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If you’re a new freelancer and want to break into print, there are plenty of types of articles that you can get paid to write.
Writing articles offers a natural entry point into the freelancing business. Magazines, trade publications, and websites routinely need content from freelancers. But you may be confused by all of the article writing options, particularly if you’re just starting out, so let me clarify.
1. News articles
When it comes to starting out as a freelancer, I’m not talking about writing straight news articles. Journalists cover breaking local stories, political news, sports scores, and business reports for newspapers and blogs. Investigative reporters, too, are typically employed by larger news sources to research exposes and uncover truths about a person, event, or subject.
2. Scholarly articles
Nor am I talking about the many different types of scholarly articles written by professionals in specialized fields. Scholarly articles may take the form of original research, clinical case studies, methodologies, and peer-reviewed analysis. They are published in professional journals like the American Journal of Preventative Medicine or Urban Law Review.
3. Opinion pieces
Other types of articles that you hear about? Opinion pieces, essays, columns, and editorials are often open to freelancers. However, these types of articles are typically assigned to more seasoned writers who have an established track record, a relationship with the editor, or who present an editor with a stable of clips.
Writing columns and opinion pieces and essays becomes the “chicken-or-egg” syndrome. You need clips and experience to get an editor to look at your pitch. Yet how can you become an experienced freelance writer without getting a few nods from editors?
Never fear. There are at least six other types of articles that freelancers are most apt to get hired to write for publication, particularly when starting out. They’re the types of articles that publications need to fill their pages. The types of articles that earn you bylines, cash, and clips. The types of articles that help establish you in your niche. Try pitching these types of articles to editors and publishers.
The purpose of an informational article is to share knowledge with the reader. It’s a foundational type of article that focuses on a specific subject.
While any topic is fair game, a good informational article offers facts, data, statistics, expert sources, and anecdotes to address one laser-focused element of the topic. That means you need to do some research and accumulate base knowledge about your topic so you can identify a unique angle on that subject. That unique angle or slant to your article is what sells it.
National Geographic, for instance, publishes informational articles about nature and culture. Yet a successful article for Nat Geo (or other nature publication) won’t simply address rivers.
You need to drill down that generalized topic to a specific slant or angle. Rivers that run through deserts? That’s still too broad. A better slant may be an article on a little-known river that runs through a desert. Best yet? An informational article that profiles the kinds of wildlife that live along the Amargosa River Basin in the Mojave Desert. Now, that’s a laser-focused angle.
A feature article is an informational article that goes a step further. A feature explains the information’s significance. It dishes up information using a previously-unseen viewpoint … an odd twist … a surprising trend …. an offbeat slant … a heartwarming perspective.
Human interest, inspiration, personal experience/first-person, humor/satire — even historical subjects — are feature fodder. Key to good features are an easy-to-read style, sensory details, and dialogue. Plus, they give the reader a turning point, a discovery, or a takeaway.
A straight-up informational article, for instance, may explain specific safety skills that parents must teach their children while they’re in public places. A feature article, on the other hand, may open with “I had to teach my strong-willed child to rebel the right way,” and close with “My kid questioned a stranger’s authority. And because he acquired those skills, he skirted danger and today is safe.”
The feature’s twist? A parent’s first-person experience converting her child’s strong will into safety skills.
One of the most durable types of articles you can write, a how-to article provides step-by-step instructions to help your reader complete a task. How-tos are logical and sequential.
You can write one on nearly any topic: how to plant a window box. How to change the air filter in your Honda Civic LX. How to successfully apply to veterinary assistant school. Or, as an alternative to the above informational article or feature article, how to teach your kids to say no to strangers.
How-tos may be called self-help articles when that explain how to accomplish intangibles like, “How to be content living on a shoestring.”
A profile article is a feature article that focuses on an individual person. But it’s not simple biography or news update. Instead, a profile pinpoints a special trait, characteristic, newsworthy accomplishment, or distinction in that individual.
It’s up to the writer to identify that unique twist. Using our example, your profile article could be titled, “The Taekwondo Mom” and profile a parent who is an accountant, but on the side trains youth to defend themselves. A profile can be constructed as a narrative or Q and A format.
Publications routinely publish reviews for books, restaurants, retail products, movies, and travel destinations.
A review offers two things.
Reviews may also be rounds ups, like “5 Best Hand-Held Can Openers” or “6 Kinds of Martial Arts to Teach Young Girls.” If you stay abreast with the latest photography gear or you’re an avid dystopian gamer, for instance, then you may find a lucrative niche in writing reviews
Also called a filler, a short is usually about 100–500 words. Content runs the gamut from anecdotes to tips, recipes, how-tos, devotionals, jokes, news bites, household hints, images with captions, quizzes, top 10 lists, statistics, quotations, quirky facts.
In the past when print reigned, publications used shorts to fill in a column’s leftover space. Today, shorts can be part of a news round-up or may stand alone, given readers’ shortened attention spans.
Freelancer? Increase your chances of publication by starting with these commonly outsourced articles. Do a good job and you’ll find that editors are most welcoming … whether you’re a new writer or a seasoned one.
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