A wise man once said: “Tell me where I’m going to die, so I won’t go there.” One way to figure out how to do something is to figure out how not to do it first – then invert.
Take article writing, for instance. To learn it, you can either (1) plow through a ton of Internet resources on the do’s of article writing; or (2) keep an eye out for these basic, but important, boo-boos, and cut them out as soon as you spot them. Here, I’ve put together the 6 sins of article writing.
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1. Missing Mission
You want to talk about Topic 1, but you’re also itching to discuss Topic 2. Oh, and Topic 3 also looks interesting, but then there’s Topic 4…
And then there’s the rub. If you don’t have a clear, singular idea of what your article is about, or what you want your article to do for your audience, you’ll struggle with the rest of your piece. Your travel article may end up looking like a personal blog post, or your sales copy may look as though it’s more appropriate for a user’s manual.
Imagine what your ideal reader looks like. Then, imagine that you’re facing this person right now, and the person asked you: “How would you sum up your topic in one sentence?” Give the most concise answer you can come up with, and try to center the rest of your article around your answer.
And…Presto! You have a focused, coherent article that doesn’t try to be too many things at once.
2. Ho-Hum Headline
Your article is otherwise informative, engaging, and bookmark-able, but you’re getting only a handful of hits for it. If that’s the case, you may need to work on your headline, since 8 out of 10 people read headline copy, but only 2 out of 10 will read the rest.
Many writers prefer to start with a headline and write their article from there, but your case may be different. If so, you can write the article first, figure out the article’s main benefit for your target reader, and compose your butt-kicking headline based on that benefit. For example, instead of a so-so and done-to-death headline like “How to Write a Good Article”, you can use “Article Writing 101: 5 Steps to Wowing the Socks Off Your Readers”.
Be careful not to use hyperbolic words in your headline, though. If you develop a reputation for writing click-bait articles (i.e. articles that have attention-grabbing headlines but have little in the way of good content), your readers won’t be so keen on clicking an article of yours the next time it shows up in their feed.
3. Sub-Par Sub-Headings
You managed to reel readers in through your headline. But, for some reason, these readers don’t seem to take time to read your article, as evidenced by your high bounce rate. It could mean that you don’t use enough sub-headings, or your sub-headings just aren’t as interesting as your headline.
As a writer, you may be wary of “listicles” (articles in list form) in general. Here’s the thing, though: Sub-headings break up your article’s intimidating walls of text, making it more digestible for your readers. Sub-headings don’t have to get in the way of your creativity; in fact, they’re actually great for exercising those wordsmithing muscles.
For example, you may have noticed that every sub-head in this article (with the exception of the one for the conclusion) uses an alliterative pair of words. They give a nice rhythm to the article, and will (hopefully) make the points here easier to remember.
4. Prissy Prose
“This is a sentence. This is another sentence. I will follow up the last sentence with another sentence. This sentence ends this paragraph.”
Individually, those last few sentences are grammatically correct, but together they sound “off”. They’re robotic, lifeless, and feel as though the writer just wanted to hammer out some words and get his job over with.
You may have heard this advice before, but it bears repeating: Write like you talk. Or, more accurately, write like how your best self would talk: confident, authoritative, and respectful of your audience’s sensibilities.
5. Wordy Words
It’s possible to take the whole “Write like you talk” thing too far, though. For example: “Hey, uh… I just want to talk to you about article writing, and I have so many things to say, and they’re quite important, so…”
Admittedly, I’m guilty of this too. What I do is write a draft as fast as I can, then cut out all the unnecessary adjectives, adverbs, usage of passive voice, “be”-verbs,”that”, and “there” later. I don’t always follow this rule to the letter, though, since there are times when including those “unnecessary” words actually makes the article flow better.
6. Constipated Conclusion
You’ve poured so much of your creative energies into crafting your headline, intro, and body, that you forgot to save some for your conclusion. You end up with parting words that feel flat, and leave readers feeling cheated somehow.
Don’t give away everything in your intro. The intro’s job is to hook your readers in, while showing them the general premise of your article. The conclusion’s job, on the other hand, is to tie up the loose ends in your premise, while leaving your readers with a feeling that they’ve just alighted gracefully from – rather than thrown out of – the train that is your thought.
Personally, I’m a “keep a few guidelines in mind” kind of writer, rather than a “stick with a ton of rigid rules at all times” writer. When you’ve been in the wordsmithing business long enough, you tend to develop an instinct for what works and what doesn’t, and that spills over into your work. The best advice I can give is this: Write often and long enough, and you’ll master those pesky writing “rules” in no time.