Update: This article applies to web articles only.
To write an article or not to write an article - that is a question you might ask yourself, regardless if you consider yourself to be a writer or not. If you answer yes, which I hope you do, then, what's next? Over recent decades, the attention span of people has shrunk, and it's becoming harder and harder to keep anybody interested and focused on something for a long time. That's why learning how to write an article fast that people would devour through the end is a critical skill you should learn and practice. In this guide, I'll go over the best practices of writing an article from concept to completion with step-by-step instructions.
Writing an Article Common Issues
I believe there are two significant problems that non-fiction writers have today.
1) The sheer volume of information. Today, as I was writing this, I typed in Google "how to write an article" to see what else is out there. Guess what? The engine returned 2,110,000,000 results in 0.51 seconds. I scrolled through the 10th page, and even on page ten, the titles of the articles still sounded compelling to me.
Because this article is not an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) guide, I will not delve too much into it. But some of the SEO ideas are critical for writing an article in general, so I will tackle the essential issues that will help your article rise to the surface in the sea of non-fiction out there.
2) The attention span of readers. As I clicked through the articles to test them out, I had several types of reactions:
too much text
it looks pleasant to my eye
that sounds interesting at least
In other words, some articles grabbed my attention right away, while for others, I had an immediate "blah" reaction and moved away. The problem here is that regardless of how I felt at first sight and after getting through a few paragraphs, the article could still have been good enough. The issue was that I never got to find out. People want to be wooed quick and hard before they decide to stick with it.
So, how can you address these problems when you sit down to write your next article? I believe the structure I will share with you will provide a good answer. Also, at the end of this piece, you can download a simple Word template to guide you through writing an article that people will love to read.
Are You Really Writing an Article?
Are you writing an article that is useful to people, or simply just venting or journaling on the web? There's a huge difference.
When you vent or journal, you are merely letting out some thoughts that are weighing heavily on your mind. That's a therapeutic exercise that I highly recommend to everyone.
However, the goal of writing an article is to get people to read it. To do so, you must first get people to find your article, and when they do, convince them to start from the top and stick with it through to the end.
Let's look at the four bone pillars of article writing:
1) Write an Article - Do Your Research
The research before writing an article is a critical pre-requisite because this will define not only what the article is about, but also where is its place in the non-fiction universe and how people will find it.
Topic - the topic is basically what the article is about. The more generic the topic, the more likely it is for readers to have a hard time finding your article in the sea of non-fiction that lies at their fingertips. So, the more you search and identify a narrow niche, the more success you'll have to get your article in front of people.
One somewhat counterintuitive thing comes from the ages-old writing advice to write about what you know and what you love. I think that's okay because the more you write in general, the better you get at it. Every so often, you should let yourself go and write about the things that matter most to you.
But, your overall non-fiction strategy should not be limited to that. Instead, you need to understand what your readers want to read. Most importantly, you must decide who your readers are. Often, the two worlds overlap, and everyone is happy. But most of the time they don't, and even if they do, the market is just too vast.
Main Keywords - from your topic, you can define one primary or a few critical keywords. These are words of phrases that should lead naturally to your article. There are many keywords research tools available online that you may consider to assist with this process. I've listed a few at the end of this article.
Related Keywords and Real-Life Questions - although there will always be a few main keywords, there are dozens, sometimes hundreds, of associated keywords. Even though they are not the focus, don't ignore them. The same goes for natural, real-life questions. These are the questions that people like you and me type into the search engine to find information. Understanding those questions will hint at the problems people have, which, hopefully, your article tries to solve.
2) Write an Article - Clearly Defined Attributes
Now that you have a general idea of what your article is about, document a few critical attributes. That will help you not only keep the article's parameters fresh in your mind, but it will also be essential when you have to submit your article.
Niche / Category - This comes from the topic, but it's more specific. If your topic is "dog food," the niche could be "organic dog food" or "dog food high in vitamin."
