My first “official” writing course taught me how to write an article and break into print. Back then, the internet was still fairly new. Magazines were one of the main avenues to accumulating clips and experience. Many a freelance writer got their start by writing feature articles for trade and consumer publications – myself included.
Plus, learning how to write an article yielded more than bylines. I’ve been able to apply those skills as I write other kinds of content. Some project-specific details vary, but the principles are the same.
For instance, when I learned how to write an article, I learned the basics for writing a blog post. I learned how to gather facts, anecdotes, quotes, and stories to write a research paper or an essay. I even learned in large part, how to write a book.
This set of 12 tips outlines how to write an article. Complete each step, one at a time, and you’ll acquire those skills. Plus, you’ll have completed an article that you can submit to a magazine or blog or publish on LinkedIn, Medium, or another article sharing platform.
Start writing your article with a fun brainstorming session to gather a pool of ideas in a short amount of time. If you have zero ideas of what to write about, then brainstorm a list of topics that are interesting to you. If you have a topic in mind for your article, then brainstorm a list of different subjects associated with that topic.
For example, let’s say you need to brainstorm a general list of topics that interest you and you come up with …
Or let’s say you’re interested in the weather and you need to brainstorm a list of subjects associated with that topic. Your list might look like …
An article topic is broad, but a slant is specific. How will you slant your article topic to a publication’s readers? Do your homework and determine the approach that’s a good fit for your article.
If you’re writing an article about the weather for a bride’s magazine, then slant to outdoor wedding plans for inclement weather. If you’re writing a column for a regional newspaper, then your slant can be how to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season. Maybe the publication is for entrepreneurial leaders … preteen boys … firefighters … NASCAR enthusiasts. Know the publication’s audience and slant your topic to that readership.
Observe the kinds of articles does the magazine or website publishes – feature articles, how to’s, opinion pieces – as well as the writing style. Is the content conversational or academic? Is it straightforward, serious, humorous, instructional, or reflective? Read the writer’s guidelines so you understand the publication’s content, style, and word count requirements.
An article is a source of information. (Blog posts, editorials, essays, and copywriting, on the other hand, use facts but also inject opinion.) In order to write helpful, credible, well-constructed articles, you need source material.
Research your topic and gather facts, statistics, anecdotal evidence, quotes. Go to reference works, periodicals, news sources, books, recorded interviews, government publications, nonprofit publications, case studies to gather background. Gather two times as much information as you need for your article.
What should you do with all the extra? You’ll tag it with keywords and keep it in your files to use for another writing project at another time.
Once you’ve collected information about your topic and processed it, you’ll have determined a main point you’d like to make to a specific set of readers. Write that point as a premise or thesis statement – a sentence summarizes your main idea and presents your position. It’s the core tool I use in persuasive writing, including articles, letters, web pages, landing pages, social media posts, case statements, books, grant applications … literally any piece of persuasive content.
Then you can keep your thesis statement in front of you as your write to allow you to stay on message.
Now it’s time to organize your material in a logical order.
Review your list of ideas and look for patterns. Sometimes the outline format is evident right away. If not, ask yourself two questions:
An outline is simply a plan. It’s a plan you follow as you write so that you make your point. Yours can be a detailed, beautifully formatted document with multiple points, sub-points, and sub-points to sub-points. Or it can be 3 words scribbled on the back of a napkin. Style matters less than simply having a plan.
You’ve done a good job researching your topic and writing your outline. Now that you’ve hooked your reader, work your way through each section of your outline. Make each point and support it with a fact, statistic, quote, an anecdote or example. Use transitional phrases to move logically from one idea to the next, either starting with your strongest argument to the weakest … working chronologically … following a step-by-step order … or building your case sequentially.
What should you do with the extra content that you cannot use in the main body of the article? Where possible, include a sidebar – a short “article within an article” – that adds value to your content. Your “5 Day Trips to U.S. Civil War sites near Baltimore,” for instance, can include a sidebar that lists addresses and hours for the five sites in your article.
Quoting from a knowledgeable source is standard operating procedure when writing an article (which is written to inform) – much more so than when writing a blog (which is written to share a viewpoint.)
A carefully-chosen quote instills authority. Choose a respected or credentialed source for your quote. And choose the shortest quote possible – one that is memorable, such as a pithy statement, vivid example, or colorful turn of phrase. Your purpose in quoting an expert is not to repeat their work but support your point or argument.
The weakest articles end with a rehash of the article. The strongest are not only short – comprising 10% or less of the total word count – but add a twist or surprise that supports your main idea. Give yourself a bonus point if you can tie your ending to the story, fact, or piece of information you used in your opening hook.
Entire books and courses are taught about editing, but there are two areas you can self-monitor quite easily. Some writers call these the “Two Pillars of Editing.”
Review your article until it is as clear and accurate as you can make it. Then you’re ready to …
Thousands of print and online publications publish weekly or even daily editions. They are looking for freelance writers to fill their pages. Among these publications are hundreds of niches from fashion dolls to potato farming. Start with one or two markets that interest you.
Make a list of publications that serve that market. Perhaps you already subscribe to a few of them. You’ve read the content and you’d like to write for them.
If you submit your article for publication in a print or online magazine, be sure to offer first rights – that is, the right for that publication to be the first to print your masterpiece. This way, after publication you can offer reprint rights to other publications and get your article before more eyeballs.
Or if you published your article on your blog or website, then publish it again on an article sharing platform like Medium to get additional exposure.
Go back to Step #1 and start the process again – with another article. Your stable of clips will grow. And so will your bank account.
More Writing Tips for Articles
Content by award-winning content writer and author Kathy Widenhouse, who specializes in writing for nonprofits and faith-based organizations.
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