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How to Write an Article for the Web
How to Write an Article for the Web
by Mark Meshulam
Most web-marketing experts tout the power of articles for their ability to create inbound links and enhanced credibility for websites. But what they don't tell you is... how the heck do you write an article? You need two important elements for a great article: something to say and the means to say it. First let's discuss "something to say", otherwise known as content.
It is impossible to write something of interest to others without good, meaty content. Content comes from your interests and experiences. To generate content you need to look at yourself and your life in a new way. Look for situations in your day which "hit home" in some way. If you are intrigued, frustrated, thrilled, challenged or otherwise awakened, then pursue the topic in greater depth.
As you work and play, have an extra mental circuit running which observes your life. Let's pretend this circuit is a separate person, the Observer. Now when you go along your way, occasionally become the Observer and try to cultivate a new point of view. The Observer is not mired in your day-to-day struggles. Instead, the Observer watches you struggling, with clear unemotional vision yet with humor and an interest in patterns and themes.
Becoming the Observer will help you discover the interesting parts of your life which you can then bring to your reader. You can develop your golden nuggets of experience further by expressing them aloud to others (or even just to yourself). Through verbalization, you will find additional points of view and experiences of others to enrich your topic.
Then, research your topic by word-searching on your favorite search engine.
Eventually a theme or pattern will emerge. Go a step further and try to create a solution, position or attitude with regard to the theme. This will become your unique "take" on the subject.
Example: A while ago a consultant hired by one of my customers was irritating me by getting visibly excited whenever a small problem or issue appeared on our mutual project. I developed this into a more universal theme and wrote "Beware the Chicken Little Consultant".
The theme is consultants who use fear tactics. The position taken in the article is that such consultants should be dismissed and their users should educate themselves from less emotional sources. The attitude of the article is lightly humorous and mocking. Calling the consultant "Chicken Little" in the title is an example of this.
So far we have covered how to find and develop content, including arriving at a position and an attitude about the central theme. When you have come this far, start writing immediately.
First, jot down a few sample titles which will help guide you in your writing. Write some key points you want to be sure to cover. Then, get started writing the article.
When you write, imagine that you are sitting by a campfire with a smart and interested friend. You are comfortable and lighthearted. Your unique personality is shining through. You have a lot to share and this excites you. Tell that friend your story. What is the first thing she needs to know? Lay the groundwork step by step. Toss in a wry comment or two but don't lose the central path.
Tell your story in an order which would be most understandable to your listener. The order might be chronological or logical, building from one point to the next. Keep going until you bring it to a satisfying endpoint.
During this part of the writing, which I affectionately call "puking", try to refrain from second-guessing your words. You spent much time filling yourself with ideas. Now is the time to puke them all out. There should be a feeling of "flow". The words should want to come out. Let them. You will feel empty and good when you are finished.
After I "puke", I do a few quick re-reads and fix obvious problems such as reorganizing the order of certain paragraphs, or making the "person" consistent. This article is written in first(I) and second(you) person. In it, I am talking to you. It could have also been written in third (they) person. Example: "Experienced writers organize their ideas chronologically or logically".
You can mix the "person" for a lively article. Just be sure it's not awkward.
Look also for time consistency. Is your story written in the present? This article is written in the present. Things are happening right now. In one portion I refer to an article I wrote in the past, however the analysis of the article was written in the present, because the article still exists.
You can mix past, present and future in your article. Drawing from the past and projecting into the future are powerful presentation methods. In your re-read, make sure that this is being done correctly. Inform your readers without confusing them.
Check to make sure you are consistent with regard to singular and plural. Example of doing it wrong: "We want to inform our readers without confusing her".
Make sure each idea has its own paragraph. When writing for the web, remember that your article may be displayed in narrow newspaper-like columns. Paragraphs should be short. Avoid paragraphs with more than six sentences. Keep sentences short. If you must have a long sentence, follow it with a short one to perk up the reader and keep her motivated to continue reading.
Here is a big one: cut out all extraneous words. Don't repeat. Pretend each word is worth $5 and you are paying the tab. When you finish slashing words, go back and do it again. You will be surprised that you had so much filler.
When giving a list of points, do your reader a favor and write the points in a list with numbering or bullets. Don't make the reader cherry-pick your ideas out of a blob of text.
Avoid reusing words. Keep them varied and fresh.
Check your spelling! Now that you have done your re-reads, save your work. Leave it alone for a day or two. You need this time to forget what you wrote. Next time when you edit, you will read with fresh eyes. Weaknesses in your article will jump out. Time to clean again.
Now read the article out loud. Speak every word clearly and not too fast. A good article should not only look good on the page, but it should also sound great when performed.
When I arrive at this point, I will typically publish the article on my blog. This is a low risk activity because I can always edit it again later. After 5-7 days, if I can't find anything else to fix, I will submit the article for syndication. This is the point of no return. Once the article is out there will be no more fixing.
Writers write because they feel a need. When they write, they feel fulfilled. It's possible that you could be a writer. With effort you can experience the gratification of seeing your words in print and your ideas spread across the internet.
Copyright 2005 Mark Meshulam
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