Sub-Category - This may or may not be relevant all the time, but if there is something even narrower, go for it. For example, "kosher dog food."
Target Audience - The target audience are your readers, and you need to understand who they are and narrow it down as much as you can. Yes, I'd love to write articles that all 7B people on Earth want to read, but that's not feasible. Narrow down your target audience to better understand their wants and needs. More readers from a focused audience are far better than fewer readers from a broad audience.
Tags - your tags are a combination of the category, niche, and keywords. If you submit your article to several directories or sites, these will come in handy because most of those sites request you to enter some tags. However, please note that you shouldn't count on these "external" tags to define your article. They should naturally ooze out of the content of your article, as we will discuss shortly.
Style - is this a highly technical article that only advanced computer programmers or math majors would understand? Or is it casual? Decide ahead of time because you need to make sure that the style of your article is appropriate for the target market you have chosen.
Reading Level - Although the style could be technical, the reading level could be higher or lower. For instance, if you create a math article for five graders, the reading level of your article should be that of fifth grade. I have some resources for determining the reading level of a piece of text at the end of this article.
3) Write an Article - A Solid Structure
Now we are getting to the meat of things. Before you start with the content, I highly recommend you define three key elements:
Title / Headline
Description (also known as meta description)
It sounds like something you should decide at the end, but I firmly believe it's a great idea to write these first as if you had already completed your article. I think this action provides you with a strong anchor to the core of the piece you are working on. Later, once you've completed the first draft, you can come back and revise them.
Key Rules for Writing a Persuasive Headline
The title or headline of your article is the one single most powerful tool you have at your disposal. A persuasive article title will make a significant difference when it comes to people deciding to read or not to read.
Here are some best practices on writing good headlines (and a few more resources at the end).
Keep it short and concise: 50 to 60 characters and up to 10 words.
Your primary keyword should appear at the beginning of the title.
Any secondary keyword should appear in the middle.
Depending on the type of article, use "hook" phrases:
"a guide to…"
"10 ways to…"
Use powerful adjectives or adverbs that give the reader a hint of what they're getting:
"easy" / "easily"
"quick" / "quickly"
If there is room at the end add any applicable brand name
Basically, by reading the title, the reader should understand in one glance:
What is this article about?
How is it going to help them?
Is it worth their time?
Once you have your title, write the meta description next.
Key Rules For Writing Your Meta Description
Keep it to 50-160 characters.
Don't use any special characters and avoid quotation marks.
Make sure it's a human-readable paragraph and not a forced list of tags.
Use your primary and secondary keywords naturally.
Don't simply duplicate your headline. Remember that most of the time, those two elements appear together; duplication would be jarring and a waste.
Your description should expand the headline and provide further reasons for your reader to keep reading.
With the description and headline completed, you can now expand them into a more extended excerpt. Most blogging platforms use excerpts when listing multiple articles. If you don't write your own excerpt, the platform will usually choose one for you, and it might not be the one that you'd want.
Once you complete your article, you can replace the excerpt with an actual part of your text, or you can simply leave it as an expanded description.
4) Write an Article - Content
Now it's finally time to write the meat of your article—the content. Keep in mind that the structure below is not fixed and can be varied, but generally speaking, it's a good template you can follow. The idea here is, again, to keep the reader interested.
Your article is very much like a novel where you must first hook the reader, then give him something to care about, and then take him on the journey. If you do an excellent job of creating an emotional connection, your reader will stick with you through the end.
There are two main types of articles: informational and problem-solving.
An informational article provides interesting data about a subject. It could be an article focused on a person, on a historical event, geographical descriptions, or other interesting facts.
A problem-solving article focuses on answering a real-life problem that a reader might have. Although you can use both types of articles to create a powerful emotional connection, I will focus here on the problem-solving article type, which I believe is much easier to utilize.
