Why learn how to write an article?
The demand for articles has never been higher. The internet is replacing print media and has created an insatiable appetite for them.
Netcraft, a site that researches and analyzes the internet, puts the current number of active websites at close to 2 billion.
As many as 2.3 million new websites join the internet every day. Many have several pages that need fresh articles on a regular basis.
There is one problem, however.
In a world where everyone is a publisher, competition for readers’ attention is high. You need more than just a keyboard to stand above the crowd.
You need to learn how to write an article or blog post that gets noticed, engages readers and inspires them.
In this guide, I will share with you the tips and tricks I have learned by:
- writing thousands of articles for clients
- working with editors who give me feedback on my writing (especially Cheryl Hulseapple, who worked on the article you are now reading)
- taking writing courses
- reading blogs and books on writing
How to Write an Article: Step by Step
1. Choose the right subject matter or niche
Your comfort level with a topic affects the quality of the article you write. If you pick a niche that you know little about, you will struggle, and that shows in the writing. The article may be shallow and full of factual errors.
The article may be shallow and full of factual errors.
When choosing topics for article writing, consider your:
- work or life experiences
- formal or informal training
Even when you are writing articles for money, it is a good idea to bid for work in an area you are conversant with. Then you give your clients articles that are unique, nuanced and factual.
2. Identify the goal of your article
Knowing what you want to achieve is another secret to writing an article that engages readers. Decide what step you want the reader to take after reading your piece. Set out to achieve one of the following:
Jeff Goins, author The Art of Work, says:
“So what’s your goal as a writer? Is it to pander and placate? To not make anyone angry? Maintain the status quo and keep everyone happy? That’s not enough (not to mention, impossible). We need you — and your words. To upset us. Incite us. Provoke us. (I hope you will.)”
3. Choose the right format
Your end goal determines how you will write your article and, in particular, the type of article you write. Choose one of the following:
- News article
A news article shares important details about an incident, person or issue.
How to write an article of this kind? Answer the journalist’s 5 Ws and one H questions: When, Where, Why, What, Who and How.
Write in an inverted pyramid format. Prioritize the most important details and put them first, and leave the least important for last.
This type of article is time sensitive. You need to write and publish it while the event or incident is still fresh.
- Press release
A press release is an official statement by an organization, business or institution. It informs the media and the public about new developments.
A company could announce a change in management, the launch of a new product or a business merger.
Writing an article that serves as a press release is similar to writing a news article. It also answers the 5Ws and one H questions.
The main difference is that a neutral party writes and publishes news articles, while an organization makes an official statement in a press release.
Hubspot provides a detailed guide on how to write a press release, complete with templates and examples.
- Feature article
A feature article covers a particular event, person or issue in detail and with a creative flair. This type of article is often longer than a news article. Think of it as a nonfiction version of a short story.
A feature article has a longer shelf life than news articles. Its style is also less rigid. As a writer, you are at liberty to invent your style and use it.
The book Writing Feature Stories by Matthew Ricketson is a valuable resource on how to write an article that falls into the feature category.
- How-to article
A how-to article guides a reader through a task. It might explain how to cook pizza at home, how to clean a car or even how to write an article.
Yes, this article is a how-to article. It should be practical and easy for the reader to follow.
How-to articles are evergreen. This means they remain relevant for months and even years. Writer’s Digest offers a simple guide on how to write a how-to article.
- A sales pitch or marketing copy article
A sale pitch or marketing copy article is one you write to convince the reader to buy a service or a product. Its purpose is to highlight a product’s features, benefits and value proposition.
Its purpose is to highlight a product’s features, benefits and value proposition.
It also identifies problems the product solves for the reader and seeks in advance to overcome reader objections to buying.
We refer to this form of writing as copywriting. It is the most difficult form of writing to master.
This is because readers hate being sold to, especially when they aren’t in the mindframe for shopping. When people notice that you are trying to sell them a product, they switch off or click away.
