There are a multitude of different types of articles, including news stories, features, profiles, instructional articles, and so on. While each has specific qualities that are unique to its type, all articles share some common characteristics. From forming and researching your idea to writing and editing your work, writing articles can give you a chance to share compelling and important information with readers.
Forming Your Idea
- Get familiar with the type of article you want to write. As you’re figuring out your topic and focus, think about the type of article that will best suit the points that you want to convey. Some article types are better suited to certain topics. Some of the most common types of articles are:
- News: This type of article presents facts about something that happened recently or that will happen in the near future. It usually covers the 5 Ws and H: who, what, where when, why and how.
- Feature: This type of article presents information in a more creative, descriptive way than a straight news article. It can be an article about a person, a phenomenon, a place, or other subject.
- Editorial: This article presents a writer’s opinions on a topic or debate. It is intended to persuade the reader to think a certain way about a topic.
- How-to: This article gives clear instructions and information about how to accomplish some task.
- Profile: This article presents information about a person, using information that the writer typically gathers through interviews and background research.
- Brainstorm your topic. Make a list of potential topics. You might want to write about immigration or organic food or your local animal shelter. In order to write a coherent yet concise article, you need to narrow the topic. This will give you something more specific to write about, which will make for a more forceful article. Ask yourself these questions:
- What interests you about this topic?
- What is a point that people usually overlook?
- What do you want people to know about this topic?
- For example, if you want to write about organic farming, you might say to yourself, “I think it’s important to know what organic labeling means on food packages. It can be very confusing to know what it all means.”
- Choose something you’re passionate about. Make sure it's something you can write a lot about. You should care about the topic you choose to write about. Your enthusiasm will show in your writing and will be much more engaging for your readers.
- Your goal is to convey enough passion that your readers think the issue in your article is worth caring about.
- Conduct preliminary research. If you’re not at all familiar with your topic (if, for instance, you need to write on a specific topic for a class assignment), then you will need to start conducting some preliminary research.
- Enter some key words into an online search engine. This can lead you to sources that write about your topic. These sources can also give you an idea of different approaches to the topic.
- Read as much as you can on the topic. Visit your local library. Consult books, magazine articles, published interviews, and online features as well as news sources, blogs, and databases for information. A good place to start looking for data not readily apparent on the Internet is the Gale Directory of Databases, which exists in both book format (available in libraries) or online.
- Find a unique angle. When you have decided on your topic and you’ve narrowed it down to something more specific, think about how you can make this article stand out. If you are writing an article about something that other people are also writing about, try to be unique in how you approach the material. You should add to the conversation, not exist alongside it.
- For example, for the organic food topic, you might focus on one grocery shopper who doesn’t understand organic food labeling. Use that opening anecdote to lead into your main argument, known as a "nut graph," which summarizes your unique idea or point of view.
- Hone your argument. In most articles, the writer makes an argument. This is the main thrust of the article. Then the writer finds evidence to support this argument. In order to make a quality article, you need a quality argument. After you’ve settled on your unique angle, you can really zero in on the argument that you’re trying to make.
- For example, if you are writing about how one person learns how to read organic labels, your overall argument might be that the public needs to be aware that many companies misuse organic labeling. This leads to dishonest practices in product advertising. Another topic might be: it’s important to know who owns your local media outlets. If corporate media organizations own your local newspaper, you may get very little media coverage of your area and not know much about your own community.
- Write your argument in one sentence. Post it near your computer or writing area. This will help you stay focused as you start working on your article.
Researching Your Idea
- Learn about your topic and argument. Start researching your specific topic and argument. Go beyond the preliminary research you already conducted. Learn the fundamental issues at stake, the pros and cons, what the experts say, and so on.
- The best writers have a "documents state of mind." They search both for primary (original, unpublished) documents as well as secondary documents on that subject.
- Primary sources can include a transcript from a legislative hearing, lawsuit filing, county property indexes with folio numbers, discharge certificates from the military, and photos. Other primary sources could include government written records in the National Archives or special collections sections of your local or university library, insurance policies, corporate financial reports, or personal background reports.
- Secondary sources comprise published databases, books, abstracts, articles in English and other languages, bibliographies, dissertations and reference books.
- You can find information on the internet or in a library. You can also conduct interviews, watch documentaries, or consult other sources.
- The best writers have a "documents state of mind." They search both for primary (original, unpublished) documents as well as secondary documents on that subject.
- Gather supporting evidence. Start identifying ways that you might support your overall argument. You should gather about 3-5 solid examples that support your overall argument.
