How to write articles like a professional

It's similar to writing academic papers, but with vital differences

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  • Writing
    • Writing Research Papers
    • Writing Essays
    • Journalism
    • M.Ed., Education Administration, University of Georgia
    • B.A., History, Armstrong State University

    Techniques for writing a news article differ from those needed for academic papers. Whether you're interested in writing for a school newspaper, fulfilling a requirement for a class, or seeking a writing job in journalism, you'll need to know the difference. To write like a real reporter, consider this guide for how to write a news article.

    Choose Your Topic

    First, you must decide what to write about. Sometimes an editor or instructor will give you assignments, but you’ll often have to find your own topics to cover.

    If you get to choose your topic, you might be able to pick a subject related to your personal experience or family history, which would give you a strong framework and a dose of perspective. However, this route means you must work to avoid bias—you may have strong opinions that could affect your conclusions. You also could pick a topic that revolves around a personal interest, such as your favorite sport.

    Research for Your News Article

    Even if you end up with a topic close to your heart, you should begin with research, using books and articles that will give you a full understanding of the subject. Go to the library and find background information about people, organizations, and events you intend to cover.

    Next, interview a few people to collect more information and quotes that give perspective on the topic. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of interviewing important or newsworthy people—an interview can be as formal or informal as you want to make it, so relax and have fun with it. Find people with backgrounds in the topic and strong opinions, and carefully write down or record their responses for accuracy. Let the interviewees know that you will be quoting them.

    Parts of a News Article

    Before you write your first draft, you should be aware of the parts that make up a news story:

    Headline or title

    The headline of your article should be catchy and to the point. You should punctuate your title using Associated Press style guidelines unless your publication specifies something else. Other members of the publication staff frequently write the headlines, but this will help focus your thoughts and maybe save those other staffers some time.

    • "Lost dog finds his way home"
    • "Debate tonight in Jasper Hall"
    • "Panel chooses 3 essay winners"

    Byline

    The byline is the name of the writer—your name, in this case.

    Lead (sometimes written "lede")

    The lead is the first sentence or paragraph, written to provide a preview of the entire article. It summarizes the story and includes many of the basic facts. The lead will help readers decide if they want to read the rest of the news article or if they are satisfied knowing these details.

    The story

    Once you’ve set the stage with a good lead, follow up with a well-written story that contains facts from your research and quotes from people you’ve interviewed. The article should not contain your opinions. Detail any events in chronological order. Use the active voice—not passive voice—when possible, and write in clear, short, direct sentences.

    In a news article, you should use the inverted pyramid format—putting the most critical information in the early paragraphs and following with supporting information. This ensures that the reader sees the important details first. Hopefully they'll be intrigued enough to continue to the end.

    The sources

    Include your sources in the body with the information and quotes they provide. This is different from academic papers, where you would add these at the end of the piece.

    The ending

    Your conclusion can be your last bit of information, a summary, or a carefully chosen quote to leave the reader with a strong sense of your story.

    Do you know how to prepare an exquisite turkey dinner on a shoestring? Execute a perfect rugby tackle? Pay rock-bottom rates for accommodations in exotic destinations all over the world?

    If you’ve ever jotted down a recipe or shared do-it-yourself instructions with a friend, you already understand the basic structure of how-to writing. How-tos inform the reader and can often be submitted to an editor with a simple cover letter.

    How to write articles like a professional

    A how-to is written as a sequence—first you do this, and then you do this. The essential question the writer asks herself when writing a how-to is, “What happens next?” If you are about to embark on a how-to, start at what you consider the beginning, and just keep answering that question over and over again. Before you know it, you will have sketched out a draft of a how-to article.

    STEP 1: SELECT YOUR TOPIC

    Choose a topic that interests you enough to focus on it for at least a week or two. If your topic is broad, narrow it. Instead of writing about how to decorate your home, try covering how to decorate your home in country style on a shoestring budget. That’s more specific and, as such, easier to tackle.

    Then write a rough, rough draft, including everything you can think of. Stay loose, avoid getting analytical, and enjoy the process of sharing what you know. When you’re done, you’ll have the bare bones of an article that only you could write. Then put it aside for a while.