Copywriting is, however, one of the best paying forms of writing. Businesses are always looking for writers to craft emails, blog posts, flyers and newsletters that convince readers to buy.
Henneke Duistermaat’s book How to Write Seductive Web Copy is one of the best books I have read about how to write an article of this type.
- Product review
With a lot of marketing noise surrounding us, shoppers are desperate for neutral information about goods and services in the market.
The best comes from reviews by people who have shopped and used the product before them.
When writing a product review, you explain your experience with a particular product or service. You give the reader the pros and cons of the product so that when it’s their turn to shop, they can make more informed decisions.
The secret to writing a useful review is to first use the product yourself. Never fall into the temptation of writing a review about a product or service you haven’t used.
Readers will find your articles less than helpful, especially when they use the product. Writing a dishonest or false review will kill your credibility.
One of the best guides on how to write a product review was written by freelance writer Karol K. on Problogger.
- Opinion and commentaries
Opinion or commentary pieces are articles you write to express and root for certain positions in a discourse.
Use this type of article when you want to convince others to agree with you.
Opinion articles, also called op-eds, work best for people who lead public lives, such as politicians, artists or entrepreneurs.
However, ordinary people can also write opinion articles to move the masses, or at least those in their circles, on particular issues.
There is no particular format for how to write an article in which you express your position in a discourse.
It can take any form as long as the reader can tell you’re writing opinion.
An expert may also write opinion on a topic for an op-ed article. For example, if you are an economist, you might get editorial space in a local daily to write about your opinion on the state of the economy every week.
4. Define your target reader
You won’t know how to write an article until you determine who you are writing for. When we start out as writers, we often ignore this part.
However, the failure to know your audience may result in an excellent article, except that it doesn’t resonate with anyone.
In How to Write Seductive Web Copy, Duistermaat recommends that you write for just one reader.
“Describing and visualizing your one ideal reader makes your web copy more vivid and more personal. It doesn’t mean that you target just that one person. It means that whoever closely matches your ideal reader feels that your content is written for him.”
Start with demographics. Determine your ideal reader’s:
- education level
- profession, etc.
While the demographics of your reader are important, these details only serve as a foundation. They guide you in understanding what drives your ideal readers emotionally.
Tapping into this information will help you engage them. To determine emotional drivers, ask:
- What motivates your reader?
- What inspires your reader to hold certain positions?
- What does your reader worry about the most?
- What pain does your reader feel in their daily lives?
- What are your reader’s dreams and wishes?
This information will help you write an article that will connect with your reader on an emotional level.
For example, you are writing an opinion piece for a local daily in which you want to convince readers to support a proposed law to lower the age of consensual sex from 18 to 16.
The target readers may include parents of teenage daughters. Because the parents fear teenage pregnancy, they may be hard to convince.
You will only succeed if you successfully to alleviate this fear by showing that there would be no increase in teenage pregnancies if the bill were to become law.
In another example, let’s say you write about fashion. It’s helpful to know that your ideal reader cares a lot about being respected by her peers.
With this piece of information, you could write an article explaining which modes of dress elicit respect and which don’t.
5. Conduct SEO research
In the past, a writer had a duty only to the reader. In the era of internet, however, you most likely will have to write for both humans and machines.
Today, most books, courses and blogs on how to write an article also teach how to optimize the text for search engines.
What exactly is search engine optimization (SEO)?
It enables search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing to index your article so people can access it when searching online.
While it is a very technical process, a writer who is not tech savvy can find tools that help. One is Keyword Planner by Google, which comes with your Gmail account.
If you still struggle, you can find guides that will take you through the keyword research process. I have used a guide that is comprehensive and easy for the nontechnical writer.
As a modern writer, it is important that you know how to use these tools. To rank high on search engines, your article needs a primary keyword that encapsulates its main idea.
