by Sarah Hamaker, reluctant marketer
Writing articles is completely different than writing books, so you need to approach article writing from a different perspective. Let’s first talk about the basics of an article.
The length. You only have on average a thousand words in an article. That’s way shorter than a novella and only a drop in the bucket compared with most novels or books. So you have to make every word count.
The lede. As with query letters and the first lines of books, you have only a few words to grab the reader’s attention. For straight news pieces, that means you put the most important information front and center. For features, you use a short illustration or word picture or person to draw in the reader. For personal essays, you start off with a story that drops the reader into the action.
The basics. No matter what kind of article you’re writing, you’ll probably want to answer the core questions of journalism: Who, what, where, why and how. You should strive to answer those five questions in every article.
The body. This is the meat of the article. What you’re writing and where it will be published will determine how you proceed. For news articles, follow the inverted pyramid style, which places information in descending order of importance, starting with the most necessary and going down the least necessary. For features, you’ll need to include the important information, but you can do it a more creative way, such as through an interview style or by using personal stories to frame the facts.
The conclusion. You’ll want to wrap things up neatly but with style. Sometimes, you’ll close with forward-thinking quotes, other times, with a restatement of the main point. For features, you’ll bring it home by evoking the major tone of the piece.
Now, let’s move on to what makes a great article.
The style. As an author, you have your own unique style. Perhaps you write with humor, or maybe you have a flair for descriptive phrases. You can bring that to articles as well, as long as you keep them within the confines of the type (news, features, etc.).
The sources. Most articles will quote someone, and the trick is to find good ones. (Next month, we’ll discuss how to conduct an interview.) Google can be your friend in this, but you’ll need to be careful to vet the source to make sure you’re comfortable using him in your article. I’ve also had good luck with posting requests on Facebook when working on specific articles.
The quotes. Once you have an interview, you’ll need to pick which quotes to use. Quotes are used to convey meaning, add context, show the reader you’re not making stuff up, and to bolster your claims within the article. However, it does take practice to know which quotes to use and which to ignore.
The headline and subheads. While your editor might change these, it’s best to send in an article with a catchy headline and good subheads. Use these to really make your piece sing. Remember, the more complete your article, the less work an editor has to do. And the more work you might get as a result.
Next month, we’ll tackle how to conduct a good interview.