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How to Choose an Article Topic

You start writing an article by choosing an article topic. Then, you drill down to an angle and your main idea. Then, you’re ready to write. Right?

Wrong. Not if you want to accumulate bylines. “Write it and they will publish it” is a risky approach to freelance writing.

The best writers don’t start writing by choosing a topic. They start by targeting where their article will be published … and by understanding those readers.

How to choose an article topic with Word Wise at Nonprofit Copywriter #WritingTips #WritingTips #FreelanceWriting

Understand your readers

You may have an article topic in mind. But before you head to the keyboard and bang it out, ask this question: where will it appear and who will read it? If your article topic isn’t appealing to a particular audience, then why would an editor or site owner publish it?

I’m on the receiving end of article pitches all the time. Perhaps the most memorable was the one that pitched me tips for choosing costume jewelry when I was editing content for a home gardening site.

If you write your article and then send it out article willy-nilly to markets, then you’re likely wasting your time. You need to know your reader and their needs. To uncover that information, understand your prospective publications and who they serve. For instance, if you’re writing an article for …

  • A website, blog, magazine: read the writer’s guidelines. Editors have a good idea of who reads their content and the topics that particular audience craves. Then, study the types of articles that are printed in that publication. Look at the letters to the editor to see which article topics generate the most response.
  • A client (biz, ministry, or nonprofit): ask for a description of their target audience. Find out who comes to their website and who reads their newsletters. Ask them to give you the links to their most-trafficked pages so you can see the kinds of content that pull in the most readers. Look at reader and customer testimonials.
  • Your blog or website: you should have a good understanding of the type of readers you attract. But their needs are ever-changing. Survey your readers regularly. Look at your competitors — similar websites and blogs — and take note of the topics that resonate with those readers. Join online groups and forums in your niche and track discussions.

Understand your reader’s pain points

Once you know the big-picture topics that interest a publication’s readers, dig further. By all means, write out a description of the typical reader. But you’ll resonate more deeply with site owners, editors, and readers — and get more bylines — by taking one additional step: identify your reader’s main pain points. Here’s how to investigate to uncover this valuable information.

  • Study letters to the editor, blog comments, social media posts, and Amazon reviews.
  • Note what do readers say about a topic.
  • Note what they leave out.
  • Note the questions they ask.

Let’s look at an example. A publication’s readers’ are focused on parenting multiples. You’ve done due diligence by studying articles on a publication’s website. You’ve seen reader comments on its social media sites and you’ve noticed questions about strollers for multiples.

Yet parents are confused about the best features to look for. What features are essential? What features are not worth the extra cost?

Before you get hung up on the stroller issue, take a step back. You’ve uncovered a couple of “pain points.” First, managing multiples and their gear can be a tricky business, and parents want good information in order to make the best decisions possible. And second, raising multiples can get expensive. Parents may be willing to pay for some conveniences, but they want to know what they get for their money.

You can tap into those pain points by writing a stroller article.

But you can also tap into those pain points when you write other articles for parents of multiples — say, an article about how to manage multiples on a vacation to the beach.

When you understand a reader’s pain points, you can write more than one piece of content for that audience. Audience + pain point = article topic(s).

Use this template to identify your article topic

Here’s a simple template to help you identify your article topic:

My article will help (target reader) to (pain point to overcome).

Let’s say you’re an avid seamstress and you’d like to write an article for Sewing Machines Today. You notice that readers in the publication’s blog and online forums raise lots of questions about Singer sewing machines. Some readers are struggling with which presser feet to purchase to use with their Singer machines.

If you sew, you understand that these little attachments make a big difference in your finished product. And there are dozens of them. To be honest, what presser feet to choose is a fairly broad topic for seamstresses. It’s a pain point — a confusion. They want to get on with their sewing project. They don’t want to worry about machinery. Armed with that information, you’re able to identify your topic. You start with the template.

My article will help (target reader) to (pain point to overcome).

Then you use the information to complete it.

My article will help (home seamstresses) to (choose the correct presser feet for Singer sewing machines).

From there, you can whittle down your article topic to an article angle. You’ve seen a few articles on presser feet. But you haven’t seen an article on presser feet for embroidery. Or you haven’t seen an article that reviews Singer’s presser feet. Or you haven’t seen an article that explains how to choose presser feet for balance thread tension.

See what I mean?

Let the article topic choose you

Maybe you already have what you think is an article topic. Don’t proceed with writing just yet. Find a publication whose readers need information on that topic. And let their needs help guide your planning and narrow down your options

In the end, don’t choose an article topic. Let the topic choose you. Do that, and you’ll meet readers’ needs. And you’ll write articles that get published.

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