Writing an article or blog for publication involves selecting a topic, narrowing the topic, gathering research, perhaps interviewing content experts, and then finally writing a draft. Think of each article, essay, or blog as exploring an idea. An idea is a topic or subject combined with an approach or slant. Find the idea that matters to you to pursue and develop. For example, if the theme or topic or subject of your writing is music, then the slant or approach to the topic could be “How to Compose Music with an iPad.”
Develop a statement that captures your story idea in 25 words. Post this where you can see it to keep your focus. Find the fresh perspective or slant or attitude toward this subject. Target your ideal readership by demographics (age, education, location, income, experiences). Why should this target reader want to read your article?
Develop a headline and subhead.
Write your grabber lead sentence and keep it short, 8 to 15 words. Put the grabber fact or quote first. In journalism, this grabber is called a hook. Yes, as in fishing. You have to hook the reader to get him to read your article. Of all the reading material out there, why should the reader choose yours? Make it compelling, weird, funny, or deeply true to draw in the reader to whom your story should matter.
Develop your main points and state them at the top of clean pages. Jot facts, ideas, and examples to support the statement and so on for each page’s main point. List experts, sources for more research, myths and misconceptions about this issue, scripture or other references related to each main point.
Organize the structure or layout of the whole piece. What is the logical order of the main points? Which order will deliver the smoothest flow? Chronological? Outside to inside? Bigger to smaller? General to specific?
Write. Flesh out each main point. Keep sidebars in mind. What is the take-away value from each of these points? Think relevance and practicality for the particular readership of your targeted publication. Keep notes on how the article can be refocused for other readerships.
Step away from the desk. Go work on a different project. Come back later and read the article like a reader, fresh and objective. Trim excess. Readers are busy people, so show you value their time.
Edit, rearrange, delete, refine and hone everything to the focus of the piece. Read it aloud into a tape recorder. Listen to it. Polish it.
NOTICE THE ADVERTIZERS
Is there any way to tie their products or business into the story? Quote one of their experts? Don’t use them just to drop their name, but why pass up a willing source, a source that already ties itself to this publication? Do not use the advertiser or sponsor in a bad light or the article will get tossed or heavily edited. Publishing is a business, so respect the publisher’s business interests. The publisher is not going to bite the hand that feeds it. Nor should you.
Go deep into your topic to build a compelling read. Craft it like a story so it flows smoothly and is easy to follow.
Tom French, a journalist for the St. Petersburg Times, won a Pulitzer Prize for documenting the changes between his generation and another generation of students in high school. The series of articles he wrote for the St. Petersburg Times became the basis of his book South of Heaven: Welcome to High School at the End of the Twentieth Century. He took the facts, the people and the situation and told it like a story, using skills of fiction writing to present non-fiction.
When submitting your article or story, break the article into subheadings to make the editor’s work easier. Be sure to include sidebar information, such as statistics, facts, addresses for more information, national hotlines, or associations related to the topic of the article. Include a bibliography of sources to help the fact-checker verify every fact in the article.
Include a bionote (a one or two sentence description of you tied to the article) that includes your website or credentials. Most authors also include the title of their most recent book, especially if it relates to the topic of the article. The bionote generally appears at the beginning or end of an article to tell the reader something about the author of the piece. Here is an example bionote I used for a flying magazine at the end of a feature article on Jack Brown’s Seaplane Base: Joni M. Fisher is a journalist and instrument-rated private pilot who learned to fly land planes at Brown’s Seaplane Base in 1996. Contact her through www.jonimfisher.com.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
What is the history of this topic, this person, this place? What is the historical perspective? What legends and myths are connected to this place? Where is the future headed? Extrapolate the trends and their potential impact. Who is predicting the future of this place, this topic, this technology? What does the man on the street believe? History has flavor.
Quantity, locale, diversity and intensity. How big is this anyway? Does the story reach beyond the local to the regional to the national to the global? Does it affect only one industry? How many different ways does this event, this news affect others? (Shutting down one major shipping port in the U.S. causes what?) How deeply does this news affect people’s lives? Does it affect the CEO and the hourly worker the same? Does it affect the elderly the same as toddlers?
Seek sources at different sides of an issue, but also at different levels of involvement. The academic may be an expert, but how much hands-on experience does he have? In proving a point, use different kinds of proofs. Facts, testimonials, quotes from experts blended together make a stronger point than three quotes from three experts or just listing fact after fact. Even if they all say the same thing, they say it in different ways so the repetition drives the point deeper home.
Can this story unfold from development to impact to reaction? Movement can grow from alternating opposites (like changing the focal length of a camera). Abstract/concrete, general/particular, broad view to personal example—shift the reader’s focus. What is the big picture and the telling detail? Take the reader into the story.
Keep it as conversational as possible. Showing off your vocabulary will distance you from your readers. Write in the clearest way possible, as if you are writing to your best friend. Even if you are the world’s leading expert on the topic, you won’t reach people if you preach or dictate to them. Show, don’t tell. If your article seeks to convince people to take action, then do so with facts, testimonials, objective information. Write with honesty and heart and your readers will appreciate it even if they disagree with you.
Always, always satisfy the reader’s question—Why should I care about this? Make the article worth the reader’s time and energy. Pack it with solid value.
To read more articles like this, go to www.jonimfisher.com.