    STEP 2: ADDRESS YOUR AUDIENCE’S NEEDS

    Now, come back to your piece. Switch gears and imagine you’re the reader of this article. Pick three words to describe the audience you want to address (e.g., professionals, single men). As this reader, what questions would you like answered? You might not know the answers yet, but list the questions anyway; you’ll find answers in the next step.

    STEP 3: RESEARCH

    Research will ground your article in fact. Good details to include with your how-to are:

    • Statistics
    • Quotes by well-known people
    • Definitions
    • Anecdotes (short, illustrative stories about yourself or someone else)
    • Quotes and examples from people like the reader, or from popular books on the subject
    • References to other media (film, television, radio)
    • References to local venues or events (if for a regional/local publication)
    • Helpful tools, resources or products (if many, consider creating a sidebar)

    Collect everything you have gathered and put it in a folder, an electronic document, a notebook or whatever you like. Don’t forget to keep track of sources in case you are later asked by an editor to verify them. You may want to sift through your research at a separate sitting from gathering it. Or just go ahead and sprinkle your research in right when you find it. It’s a lot like cooking—play around until you feel you have it “just right.”

    STEP 4: TIGHTEN YOUR DRAFT

    Keeping your audience in mind, write a tighter draft incorporating the new supporting information you’ve collected. Sometimes what you’ve learned in Steps 2 and 3 may compel you to start over with a completely fresh draft. Or you may just want to revise what you have as you proceed, retaining a nice conversational tone by directly addressing your audience.

    This time when you read your draft, ask yourself: Is it working? Is it too general, too lightweight, uninteresting, unclear or choppy? If so, comb some of your favorite publications for how-to articles. What techniques are those writers using that you might employ?

    How to write articles like a professional

    We’re all writers— whether we write emails, reports, blog posts, articles, or books. Our success at work depends on how well we’re able to communicate our thoughts through these mediums. Mastering the art of writing can help us persuade people more impactfully and be perceived by others as smarter and more insightful. Here are five ways to get better at it.

    • Read your work out loud. As you read, you’ll begin to realize which sentences can be edited for brevity or clarity, or where you’ve said too much when one sentence is good enough to explain a concept.
    • Edit other people’s work. While editing, ask yourself why something was written the way it is or why was a certain word used, for example. This will help you be more intentional in your own writing.
    • Ask yourself whether you are adding value or saying something new. If you are simply repeating advice or ideas that already exist in the world, you might want to think more deeply to ensure the work you publish is adding new value.
    • Clear your metaphorical throat. When you are editing your own writing, try this trick: Delete the first couple of paragraphs and see if that makes your piece sharper.
    • Retype your work to get into a flow. Type out a rough draft of your work, print it out, and then type it back onto your computer. This will get you in a flow where you’ll make changes almost unconsciously.

    Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here.

    Whether you like it or not, you are a writer. Every day, your success at work is in part determined by how well you can communicate your thoughts through email, reports, instant message, and perhaps even blog posts, articles, or books.

    Unfortunately, most people don’t tend to their writing abilities after waving goodbye to their English teacher on the last day of school. We forget that our ability to communicate through the written word can have an enormous impact on our career trajectory. Mastering the art of writing can help us persuade people more impactfully and be perceived by others as smarter and more insightful. It can open new doors.

    Having interviewed some of the world’s most successful writers on my podcast How I Work, I’ve picked up several tips that have dramatically improved the impact of my words.

    Read your work out loud.

    For bestselling author Dan Pink, reading his writing out loud helps him craft better work. “Nearly everything I write of significance, so books or articles, I will read out loud because to me, it’s a test of: ‘Does it sound right?’” Pink told me.

    “Are there words in there that are clunkers? Is it as clear and gleaming as it could possibly be? For me, reading out loud and hearing the work read out loud is a significant part of my editing process. It’s very time consuming. It’s very laborious. But that’s how I do things.”