- You can make a longer list of evidence and examples. As you gather more evidence, you will be able to prioritize which ones are the strongest examples.
- Use reliable sources. Be wary when researching online. Draw only from reliable sources like reputable newspapers, experts on the topic, government websites, or university websites. Look for information that lists other sources, since this will help back up any claims made by your source. You can also find sources in print, and the same precautions should be taken there.
- Don’t assume that one source is completely accurate. You'll need several unrelated sources to get the full picture.
- Keep track of your research sources. Write down where you get your information so you can cite the sources. Typically, the bibliographic information for a source includes the author’s name, article title, publication title, year, page number, and publisher.
- Choose a citation style sooner rather than later, so you can compile citation information in the correct format. MLA, APA, and Chicago are some of the most common citation styles.
- Avoid plagiarism. When you are looking at other sources, be careful about how you compile information. Sometimes, people copy text into a single document to use as notes for their article. But in doing so, they risk potential plagiarism because the copied text gets mixed up in their own written work. Be sure to keep careful track of which writing is not yours.
- Don’t copy any text directly from another source. Paraphrase this text instead, and include a citation.
Outlining Your Idea
- Decide on the article’s length. Does this article have a word count? Do you need to fill a certain number of pages? Consider what type of content you’re writing about and how much space this will fill. Also, think about how much needs to be written in order to cover the topic adequately.
- Consider your audience. Think about who is going to read your article. You need to take into account the reading level, interests, expectations, and so on.
- For example, if you are writing an article for a specialized academic audience, your tone and approach will be vastly different than if you’re writing an article for a popular magazine.
- Outline your article. Before you begin to formally write, write up an outline of your article. This outline will break down which information goes where. It serves as a guide to help you figure out where you need more information.
- It’s helpful to start with the five-paragraph essay outline. This outline devotes one paragraph to an introduction, three paragraphs for supporting evidence, and one paragraph for a conclusion. As you start plugging in information into your outline, you may find that this structure doesn’t suit your article so well.
- You might also find that this structure doesn’t suit certain types of articles. For example, if you’re doing a profile of a person, your article may follow a different format.
- Choose quotes and other evidence to support your points. You will likely come across information that succinctly supports what you’re saying. This might include a statement that someone has made, or a sentence within another article that is particularly relevant. Choose the most important and descriptive part to use in your own piece. Add these quotes to your outline.
- Make sure to fully attribute your quote and use quotation marks around anything that you didn’t write yourself. For example, you might write: A spokesperson for the dairy brand Milktoast says, “Our milk is labeled organic because our cows are only fed organic grass.”
- Don’t overdo the quotes. Be selective about the quotes you do use. If you use too many quotes, your reader might think you’re using them as filler instead of coming up with your own material.
Writing Your Article
- Write your introduction. A compelling introductory paragraph is crucial for hooking your reader. Within the first few sentences, the reader will evaluate whether your article is worth reading in its entirety. There are a number of ways to start an article, some of which include:
- Telling an anecdote.
- Using a quote from an interview subject.
- Starting with a statistic.
- Starting with straight facts of the story.
- Follow your outline. You’ve drafted your article in outline form, and this will help you focus on writing a solid and coherent article. The outline can also help you remember how details connect to each other. You will also be reminded of how certain quotes support certain points that you’re making.
- Be flexible, however. Sometimes when you write, the flow makes sense in a way that is different from your outline. Be ready to change the direction of your piece if it seems to read better that way.
- Give proper context. Don’t assume your reader knows as much about your topic as you do. Think about the kinds of background information that your reader needs in order to understand the topic. Depending on the type of article, you might give a paragraph with background information before proceeding into your supporting evidence. Or, you might weave in this contextual information throughout your article.
- Show with description. Use eloquent and descriptive language to give the reader a good picture of what you’re writing about. Carefully choose descriptive verbs and precise adjectives.
- For example, you might write about the grocery shopper having trouble with organic food labels: “Charlie concentrated on jars of peanut butter on the shelf. The words ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ seemed to jump out at him. Every jar said something different. He felt they were shouting at him: ‘Choose me!’ ‘Buy me!’ The words started swimming in front of his eyes. He left the aisle without buying anything.”
- Include transitions. Link each separate idea with transitions so that your article reads as one cohesive piece. Start each new paragraph with a transition that links it to the previous paragraph.
- For example, use words or phrases such as “however…,” “another important point is…,” or “it must be remembered that…”
- Pay attention to style, structure and voice. You will want to write with a style, structure, and voice which makes sense for the type of article you are writing. Evaluate your audience to determine what the best method would be to present your information to them.
