University of Wisconsin–Madison

Features Story Assignment in Management and Human Resources

Phillip Kim, Management and Human Resources 422

In my introductory course on entrepreneurship, we read articles about entrepreneurs, discuss case studies about businesses they start, listen to guest speakers about their businesses, and perform consulting projects for local small business owners. But I realized that my students do not actually speak one on one with an entrepreneur during the semester. By speaking with an entrepreneur, students can hear first hand about this particular career choice. Thus, I designed this assignment to get my students to interact with actual entrepreneurs and to learn from their experiences.

Here’s what I learned from using this assignment. In an age of digital media, students are less likely to read a newspaper or magazine, even in their online formats. I learned that I couldn’t assume all my students knew what a “feature story” was, much less know how to write one. Even though I provided several examples in the assignment outline, many of my students didn’t follow through with reading one to familiarize themselves with the format and style of writing. I assign one of the examples on the first day of class and discuss it with my students. I also provide them with an example of a good feature story written by a former student.

Given the effort to contact someone you don’t know well and to arrange for an interview, my students opted for an efficient way to complete the assignment. Most students ended up interviewing someone quite accessible, such as a family member, a close friend, or even a roommate. In contrast, one of my best students actually wandered the halls of his engineering lab to find a professor who started a business in his lab. His feature story certainly captured the spirit of the assignment, and he shared with me how much he enjoyed the opportunity to learn in this way. Thus, I now ask my students to interview someone beyond their immediate network of friends or family members to encourage a spirit of exploration and learning from someone’s experience that they do not know already.

Features Story Assignment

The primary objective of this assignment is to learn about the day-to-day aspects of starting and running a business as an entrepreneur. For this assignment, you may work in pairs.

  • Select an entrepreneur to interview. Here are some suggestions:
    • Choose an industry or business setting that interests you.
    • Try to select individuals who embody the definition of entrepreneurship we use in this course: the pursuit of opportunities without regard to resources under control.
    • Attempt to find an entrepreneur who has started multiple companies and/or failed at previous ventures. These individuals are likely to share interesting anecdotes based on their experiences.
    • Scan the local business press such as Capital Region Business Journal (http://www.madison.com/crbj/) for possible entrepreneurs to interview.
    • Contact alumni:
      • Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship (http://www.bus.wisc.edu/weinertcenter/)—Contact Janet Christopher for assistance (jchristopher@bus.wisc.edu)
      • Burrill Business Plan Competition Winners (http://www.bus.wisc.edu/burrill/)—Contact John Surdyk for assistance (jsurdyk@bus.wisc.edu)
      • Wisconsin Alumni Association (http://www.uwalumni.com/)
      • School of Business Alumni (http://www.bus.wisc.edu/alumni/)
  • Prepare a 4-5 page “features article” that profiles the entrepreneur you selected. Write your article in a similar style to those that would appear in the popular business press (e.g., Wall Street Journal, Businessweek, INC magazine) or in your local hometown newspaper. To write an engaging article, you need to find a “hook” to capture your reader in the first paragraph.

Here are sample articles. Note what makes them engaging to read. Try to emulate these characteristics in your article!

Capital Region Business Journal (http://www.madison.com/crbj/): Browse through the “Family Business” articles in past issues of INC (http://www.inc.com/entrepreneur/): Read the articles about the magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year.

  • Write this article in multiple stages:
    • Initial draft: Please submit a draft of your article by 8 February. Include a brief “Next steps” section to outline any additional work you plan to conduct such as collecting additional information for the final draft.
    • Meet with Writing Fellow: Your Writing Fellow will review and prepare written comments on your draft. Please schedule a meeting with your Fellow to review the comments. Your Fellow will provide feedback on your writing and highlight issues to address in your revision. If working in pairs, both students should be prepared to comment on the entire document when they meet with the Fellow.
    • Final draft: Please submit your final draft by 6 March. Edit your work for clarity and concision. In addition to the final draft, please submit a response to the comments you received from your Writing Fellow.

      For example:
      Writing Fellow: On page 3, paragraph 2, you do not have a topic sentence that unites the entire paragraph.
      Response: We rewrote this paragraph with a stronger lead topic sentence.

      Writing Fellow: On page 1, paragraph 2, you describe various characteristics of the entrepreneur’s former business opportunities. Can you summarize these points or eliminate them?
      Response: While we understand the intent of the suggestion, we believe that retaining the additional explanation enhances the depth of the article.

Use the supplementary writing texts as resources or the online resources at the UW Writing Center (www.wisc.edu/writing)

  • Include the following items in your article. A good article will contain this information and … more!
    • Opening hook:
      • Something interesting about the entrepreneur or the business opportunity to engage your reader
    • Background information on the entrepreneur:
      • Education, work experience, and other relevant skills
      • How did the individual make the decision to be an entrepreneur?
    • Description of the business opportunity:
      • What is it? Provide some current and past performance information
      • How did the individual identify this opportunity? Innovation or imitation?
      • Did the entrepreneur use any role models to develop the opportunity?
    • Lessons learned:
      • What can others learn from this individual’s experience?
      • Are there any “A-ha” moments to share?
    • Use of supplementary materials:
      • Quotes – from the individual and/or colleagues, associates, friends, competitors, etc.
      • Written materials—company press releases, other articles, etc.
    • Evaluation criteria:
      • On-time, initial draft submission: 2 pts
        • Inclusion of “Next steps” section (1 pt)
        • Coverage of content items (1 pt)
      • Final submission: 8 pts
        • Evidence of content integration (4 pt)
        • Creative and engaging writing (2 pt)
        • Clean, well-written article, free of errors and edited for clarity (1 pt)
        • Written response to Writing Fellow’s feedback (1 pt)