    For each critical pieces of writing you produce, whether it is an all-staff email or a big report, take time to read it out loud during the editing process. As you read, you’ll begin to realize which sentences can be edited for brevity or clarity, or where you’ve said too much when one sentence is good enough to explain a concept. While it can feel tedious, your writing will become clearer, more concise, and ultimately more effective.

    Edit other people’s work.

    Tim Herrera, a journalist and the former editor of Smarter Living at The New York Times, told me that editing is key to becoming a better writer. “The biggest thing that writers can do to improve their own writing is to do a lot of editing.”

    Herrera used to be a copy editor and he found that going through the process of looking critically and methodically at someone else’s work helped him be more intentional in his writing, especially when it comes to word choice and sentence structure: “You are trying to think through what works here and what doesn’t. Why was this done this way? Why do we use this word? Why is it organized this way?” Asking these questions about other people’s work has helped Herrera get into the habit of asking it of his own.

    Given his role, Herrera’s friends often ask him to edit their writing. He always jumps at the opportunity because he sees it as important to his growth and development. In your own world, consider making this offer to friends who are keen to improve their writing. You might offer to edit a short blog post, their resumes or cover letters, or an important email they need to send at work. And perhaps they will even return the favor.

    Ask yourself whether you are adding value or saying something new.

    If you work in content and are responsible for writing blog posts, articles, or social media copy, making the decision of what warrants publishing is an important one. Sarah Green Carmichael, a former executive editor at Harvard Business Review and current editor at Bloomberg, told me she once received advice from a fellow editor who recommended she ask five smart people for advice on a topic before attempting to write about it.

    “If I collected all that advice and put it into a piece … that’s not enough for an article because it’s probably just common sense,” Carmichael said. “I use that rule of thumb to judge if something’s even worth working on or even worth writing in the first place.”

    Her point was: If you are simply repeating advice or ideas that already exist in the world, and writing about them in the same way they have already been written about, you might want to think more deeply to ensure the work you publish is adding new value.

    The next time you are deciding what topics to cover, first do a Google search on what other people are saying about them.

    Clear your metaphorical throat.

    Having spent many years working as an editor, Carmichael started to observe a pattern in the way many writers begin their articles. “Most of us spend a good bit of time throat clearing as we’re getting into a draft. Almost all the time in my own writing, and when I’m editing other peoples’ writing, the first two paragraphs probably can be deleted.”

    While the first couple of paragraphs of a piece can serve the purpose of helping you think about the point you are trying to make, Carmichael says that the third or fourth paragraph is where your piece probably starts.

    When you are editing your own writing, try this trick: Delete the first couple of paragraphs and see if that makes your piece sharper.

    How to write articles like a professional

    With the boom of Goodreads and book blogging in the past few years, everyone became self-proclaimed book critics. But as much fun as it is writing about books, these platforms don’t let writers earn bucks on the side.

    But here’s the thing: You can use your book blogging skills to try writing a professional book review—trade book review—and make some quick cash. Trade reviews are published in established outlets like Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times among others.

    How to write articles like a professional

    Want to know how to write a professional book review and start side hustling? Read on.

    I’ve been reviewing for a couple of years now for some book review outlets. Although I only have a few years on my belt, I’ve learned enough to be able to share some basic tips. Here are some of them:

    Get to Know the Best Reviewing Practices

    There are a lot of book review publications out there, and their reviewing guidelines vary. If accepted as a reviewer for a publication, make sure to ask your editor about the best reviewing practices.

    You can also read the publication’s published reviews to get the tone and the writing style to use.

    Fine-Tune Your Language

    Reviewing for trade publications requires a shift of language tone. Book critics, more or less, are unbiased, firm, and straightforward in writing their reviews.

    In a book review blog, however, you can be more friendly and playful with your tone. You are also free to let your feelings out or even spill your guts in the book review.

    Take a look at these examples:

    Book blog: “I didn’t like this book, so I give it two stars. Not recommended!”

    Trade book review: “While the mystery around the main character carries the story forward, the plot meanders a lot. Horror readers will be disappointed.”

    As you might notice, the tone of trade book reviews are authoritative and matter-of-fact. You can also do the same by being objective in your approach.

