Whether it’s for a magazine, newspaper, your teacher, or even wikiHow, writing an amazing article whittles down to one widely-adaptable technique. Here’s how to use that technique to your advantage.
- Determine your topic. Exactly what are you going to write about? Brainstorm for ideas if you have to. When writing for wikiHow, you may even wish to refer to requested topics for ideas.
- Figure out who your audience is. Are you writing for a beginner, an intermediate, or an advanced audience? For example, if you are writing an article about “Creating PowerPoint Slides,” are your readers new to PowerPoint, or business people looking for advanced tips?
- Do your research. How well do you know the topic? Is it something you can write easily about with little or no preparation, or do you need more information from experts in the field?
- Decide on the length of the article. Teachers, magazines, and newspapers will often give you a limit. wikiHow articles, on the other hand, are often “as long as they need to be and no longer.”
- Compile a list of possible sources for you to consult. This can include documents, internet research and people to talk to.
- Write either an outline or a summary of your article. This will help bring the concept of the article into sharper focus.
- Write the rough draft of the article as follows:
- Tell your readers what you are going to tell them. This is your introduction. For example:
- This article explains how to create a PowerPoint slide presentation. It covers the following information: choosing a theme, creating a title slide, and creating topic slides.
- The information in this article is written for a beginner. The author assumes that you have never used PowerPoint.
- Tell your readers what you promised to tell them. In this section you tell them how to choose a theme, create a title slide, and how to create topic slides.
- Tell your readers what you just told them. For example:
- This article taught you how to create a PowerPoint slide presentation. You learned how to choose a template, how to create a title slide, and how to create topic slides.
- Check over your piece for presentation.
- Check for faulty information. Have you double-checked your facts?
- Delete any unnecessary or contradictory information. The only time you should have information that doesn’t support your topic is if you’re doing a “point-counterpoint” piece.
- Eliminate anything that is just taking up space. Don’t fill your work with fluff. If you need to do more research, go ahead and do it.
- Check for grammar and spelling errors.
- Read it aloud to yourself to make sure the text flows smoothly.
- Rewrite the article as often as it takes.
- Turn in your completed article.
- Neither the outline nor the summary for your article has to be in traditional I, II, III format. The point of formatting is to help you. If you feel you can find your focus by writing a list of incomplete sentences, then go for it. Later, if your teacher wants a formal outline, you can create one from the article itself.
- By checking grammar and spelling errors last in the editing process, you won’t waste any time by correcting those on something you may delete.
- If you’re writing for a newspaper or magazine and are new to professional writing, it’s customary to introduce yourself and your story in a query or pitch letter. Find the name of the editor who will be handling your piece (i.e.; if you’re writing an article about cars for a newspaper, find the name of the car-section editor). This information can be found in the masthead, a box containing the names of the editors, usually found near the front or comment pages of a publication. Write a catchy but brief outline of what your story is about and why that publication’s readership would be interested in it. Also include a few lines about your experience as a writer. The tone of this letter should be professional, but affable and friendly. It is not the place to make demands, or admit your shortcomings as a professional writer. Discussing wages and freelance fees should come after the editor has accepted your pitch.
- If you have no experience as a professional writer, do not start off pitching columns (opinion pieces). Columns are generally reserved for people who have either been working at a publication for a very long time, or for people who have a particular expertise in a field. If you’re new to writing, start small. Think obituaries, human-interest stories and simple news articles. It’s generally easier to start with newspapers than with magazines. Try writing for life, fashion, arts, cars or travel sections before pitching stories to news. These sections tend to be understaffed and therefore have a greater budget for freelance writers.
- If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a writer, be realistic. People who make their living as writers generally start to build their portfolio of published work as early as high school. It generally takes even the most dedicated writer several years before he can make a living off of the trade. In other words, don’t quit your day job. Ease into writing gradually, perhaps doing freelance pieces while maintaining a more stable job part-time.
- Take some courses in both non-fiction and fiction writing. Not only will they help with your work, but also you can make contacts in the business by getting to know your professors and fellow writers. This will help you to be taken seriously when you start pitching articles for publication. Being a good freelance writer means knowing how to write and how to network.
- Make sure your article answers five questions: why, where, when, what and how.
- When writing for a newspaper or magazine, do not do so for free. Ask what their freelance fee is beforehand. Your pay will usually be calculated on a per-word basis. Your work is valuable. Writing for free demeans the profession and makes making a living more difficult for those of us who depend on freelance fees to pay the bills. (But if you’re just starting out, volunteering to do some articles for smaller community papers, student publications and trade magazines is a great way to build your portfolio. Be warned that these publications rarely have the money to pay freelancers anyway.)
- Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to write the article. If you don’t, then you’ll be rushing at the last minute to create something that isn’t representative of what you can truly do.
- Do not be a diva. Your work will go through several editors, copy-editors and fact checkers before being published. It will be changed. Pulling a temper tantrum is a surefire way to not be invited to work for that publication again.
- Your reputation as a writer is almost as important as the work you submit, do not make errors or plagiarize. Copying something without attribution is the quickest way to get blacklisted as a writer. Keep your notes and source lists handy so that your editors can verify your work. If you do make a mistake, come clean immediately and apologize profusely.
- Don’t miss deadlines. Generally speaking, a late article is worse than a mediocre one.
- Literary circles are small and gossipy. Don’t say anything bad about a fellow writer or editor, ever. You never know who’s married to whom.
Things You’ll Need
- Something to write with: computer, pen and paper, etc.
- An email account to pitch and submit stories. (Something vaguely professional, no one will take firstname.lastname@example.org seriously.)
- Research materials. Either go to your bookshelf, the library or find an expert on the topic.
- Access to a database like Lexus Nexus or factiva. Be sure to see what others have already written on the topic.
Article provided by wikiHow, a wiki how-to manual. You can edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on wikiHow. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.