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How to develop articles

A ligthbulb on a slate

Sometimes, I have to remember that not everyone who writes for a living actually writes articles. Or even blog posts. And I’m not just talking about fiction writers. Many of our fellow scribes write longer-form prose, like documentation or marketing material.

While what they write can be similar in structure or style to an article, there are definitely differences in approach and tone. That said, many people who’ve never written an article actually do have something to say in that shorter form.

They can also be quite effective at it, too. Whether they realize it or not, many writers have the basic tools for writing articles. Like what? A knowledge of structure, interviewing and research skills, and at least some ability with stringing words together.

Over the last year or so, a number of people — either professional writers or people wanting to write for a living — have asked me how they can go about developing articles. Here’s the advice I gave them.

Why write articles?

A lot of reasons. From the standpoint of professional development, writing articles can useful in building skills. They teach you how to write tightly and maintain a narrow focus. That’s useful in any kind of writing, especially non fiction. You never know when you’ll be called upon to write an article for a corporate newsletter or for an industry publication.

And don’t discount writing the odd article as a sideline. The pay can range from poor to pretty good, and having those credits can make can make you more attractive to potential employers. Or show a current one that you’re willing to expand upon your skills.

The structure of an article

Yes, I know I skipped the coming up with ideas part of writing articles. Ideas are everywhere. As Harlan Ellison wrote:

There’s a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send ‘em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.

Call them today! Seriously, though, if you’re not sure about how to come up with ideas maybe it’s time to learn …

So let’s get on to how to structure an article.

Most articles will focus on a single topic — for example, how to solve a specific problem or introducing something new to an audience. I often structure articles like this:

  • Use the opening paragraph or two to frame the topic of the article. I often try to tell a little story, or present a problem that the article will examine.
  • Discuss, in detail, that problem or topic. I try to pull in background information and, wherever possible, quotes from experts or people who might be affected, against, or interested.
  • Sum up the article in a paragraph or two.
  • If necessary, I point to other resources whether in print or online.

You’ll find that many articles will follow the pattern I outlined above. Or something similar to it. In some cases, your articles are going to be opinion rather than straight information. Those articles will take a stance — either for or against something. You’ll be expressing an opinion, but that should be an informed opinion.

Working with experts and other sources

Regardless of whether you’re writing an informational article or an opinion piece, you can’t always do it alone. You need to get information. And, in many cases, you need to get quotes from experts or other sources. They’ll have information that you need, and might even have a clever or unique take on what you’re writing about. By tapping other sources of information, you’re not only giving your articles more credibility you’re also making them more interesting. One good quote can be all that separates a decent article from a really good one.

Who that expert or source is will depend on what you’re writing. It could be an accountant, a lawyer, a coach, another writer, or a software developer. If you’re bashful, you need to swallow your pride and approach them. Many people will be flattered to be quoted in an article.

But remember to involve one or more humans. They can definitely give you more information, help you clear up any questions that you have, or point you to additional sources of information.

Writing articles can be interesting. It can be challeging. It can also be rewarding. If nothing else, penning articles will keep your writing skills sharp.

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