    Avoid Showing Uncertainty or Doubt

    This is common in book blogging. While there’s nothing really wrong with letting your unfiltered thoughts flow in writing, this is not recommended in trade review writing.

    Avoid using words like “I think,” “This might,” “This could” etc. to convey your convictions. Instead, use words that show firm opinions like “will” and “can.”

    Here are some examples:

    Book blog: “Well, not for me but I think this might interest fantasy readers.”

    Trade book review: “Fast-paced and high-stakes, fantasy readers will keep turning pages.”

    Don’t Copy Goodreads Descriptions

    Don’t paraphrase them either. It will be very obvious, and you might be accused of plagiarism.

    If you read the book, then rehash the plot from your mind. You can do so by writing important plot points from A to B and C to D. To avoid errors, fact check what you’re writing by consulting the book.

    Be Mindful of What You Say

    With book blogging, you can say whatever you want. It’s your opinion as a reader after all. But if you’re a professional book reviewer, you just can’t say a book is shitty without providing evidence.

    Did it suck because it’s slow-paced? Are the characters one-dimensional? Is the book full of clichés? State it in your review and provide examples such as sample texts or passages.

    Don’t Drop Spoilers

    Most traditional review outlets don’t do this either. Why? It’s simply because readers click on your article to see whether they’ll like the book or not.

    With book blogging, you can get away with adding a “Spoiler Alert” warning. And then, you can gush out how excited or exasperated you were by what happened to your favorite character.

    However, that’s not a good practice in trade book reviews. Just write enough plot summaries that won’t disclose revelations (like a character dying).

    Write in Third-Person Point of View

    To sound objective, authoritative, and all-knowing in your reviews, write in third-person point of review.

    Avoid using the “I” pronoun as much as possible.

    Review Books You Only Like

    I have some blogger friends who are required to write a review in exchange for the books they didn’t ask for but received. But what if they didn’t like the books at all?

    If the book didn’t pique your interest in the first place, don’t review it. You run the risk of giving a negative review to a rather stellar book.

    With professional book reviewing, you can pitch to editors only the books you like to read. You are not pressured to review books just because you received them for free.

    Don’t Leave a Star Rating

    Sure, this might be fun to do on Goodreads and in your book review blog. It can easily indicate your stand for a book.

    However, this is not a standard practice in trade review publications. Instead, they have a different version of showing a book’s merit: the “starred reviews.” If part of the publication’s policy, you can leave a star on a book to indicate quality.

    These are just some basic tips on how to write a professional book review. While guidelines and practices vary per publication, the tips above are generally applicable in trade review writing.

    If you want to further sharpen your reviewing chops, you can also read these guidelines: How to Write a Book Review.

    Once you have finished writing your novel or book, it's time to prepare your work for the submission process. While each literary agent has their own specific guidelines, it's useful to know how to write a synopsis. 

    Here are 5 tips on how to write a synopsis like a pro.

    5 Tips on How to Write a Synopsis

    Before sending your book proposal out to potential literary agents, here are some suggested elements you should include while writing a synopsis:

    How to write articles like a professional

    • Narrative Arc. A synopsis conveys the narrative arc, an explanation of the problem or plot, the characters, and how the book or novel ends. It ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. It summarizes what happens and who changes from beginning to end of the story. It gives agents a good and reliable preview of your writing skills.
    • Active Voice. Agents look for good writing skills. Let yours shine in your synopsis by using active voice and third person.
    • Unique Point of View. An agent is usually looking for an idea of fresh or unique elements. Is your plot cliche or predictable? Have elements that set your story apart from other things they have seen.
    • Story Advancement. A synopsis should include the characters' feelings and emotions. Use these elements to advance your plot and story.
    • Write Clearly. Focus on clarity in your writing and avoid wordiness. Remember, less is more.