- For example, a newspaper article will need to offer information in a narrative, chronological format. It should be written with accessible and straightforward language. An academic article will be written with more formal language. A how-to article might be written in more informal language.
- When writing your article, use a strong "anchoring" sentence at the beginning of each paragraph to move your reader forward. Also, vary the length of your sentences, both short and long. If you find all your sentences are about the same word length, chances are your reader will be 'lulled" into a standard rhythm and fall asleep. Sentences which are consistently choppy and short may give your reader the impression you are writing advertising copy instead of a well-thought-out article.
- Write a compelling conclusion. Wrap up your article with a dynamic conclusion. Depending on your article, this might be a conclusion that empowers the reader. For example, if you’re writing an opinion piece about food labeling, you might convey to your readers how they can learn more about labeling.
- If you started with an anecdote or statistic in your introduction, think about reconnecting to this point in your conclusion.
- Conclusions are often strongest when they use a last, brief concrete example that leads the reader to new insights. Conclusions should be 'forward thinking' -- point the reader in a direction that keeps his or her "thirst" for knowledge going strong.
- Think about adding supplemental material. You can help your reader understand your topic more clearly by including graphics or other supplemental material.
- For example, you could include photographs, charts, or infographics to illustrate some of your points.
- You could also highlight or develop a major point more with a sidebar-type box. This is an extra bit of writing that delves more deeply into one aspect of the subject. For example, if you’re writing about your city’s film festival, you might include a sidebar write-up that highlights one of the films. These types of write-ups are usually short (50-75 words, depending on the publication outlet).
- Remember, these materials are supplemental. This means that your article should stand on its own. Your writing needs to be understandable, clear and focused without the help of charts, photographs or other graphics.
Finalizing Your Work
- Edit your work. Take some time to edit and revise your article. If time allows, wait for a day or two before editing. This will give you some distance from your article. Then you will be able to view your article with fresh eyes.
- Look closely at the central argument or point you’re trying to make. Does everything in your article serve this central argument? Do you have a paragraph that is unrelated? If so, this paragraph should be eliminated or reframed so that it supports the main argument.
- Eliminate any contradictory information in the article or address the contradictions, showing how the contradictory information is relevant to readers.
- Rewrite sections or the entire thing as necessary. Revisions like this are common for all types of articles, so don’t feel like you’ve failed or are incompetent.
- Comb through for grammatical errors. Even when an article is well-written, it will not be taken as seriously if it has grammatical errors or spelling mistakes. Make sure your writing is forceful by cleaning up your grammar.
- It’s helpful to print out a hard copy of your article. Go through it with a pen or pencil to catch mistakes. Then go back and correct these mistakes on the computer.
- Read your article out loud to yourself. Listen for tone, rhythm, sentence length, coherence, grammatical or content errors, and compelling argument(s). Think of your writing as a piece of music, an auditory experience, and use your ears to evaluate the quality, strengths, and weaknesses.
- It is common to be able to identify your own mistakes in grammar or writing while reading aloud as well; this could cut down on the feedback that you may receive from someone else.
- Have someone else read your article. Try showing the article to a friend, teacher, or other trusted individual to read it. Does this person understand the points you’re trying to make? Does he follow your logic?
- This person may also catch errors and inconsistencies that you have overlooked.
- Write a headline. Give your article a suitable headline. The headline is short and to the point, using no more than about 10 words, if that. A headline should be action-oriented and should convey why the story is important. It should grab readers and draw them into the article.
- If you want to convey slightly more information, write a sub-headline. This is a secondary sentence that builds on the headline.
- Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to write the article. If you don't, you'll be rushing at the last minute to create something that isn't representative of what you can truly do.
- To find out more about using primary research tools and databases, consult the Investigative Reporters and Editors website or get a copy of The Investigative Reporter's Handbook: A Guide to Documents, Databases and Techniques, Fifth Edition. Authors: Brant Houston and Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc. (New York: Bedford/St. Martin's 2009).
- Determine whether or not you actually have an interest in writing. Try writing 2 paragraphs with as much creativity as possible.
- When writing for a newspaper or magazine, do not do so for free. Ask what the freelance fee is beforehand. Your pay will usually be calculated on a per-word basis or per-article basis. Your work is valuable. Writing for free makes making a living more difficult for those who depend on freelance fees to pay the bills. 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.
Tighten your ideas
- When writing an article do not put information that just makes the article longer. IF the article is long that will lead to boredom and it will lead for not engaging the reader. So try to make your ideas simple but twisting in the same time to engage your target audience.
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