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Thursday, May 04, 2006

How to Write Articles in Six Easy Steps: The Writing Process and Pre-writing

The Writing Process is a relatively straight forward six step process:
1. Prewriting
2. Draft
3. Revision
4. Edit
5. Proofread
6. Publish
This process will provide the framework, for the remainder of this text as you learn the key components of writing articles well.


Before you can begin to write your article, you have a few decisions to make. You need to determine why you are writing or the purpose of your piece. Are you writing to inform or entertain? Are you writing a news piece, a feature article, or an interview? You must also identify your topic and audience. There is no set order to these items. Very often, they are determined in a manner that seems simultaneous.

If you have been assigned an article by the editor of a publication, the audience and the topic of the article have already been determined. You may plan to write the article on speculation or spec, meaning you complete the article and submit the full manuscript for consideration to markets, magazines, newsletters, online publications etc., that accept spec submissions. You can also keep the article on file and write a query letter summarizing its contents to submit to markets for consideration. When writing on spec, you have more freedom in the selection of topic and audience. Another upside of this approach is that you have a finished product to market and no deadline hanging over your head. You may have to complete a few revisions if your article is accepted, but the bulk of your work is done. The down side is that you have completed the work for an article which may or may not be published.

Before you begin to write, you must also select your format, news, feature, how-to, review, etc. Select the format which best serves the needs of your audience, provides the greatest level of clarity for your message and is complimentary to doing so in a concise manner.

Now that you’ve selected your topic, audience and format, you must write a great lead for you article. Whatever the type of article, news, feature, review, profile or interview, you need to write an opening sentence or lead which covers the key facts while grabbing the reader’s attention. It drives the piece by creating a focal point for your writing.

Your lead gives your reader a flag telling them what they can expect as they read your article. Sometimes, it even helps them determine whether or not they’d like to continue.
The type of article you are writing will influence the way you write your lead. For example, news articles are generally written using what is referred to as an inverted pyramid style. The most important details or base of the story are presented first. Then explanatory details, supporting quotes and supporting information follow in an order which presents the most significant information first and ends the article with the least significant details. For news, this means who, what, when, and where are covered in the lead. For example, “KANSAS CITY, MO-Constance Bledsoe won the Fifth Annual Jackson County Spelling Bee at Turner Elementary School yesterday.”

In feature articles, the lead sentence and paragraph act as more of a set up for the rest of the article. For example, take this lead I wrote for an article published at Associated

“As the summer heat begins to wane, Kansas City residents look forward to some of the best known and loved festivals and events in the heartland. This series of eight annual celebrations begins in September and continues through November, forming an almost non-stop wave of engaging entertainment for visitors and natives alike. These events are easily accessible and appeal to a variety of interests. ”

Be certain that you understand the function and presentation style of your selected format. Write to meet those criteria. You can revise your lead if necessary as you build your article.
After your lead has been constructed, it is time to outline your piece. Identify the sub-topics which you intend to address and some of their supporting details. If you find that questions arise as you are outlining, make them part of your outline. The answers could provide key or supplemental support to your article. This outline can be as formal or informal as you like. You can use a series of note cards on which you have written your major points. Then list each point’s key details on the back of the card. Shuffle them until you find the order that suits you. Of course, there is always the standard Roman numeral outline with each subheading distinguished in order by a letter of the alphabet. It can be a simple list. Find what works best for you.

Next Week: Research

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