    What to Avoid When Writing a Synopsis

    While there is no universal standard for the length of a book or novel synopsis, agents usually favor one to two pages, single-spaced. Sometimes an agent might ask for a chapter outline instead, which is a synopsis of each chapter. Here are some tips on what to avoid when writing a synopsis:

    • Mentioning too many characters or events.
    • Including too much detail about plot twists and turns. You don't want to tell the entire story. What you want to do is write a book summary with enough detail about the plot to intrigue the reader or agent.
    • Unnecessary detail, description, or explanation. Make each word in your synopsis count.
    • Editorializing your novel or book. Don't use ". in a flashback," or ". in a poignant scene." If you have a confusing series of events and character interactions, not only will your reader be confused, but a potential agent will be too.
    • Writing back cover copy instead of a synopsis. Don't go astray and write a hook to intrigue a reader to buy a book or an agent to request a manuscript. Focus on summarizing your novel or book.

    The Synopsis Format

    Jane Friedman gives some of the best tips for formatting a synopsis. She recommends beginning with a strong paragraph identifying your protagonist, problem or conflict, and setting. The next paragraph should convey any major plot turns or conflicts necessary and any characters that should be mentioned in order for your book summary to make sense to whomever is reading it. 

    Lastly, she recommends indicating how major conflicts are resolved in the last paragraph. This ensures a clear presentation of your book or novel and doesn't leave the reader confused.

    How to write articles like a professional

    When you send an email, the first thing your recipient sees is the subject line, so make sure it’s as clear as possible: What is your email’s purpose? What do you want your recipient to do? Take a page from military personnel. Their subject lines use keywords in all caps to note the email’s purpose. For example:

    INFO – For informational purposes only
    REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
    ACTION – The recipient must take some action

    These demarcations might seem obvious or needlessly exclamatory, but they make your emails stand out in the recipient’s inbox. So if you need to send your direct reports a status update, try using the subject line: INFO – Status Update. If you need your manager to approve your vacation request, you could write REQUEST – Vacation. Using these key words also forces you to think about what you really want from someone before you contribute to their email clutter.

    In the military, a poorly formatted email may be the difference between mission accomplished and mission failure. During my active duty service, I learned how to structure emails to maximize a mission’s chances for success. Since returning from duty, I have applied these lessons to emails that I write for my corporate job, and my missives have consequently become crisper and cleaner, eliciting quicker and higher-quality responses from colleagues and clients. Here are three of the main tips I learned on how to format your emails with military precision:

    1. Subjects with keywords. The first thing that your email recipient sees is your name and subject line, so it’s critical that the subject clearly states the purpose of the email, and specifically, what you want them to do with your note. Military personnel use keywords that characterize the nature of the email in the subject. Some of these keywords include:

    • ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
    • SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
    • INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
    • DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
    • REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
    • COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed

    The next time you email your direct reports a status update, try using the subject line: INFO – Status Update. And if you need your manager to approve your vacation request, you could write REQUEST – Vacation. If you’re a project manager who requires responses to your weekly implementation report from several people, type ACTION – Weekly Implementation Report. These demarcations might seem obvious or needlessly exclamatory because they are capitalized. But your emails will undoubtedly stand out in your recipient’s inbox, and they won’t have to work out the purpose of your emails. (It also forces you to think about what you really want from someone before you contribute to their inbox clutter.)

    2. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). Military professionals lead their emails with a short, staccato statement known as the BLUF. (Yes, being the military, there is an acronym for everything.) It declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader. Here’s an example BLUF from the Air Force Handbook:

    BLUF: Effective 29 Oct 13, all Air Force Doctrine Documents (AFDDs) have been rescinded and replaced by core doctrine volumes and doctrine annexes.

    The BLUF helps readers quickly digest the announcement, decision, and when the new procedures go into effect. The reader doesn’t necessarily want to know all the background information that led to the decision. He or she likely wants to know “how does this email affect me?” and the BLUF should answer this question every time.

    For my corporate job, I don’t use the acronym “BLUF” because it would be unclear to recipients, but I have started leading with “Bottom Line” in bold at the start of my notes. Sometimes, I even highlight the bottom line in yellow so that my point is abundantly clear. Here is an example of a BLUF adapted for corporate use:

    • This is an effort to encourage team morale and foster team collaboration
    • All members of the management committee supported this decision

    Shannon knows that no response is required because it was marked INFO. She also quickly grasps the information in the email because of the Bottom Line. Because this is a big change in corporate policy, background details are provided to show that the decision is final, supported by management, and intended to result in positive effects for the company.