It also needs several other related keywords. From Benjamin Brandall:
“Bad keyword research will have you typing 2,000 words of gold and relying on social distribution to run its two-day cycle before your page falls off the face of the internet.”
Copyblogger, a leading online content marketing company, observed in one of its free eBooks that traffic coming from search engines is superior to traffic from social media and paid ads.
“Compared with social traffic, searchers are the most motivated people who hit a website. This is important. If they’re looking for a product or service, there’s a good chance they’re looking to buy it.”
The traffic you get through social media, however, comes from people who merely stumble upon your content or ad and aren’t necessarily in a frame of mind to indulge your offer.
6. Conduct general research
Doing thorough research will help you write an article that is credible. You need two levels of research. General and specific.
Start with general research before you write your first draft.
This is where you put together background information about your topic, its history, and current trends.
It is also time for identifying and consulting sources such as websites, experts and books that are authoritative and credible.
If you need to interview people, make sure you prepare and do sufficient background research so you know what questions to ask.
For later reference, record your interviews, but make sure the people you interview know in advance that you intend to record them.
Naveed Saleh’s book The Complete Guide to Article Writing provides detailed information on how to conduct research. It guides you on finding sources, determining their credibility and citing them appropriately.
7. Use your right brain to write your first draft
With all the material from your initial research in your possession, it is time to write the first draft. This is the most difficult part of the article writing process.
Many writers do all the necessary research, only to find it hard to proceed. This is where procrastination sets in. Henneke Duistermaat writes:
“I love editing, but I hated writing. Editing is a playful activity. I have fun with words, I try different sentence structures, I play with rhythm. I don’t put any pressure on myself. In contrast, writing a first draft has always seemed damn hard work.”
So, how do you get going?
Embrace what Duistermaat calls the shitty first draft. Sit at your desktop, set a time and start writing. Write anything that comes to mind about your article idea, including nonsense.
Don’t worry about grammatical, structural nor factual errors.
Avoid the temptation to go back and make corrections. You can clean everything up later.
For best results, set realistic goals. Say you want 2,000 words on the page in 40 minutes, for example. The faster you write, the easier you overcome procrastination.
As Donald M. Murray says in A Writer Teaches Writing:
“The purpose of the first draft is to discover.”
Once you’ve reached your word or time limit on the first draft, take a break.
A break helps you be objective and reorient your brain away from being emotionally attached to your writing.
How long you take before you come back to your draft depends on your deadline. It could be a few hours, a few days or even weeks. Whatever the time, you need space between writing and editing.
From Ann Handley, in Everybody Writes:
“Walk away. You’ll feel some relief at getting the first draft out. … Get some space so that you [and your writing] can both cool off a bit. Grab the dog’s leash and go for a walk, meet friends for lunch, whatever. Just put some distance between you two. Then, when you get back to it, you’ll be fresh and (hopefully) less agitated.”
Time to Edit
8. Take a hard look at your title
Often when we think about how to write an article, the title takes a backseat. Before you start to edit any other part of your draft, give your title a hard look.
Rework it until it encapsulates the article idea and creates ‘knowledge gaps’ that encourage the reader to read on to find out more.
Dan and Chip Heath, in their book Made to Stick, describe the well-crafted knowledge gap as painful to the reader.
“[Knowledge] gaps cause pain. When we want to know something but don’t, it’s like having an itch that we need to scratch.”
The shape of the title and its promise guide how you’ll structure and edit the rest of the article. It becomes your navigation instrument.
9. Edit the body
Now this is where the real writing starts. Look at your introductory paragraph and determine whether it will inspires a reader to keep reading.
The first paragraph is as important as the title, and for the same reasons. If each part of the text connects with the reader, they will read further down.
The first paragraph should reinforce the promise made by the title and also create further mystery (painful knowledge gaps) to make the reader proceed to the next paragraph.
The second one should also do only one thing—encourage the reader to move to the next. This process should repeat itself all the way to the last paragraph of your article.
