Another “how to write an article” article

Just as there are approximately nine zillion two-hundred and twenty-seven point thirteen different ways to make money online there are close to that many different plans, programs, eBooks, audio books, reports, websites, blogs and articles purporting to tell you “How to Write”.

Yes, telling you how to write anything from an article to a short report to a complete eBook. You can also learn how to write a “white paper” or any other color paper you care to imagine.

Many of these resources have valuable content. Others aren’t worth the time it takes to read them. Some say content is the only thing you should concern yourself with while others are obsessive on grammar and punctuation. Still others become overly concerned with style. First person, third person, which person? Don’t change persons in mid stream.

A few are eaten up with formatting. What’s the correct margin width; to justify or not to justify? What’s the best or most readable font to use; what size? Should you underline, use highlighting; how much bold is too much bold? How long should it be? Is bigger better?

Sure, these are valid questions. But what they won’t do is tell you “how to write an article.” But that’s OK. I will. Presumptupous of me, isn’t it?

Articles are generally short and to the point. They provide an introduction or an overview of a subject. Articles don’t explain something to the nth degree. They cover the basics. An article should be like a woman’s skirt; long enough to cover the essentials and short enough to be interesting. (Thank you, Maria Veloso) Now – to the writing.

A bunch of teachers say if you can talk, you can write. The old “write like you speak” school of thought. There is something to that, but, have you ever listened to a direct transcription (unedited and un-cleaned-up) of a seminar or workshop talk? Pretty bad, wasn’t it. Maybe, just maybe, you really don’t want to write like you speak. At least without doing some serious editing and proofreading.

The speech-making method of, “tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you told them”, is also often cited as the best way to write articles. It comes into play, but, by itself it’s not enough.

First, and of prime importance is knowing what to tell them. The way you find out what to tell, or in this case, write to them is to conduct research. Ask questions. Don’t assume answers. You can’t do too much research. Well, actually you can but you probably won’t.

Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of writing the article. If you’re reading this you have access to a computer. Problem No.1 solved. On the computer are a word processing program and a text editor. Problem 2 is handled and you’re ready to go. Start writing.

Long, long ago I took my first journalism course. The first day I learned two things I’ve never forgotten.

Thing 1. “Dog Bites Man” equals “No News”; “Man Bites Dog” equals “News”. Dogs have been biting people for centuries. It’s not unusual or uncommon. It’s not new. It’s not worth writing about–usually. A man biting a dog is unique. It’s worth writing about. You’ll see it on the six o’clock news. You want, dare I say, need, your subject matter to be unique; to stand out; to be different; to attract attention. How you do that will vary from subject to subject. Finding that “hook” is critical to attracting attention.

Thing 2. “The five “W’s”. Who, What, When, Where and Why plus a, sometimes, “H” for How. In every article you write most, if not all of these questions must be answered. The subject and the audience determine in what order you answer the questions.

Something that is very time sensitive may stress the “when and where” over the “who.”

If you happen to write about a person the, “who”, becomes predominant.

Do you sell travel or vacations? Where and when takes precedence.

For physical products like computers, game machines and lug nuts the “what” may be the critical element.

The “what” is also the feature and benefit descriptor. The “what’s in it for me” factor. The unstated always present question on everyone’s mind.

Are you telling someone the best way to install the set of lug nuts they bought from you? There’s your “how.”

You can form the basic outline of any article or for that matter anything you write by answering these five or six basic questions. Start your new article by actually answering them. Yes, on a sheet of paper actually write (or type) in a column on the left side, Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why? and, naturally, How?.

Briefly answer each question. After that you can elaborate to whatever degree necessary to cover the subject.

The more you do it the better, faster and more skilled you’ll become.
Some writer in the past, when asked, “What do writers do?”, replied, “Writers write.”

So can you!

Tagged with:

Filed under: About Writing & Writers

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!