10 Easy Steps To Writing An Article
Part 1 - A Powerful Teaser to Hook The Reader
A teaser contains two crucial elements:
A compelling image that relates to the subject of the article.
A persuasive short paragraph that quickly captures the attention of the reader.
To understand this, you must picture the flow that the reader goes through. They had searched for something or had been directed to the article from a social media post or a friend's recommendation. They've read the headline and description and decided to keep going.
Next, the featured image is usually the first thing that the reader sees when they open the article. If the image is exciting and captivating, they will scroll down to read more. That is where their eyes should meet the teaser text. This section should be prominent and easy to read, and it should hint at the problem and also let the reader know that they are about to find a solution. Bold keywords should indicate very directly what this article is about.
Don't give the solution yet, and don't even go too deep into the problem. Simply hint to both quickly and concisely.
Part 2 - A Table of Contents for Context
If the reader pushes through your teaser, it means that he/she is now interested in reading more. At this stage, I believe a quick table of contents for your article will go a long way. That's because, with a simple list of your sub-headings, you can communicate very clearly and very quickly how the article will unfold.
If the reader had any doubts whatsoever, now, by reading the subheadings, they'll know for sure. Ideally, you can also provide links so the reader can jump directly to a section if they so desire.
Part 3 - Define the Problem or Pain Point
This is the section where you will expand the problem in more detail. Of course, since you've done the research and you understand most of the facets of this problem, you can speak to it with confidence. Therefore, now is the time where you address the reader directly.
You're looking to make a connection with the reader of your article and make them understand that you understand their pain. That's because the problem is just that: pain. By defining the problem and allowing the reader to connect emotionally to it, you are now creating a bond based on trust.
The reader wants to know more.
Part 4 - Get into History and Analysis
Your audience is now sure that they are on their way to discover a solution to the problem they're facing. But, before they can do that, you must answer another question that by now is building up in their minds: why should I listen to you?
In the history and analysis section, you have the opportunity to establish your authority on the subject. Here, you will present a brief analysis of how you've researched the problem and what other reliable information you have used to do experiments and draw your conclusions.
This section is an excellent place for charts and graphs, or statistical data if your article's subject allows it. It is also a perfect place to drop references to well-known authorities on the subject matter. Feel free to provide quotes that furthermore support your claims.
Part 5 - Provide a Great Solution
Finally, if the reader has stayed with the article so far, you now have the chance to seal the deal. Provide your solution, recommendation, or whichever tips you have promised. Remember that you don't necessarily need to create new paradigms about everything in every article you write. Your answer may not even be unique or unheard of.
But you need to present it in a compelling new way that makes it unique to you. Spend the next couple of paragraphs giving the reader everything they need to know about the way you believe their problem can be solved. Make sure you don't disappoint the user or have some sort of bait and switch. If you do so, the reader will lose all the trust and might never return to your articles ever again.
Part 6 - Get into More Details
After you've presented your solution, you can dig even deeper. By this time, you've captivated the reader. You've got him/her interested enough so that they've committed. Because you have that level of trust, now you can afford to be a bit more verbose.
Don't lose the reader's interest, though. Resist going on too many tangents or diverge from the subject. Keep your reader focused on the problem and the solution. Simply go a bit deeper into how the answer applies in real life.
It's good to be theoretical, but practical examples are your best bet. In this detail section, you can take your solution and provide examples or proof of the effectiveness of the solution.
Part 7 - Wrap-Up Conclusion
Once you've completed your solution's detail, it's time to let go. Wrap it all up into a conclusion to leave the reader satisfied. Restate the problem shortly, and give another sprinkle of your solution. Let the reader feel like they are parting with this article, having obtained a real-life solution to a real-life problem that they can go ahead and implement right away.
Don't linger too much. The conclusion must be short and sweet.
Part 8 - Call to Action
At this point, your reader has finished reading the article. He or she is probably satisfied, which is why they've stuck through to the end of it. You and the reader now have a particular type of bond, and your article is the glue. You've gained the reader's trust, so at this point, he or she is willing to do something for you in return.
