the reasons behind his statement.

Second, the title gives away the article’s main point. Making your conclusion clear up front will attract more people than a title that doesn’t express an opinion, such as “Percentage of bad bank loans” or even “Bad bank loans soar.” Busy people want to get a sense upfront of whether an article will justify their spending the time to read it. 

Lesson 2: A startling fact will hook your readers in your opening sentence. Norris opens with “More than $1 in every $10 that American banks have outstanding in loans is lent to a troubled borrower, a ratio far higher than previously seen in the quarter-century that such numbers have been compiled.” I had to continue reading after that opening. 

Lesson 3: Lead with your message, not your source, as I’ve written on this blog. Norris didn’t mention the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation report that’s the source of his data until his third paragraph. Naming your source boosts the credibility of your article or blog post. But it’s usually not a particularly interesting piece of information. 

Lesson 4: Use graphs or some sort of graphic. A non-text element attracts the eyes of people who might otherwise skip an article. However, Norris’ graphs could have been stronger if they were integrated into the layout of the article and carried more descriptive text. 

Lesson 5: Your ideas count. Norris always has something interesting to say. I might read his articles even if they weren’t well organized.

Image courtesy of pakora at

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