    3. Be economical. Military personnel know that short emails are more effective than long ones, so they try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll. They also eschew the passive voice because it tends to make sentences longer, or as the Air Force manual puts it, “Besides lengthening and twisting sentences, passive verbs often muddy them.” Instead, use active voice, which puts nouns ahead of verbs, so it’s clear who is doing the action. By using active voice, you are making the “verbs do the work for you.” Instead of, “The factory was bombed by an F18,” military professionals would say, “An F18 bombed the factory.”

    Even though short emails are usually more effective, long emails abound, even in the military. If an email requires more explanation, you should list background information after the BLUF as bullet points so that recipients can quickly grasp your message, like in the above example.

    Lastly, to prevent clogging inboxes, military professionals link to attachments rather than attaching files. This will force the recipient to check the website that has the attachment, which will likely provide the most recent version of a file. Also, the site will verify that the recipient has the right security credentials to see the file, and you don’t inadvertently send a file to someone who isn’t permitted to view it.

    Here is an email example for corporate use that uses keywords in the subject, bottom line, background bullets, and active voice:

    • We searched for other available times, but this is the only time that works, and it’s important that you are on the call, so that you can address your P&L.
    • CFO will be in Boston on Thursday meeting at an offsite with the management committee.
    • He wants to review the financial report that can be found here (insert link) before the call.

    By adopting military email etiquette, you will introduce a kernel of clarity to your correspondence and that of your colleagues and clients.

    How to write articles like a professional

    If you have, this article is for you. It will let you in on recruiting professionals’ job description writing secrets and present resources and tools that will help you write your job description like a pro.

    Sometimes writing a great job description can be easier said than done. If you’ve ever stared at the blank page, you know how frustrating that can be.
    But you don’t need to struggle anymore! 🙂

    This article is your guide for writing job descriptions like a pro.

    I will let you in on recruiting professionals’ job description writing secrets.

    If you want to learn all their little tips and tricks for writing great job descriptions, this article is for you!

    Carefully crafted, clear and precise job description are important for two main reasons.

    First is improved internal communication, and second is improved external communication.

    Clearly and precisely described job position can eliminate possible misunderstandings inside your company.

    Writing down all the job position’s duties and responsibilities will get everyone on the same page about the position you are looking to fill.

    Without it, you risk managers having one idea, HR professionals another, department you are looking to fill with a new role third, etc.

    Clearly and precisely described job position is crucial for communicating your needs and requirements with possible candidates.

    Crafting a compelling job description is the first step in finding and hiring your ideal job candidate.

    A well written job description can help you attract high quality candidates and repel unqualified, thus saving your time and money.

    Here is the list of essential knowledge, resources and tools that will help you write your job description like a pro! 💪

    Recruiting professionals know the difference between job descriptions and job postings.

    A job description is an internal document which explains company’s job position. It contains all the details about the role and it is written in a formal tone.

    A job posting, on the other hand, is an advertisement for your open job description. It is a document meant for external use, to attract candidates.

    In short: Job description explains the job, while job posting sells it.

    All professionally written job descriptions follow the common structure:

    • Job title

    Write a clear and precise job title. Use commonly known titles in line with industry norms.

    • Role summary

    Explain why is this position important for your company and specify how it contributes to

    your business goals.

    • Duties and responsibilities list

    Don’t write a laundry list of job duties and responsibilities, just list the main ones.

    • Qualifications and skills list

    List the required education level and type, professional certifications, years of

    experience, technical and soft skills.

    As you write your job description, keep your ideal candidate in mind.

    Imagine a person that would be a perfect fit for this job.

    This representation of your ideal candidate is called candidate persona. 👩

    Provide enough information and descriptions to help your ideal candidates visualize themselves in your job position!

    Instead writing your job descriptions from scratch, start with professionally written job description templates.

    These job description templates are a great starting point.