This section is where your call to action comes in. Here, you can ask your reader to comment on the article, share the article on social media, or sign-up to your mailing list for future articles. Whatever it is that you need, this is the place where you can safely ask for it since you and the reader have connected.
If your article provides some kind of downloadable material, such as a template or PDF instructions, this is also the place to put it.
Part 9 - Other Useful Resources and Links
At the end of the article, you can be even more useful to your reader by providing a handful of links that are related to your subject. Ideally, you want to provide links to sources that have higher credibility than you do. By doing so, you are not only more useful, but you also add points to your own credibility.
Part 10 - Supporting References
Unlike the other resources above, the references represent specific scientific support for the claims in your article. Not all articles will require this, but if you do need to support your solution with scientific research, this is the best place to put those references. Just make sure you use the appropriate reference citation system.
Writing an Article - 10 Best Practices
When it comes to articles on the web, the information is crucial, but the presentation has a huge impact as well. A well-written article that looks bad has a far less chance to be read than a lousy article that looks good, at least on a first-impression basis. That's because, on the web, it's all about first impressions.
Now, remember that your shitty first draft is just that—a first draft. You must write it fast and then edit it until your fingers are bleeding. So, forget about these best practices as you are writing your article's first draft. Get the words on the paper first—which is the hardest part—and then, during the editing phase, pay attention to these ideas.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short. The paragraphs should have no more than three to four lines with space in between. Long stretches of text without breaks are difficult to read and deter readers. Remember that a percent of your reader will read your article on a mobile device where the screen real-estate is even smaller.
Make sure your main keyword appears about 1-2% in your text. That means that your keyword should appear about one time per 100 words of text.
Bold key elements. Use the bold font to emphasize keywords or other important learnings. The bold font will act as a magnet for the reader's eyes and help them to ensure that your article is really about what he/she believes it is about.
Use images to split the narrative. Again, the web is all about appearances. Use related and compelling photos to break your text and give your users a moment to breathe. Infographics and charts are particularly good, if applicable.
Use quotes. Quotes are a great way to divide the content and provide additional insights and create credibility.
Use numbered lists when you have more than four items or bullet points if you have four or fewer.
Make use of sub-headings if the structure of your article requires so. The more you lead the reader with headings and sub-headings, the better they will be able to follow the structure. Aim for a maximum of 300 words between sub-headings.
Don't stretch your article just for the sake of stuffing more keywords. You are not helping. Only tell what you need to tell. Less is more.
Focus on using active voice and always strive to connect emotionally with the reader.
Use an effective editing tool to make sure that your text is free of typos, grammatical errors, and follows a right, consistent style.
And one more extra point, which is not really a bad practice, but it's surely a common question: how long should your article be? It's not a best practice because the right answer is that your article should be as long as it has to be to communicate what you want to communicate. Not longer, not shorter.
This being said, there is research out there that shows that some lengths of articles are more enticing to read than others. The sweet spot seems to be around 2,000-2,500 words. The minimum word count is around 1,500. Depending on the reading speed of each person, it may take anywhere between 5 minutes to 15 minutes to read a 2,000-word article. Remember when we were talking about attention span before? If you stretch your article for too long, you might lose the reader just because it takes them too long to get through it.
Article Structure Template
Use the link below to download my free article template. This template will guide you in creating the article from the ground up. Note that I have added word-count recommendations for each section. They all add up to a total of 2,000 words for the entire article. If your article is longer or shorter, try to adapt the length of each section to maintain the approximate proportion.
Now, before you go, I have...
3 Questions For You
What are some of the biggest difficulties you've encountered while writing non-fiction?
Have you experienced writing a lot of blog posts or articles but getting little to no readers?
What are some of the techniques you employ in writing compelling articles?
Original article available at: how to write an article