At the editing stage, also check for grammatical and structural errors, such as:
- Spelling mistakes
Take a closer look at words that people often confuse, such as ‘farther’ and ‘further.’ Also check whether you’ve correctly spelled the names of people, places, and brands that you mention in your article.
- Subject-verb agreements
If the subject in a sentence is written in the third person, make sure the verb takes the appropriate form. Avoid formations like ‘James do the work,’ which should be ‘James does the work.’
- Tense consistency
If you start in past tense, the entire sentence, each paragraph and the whole article should be written in the past tense.
You shouldn’t have a situation where the first paragraph is in the present tense, and the one that follows is in the past tense.
If a sentence makes sense without a particular word, the word is unnecessary or an expletive word. Delete it. If a paragraph passes the same test when you remove a particular sentence, delete the redundant sentence.
Also, check for groups of words that you can replace with a single one, such as replacing ‘despite the fact that’ with ‘although.’
In a blog post entitled, “How to Sculpt Concise Sentences,” Henneke Duistermaat describes how to identify meaningless words to remove from sentences.
- Negative forms
Use positive wording. Cut forms of ‘not’ to the minimum. Where you still need it, use it in contraction form, such as ‘aren’t’, ‘don’t’ and ‘isn’t.’ Sentences read more natural this way.
- Weak verbs and adverbs
Take time to choose strong verbs in your sentences. Use adverbs sparingly. Saying ‘He rushed’ is stronger than ‘He walked quickly.’
Also, replace passive voice with active. Thus instead of ‘The article was written by him,’ say ‘He wrote the article.’
This is the time to go looking for verb synonyms that people may be more apt to use in specific settings.
The editing process is also the time to do a second round of research. Focus more on specific issues.
The purpose of the second round of research is to catch and remove factual errors, such as dates of events, titles of people mentioned and spelling of names of official institutions.
10. Use a grammar checker
Even if you know how to write an article to perfection, some things will slip your attention. For this reason, you need grammar checker software.
Microsoft Word can handle some of these functions; however, it isn’t thorough. You can also try Grammarly.
If using Grammarly, however, watch out for the Cupertino effect—the tendency for spell checkers to suggest improper spelling, sentence structure and words.
Don’t surrender your good judgment to computer software.
11. Source images
Plagiarism extends beyond text. If someone learns you’ve used their image in your article without permission, they can report you to Google or even sue you.
Therefore, you won’t know how to write an article until you know where and how to source images.
You can access many creative commons images on Google. However, you need to go to the tools section of the search engine and select ‘images labeled for reuse.’
If you don’t find an image that suits your idea, then you can buy one through online stock photo markets such as Shutterstock, Fotolia, and Pixabay.
12. Hand the draft over to an editor
No matter how much you know about writing an article, a second pair of eyes is always helpful. An editor will help find issues that you and a grammar checker may not.
He or she can also give you other perspectives that can improve your article.
It isn’t easy to find a professional editor to give your work a thorough finishing. You could use a friend you trust. You could also find an editor on freelancing sites.
For instance, you could spend $5 or $10 on Fiverr, and someone will edit your work. Whatever you do, have someone else look at your article.
13. Take the editor’s recommendations
Request that your editor use the change-tracking feature in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. The editor will propose changes, and you will be able to accept or reject them.
An editor may also write comments in the margins of the document.
Take recommendations from the editor in good faith. Suggestions are about the article, not about you. An editor wants to help make your work better.
Even where you want to disagree, do so in a civil manner. It is too easy for editing to turn into a competition of egos.
14. Publish your article
With the editor’s recommendations taken into account, your article is ready for publishing. If you are the one to publish it, make sure you upload photos correctly.
Create a short URL for the article, which should include the primary keyword.
Write a short and interesting meta description, also including the keyword phrase. Readers will see your meta description in search engine results.
If you are using WordPress, make sure the article is listed in the appropriate category, which you can find on the right sidebar of the editor.
Hit the publish button.