    They will save your time and make sure that you don’t miss any of the key requirements for a certain job position.

    Feel free to copy these job descriptions templates and customize them to suit your own needs.

    Modern recruiting professionals use specialized recruiting tools to help them write and advertise their job descriptions.

    Specialized recruiting tools can help you with all phases of posting jobs, from writing job descriptions to publishing and promoting your job ads.

    With professional recruiting software you can access free job description templates, build beautiful career sites (no coding needed!) and publish your job postings on multiple job boards with just one click.

    You can also set up employee referral programs, create engaging email campaigns and easily share your job postings on social media — all from one easy to use platform!

    How to write articles like a professional

    Writing for a newspaper, magazine or online publication is different than writing a standard essay. Research and organization are just as necessary, but throw out that introduction/body/conclusion form you’re used to. Journalism is front-loaded. You need to get your point out early and follow it with details. If you save all your juicy information for a climax at the end, your reader will get bored and turn the page first.

    Journalistic Construction

    Journalism uses an “inverted pyramid” style. Picture your article in the shape of a triangle widest at the top with the point on the bottom. This is how your story should be built. Your first line should be the most important. If the reader is scanning through the paper and reads only the first line, he should get a good idea of your article’s content. You need to hook the reader from the beginning else he will quickly move to something more exciting. Nobody reads every word of a newspaper or magazine. On the web, attention spans are even shorter.

    Follow your first line with solid details. Expand your point. Imagine your reader’s questions and answer them. Continue to follow the inverted pyramid. Rank your information in order of importance and put the best stuff first.

    Finish with the least necessary information. Include background most readers will know but some may not, such as related news from last week. Show how this story is relevant to other stories. Add some odd facts or statistics associated with your article.

    Not only does the inverted pyramid style grab your reader by placing the meat first, it makes it easier for your editor. Squeezing all the articles and ads into a limited space sometimes requires an editor to cut your submission. If you built it right, the editor can easily clip the bottom from your article without losing the point.

    Just the Facts

    How to write articles like a professional

    For most publications, you should keep your opinions out of it. Use solid, backed-up facts to prove what you think. Use choice quotes from reputable sources to add color and authenticity, but don’t overdo it. Use statistics to amplify your point, but realize you can find a number to prove almost anything. Interview people. Do your own research. If you hear or see it once, double-check it. Hear or see it three times, it might be true.

    And know for certain that just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Look in at least three places to see if they agree with each other. I once read something online about a product. I thought was false. I looked someplace else that listed the same falsehood. Then I looked to the manufacturer’s website to find I was right all along. My first source probably looked at the second source, thought it was true, and spread the wrong facts.

    Know that readers will try to poke holes in your article, so read it critically. Think about how you would rebut your own writing and counter that argument.

    Giant Headlines Attack the Page!

    Your headline is the most important set of words in your article. It will get you read or ignored. Be strong. Be specific. Use important terms. Summarize your article with a great handful of words.

    Lead off with the big names in your article. Don’t say: “President Visits Midwestern City”. Rather use: “Obama Visits Minneapolis”. While you’re at it, use a great verb like “entertains” or “storms”. Be sure to use to the best, most compact, descriptive words you can.

    Superlatives grasp attention. Use them if you can. Say “Easiest Pie Crust” rather than “Pie Crust Recipe”. It’s a simple way, I mean the simplest way to catch a reader’s eye.

    How To articles and lists are the most popular publications on the web. Simply changing from “Building a Birdhouse” to “How To Build a Birdhouse” or “Top 10 Birdhousing Tips” will make your writing stand out to readers and search engines.

    Style Guides

    There are multiple schools of journalistic writing. You may be asked to use AP, Chicago, MLA, APA or another format. Each is a standardization of how to cite sources, use contractions, write numerals, capitalize, format headlines and more. Each style has its own handbook available online or at your library. Purdue Online Writing Lab is a great resource for style guides and other writing tips. Getting all the details right my be maddening, but you don’t want to be marked down or rejected because you didn’t punctuate your bibliography correctly or you italicized something you shouldn’t have.