Writing an Article
by Deb Brammer
Here is a writing article about writing an article. Writing an article is a great way to break into writing for publication. Every writer ought to be able to write a good article. So far my articles about writing have covered many general principles which will help you write articles.
You will even find that the articles on building short stories can help you write good articles. That’s because a good article and a good story share similar structure. You can borrow fiction strategies to strengthen your non-fiction. You may even want to go back and read my articles on writing stories before you finish reading this.
So how is writing articles like writing stories?
Only stories are really readable.
We talked about this earlier. Stories are also memorable. In one study graduate students only remembered 5 % of main ideas presented in graphs and charts, and but remembered half of the stories told in the same presentation. You can use stories as examples in articles.
An article has a point of view like a short story.
In the first person reporting point of view I tell my story about what happened to me, what I said and did and thought and felt. For example: When I went to Christchurch I climbed the stairs to the bell tower in the Cathedral.
In the third person reporting point of view the writer tells what someone else said or thought or did. For example: When he went to Christchurch he climbed the stairs to the bell tower in the Cathedral.
In the first person intimate point of view I as a writer talk to you as a reader. “I” and “you” are both used. For example: I’d like to suggest that when you go to Christchurch you visit the Cathedral. OR Do you ever feel lonely like I do?
You can soften this point of view by using “we” to avoid preachiness. This shows you coming along side the reader as a friend. For example: We often feel lonely. Here are some things we can do to avoid loneliness.
Whichever point of view you choose, be sure to keep it consistent throughout your article.
Show, don’t tell.
This is an important principle for writing fiction. You can also use this principle as you paint vivid pictures and reproduce experiences in your articles.
Structure the plot of your article like the plot of a story.
Here are three examples of ways you can do this. Notice in each example how the structure of the article is similar to the structure of a story.
1. Start with a story or situation which shows conflict. Talk about what to do in that kind of situation and build the problem to the climactic moment. Then tell how to resolve the problem.
2. Present a theme or idea. Develop your line of thought logically, building your supporting points one after another, saving your strongest point until last. Sum up your theme and tell the reader what it means to him.
3. Give an example of a problem a reader might have. Tell him how to solve that problem. Develop your thoughts logically so one builds on another. Or give a list of tips, building to your strongest point which leaves the reader feeling like he can make it work. End with something the reader can take away to make his life better.
Can you see the similarities in building the plot of a story and writing an article?
The various parts of an article do many of the same functions as the same parts of a story.
Beginnings should grab the attention of the reader, move his emotions, and introduce the problem or theme.
Here are some good ways to get your article off to an exciting start: a true or fictional story, dialog, a situation, a startling statement, your theme, a fact or statistic, a quotation, or a question.
Middles should build the problem to the climactic moment or develop logical points to support what you want to say.
Endings should resolve the problem or prove your theme. They should tie up any loose ends in your article. Make sure you deliver the things you’ve promised in your opening by the time you end your piece. Surprise endings are good. Endings should be brief, but leave the reader with a punch, something satisfying to take away from the article.
Here are some good ways to end your article: Sum up and end with the one point you are trying to make. Challenge the reader to do something. Restate your theme in other words. Use a Quotation. Conclude the story you started in the beginning. Or leave the reader with a question to think about.
Editors often like sidebars to go with your article. Sidebars are little boxes of information that break up a solid page of print. Often editors would rather have a shorter article and a sidebar than one long article. This is often a good way to deal with statistics or lists. For example: I wrote a true adoption story. In a sidebar I listed things the readers would need to think about when adopting a child.
For more information on writing articles I recommend “Lesson 9—Writing Irresistible Titles and Leads” and “Lesson 10—Writing Captivating Middles and Memorable Endings” in An Introduction to Christian Writing by Ethel Herr. (Write Now Publications, Phoenix, Arizona) Mrs. Herr also defines the three points of view I have given.
Below I have given examples of article structure from some articles I have written:
True story which presents one main thought with take-away value:
“Bringing TK Home,” by Deb Brammer, October 11, 2009 by Regular Baptist Press.
Beginning which shows conflict:
Tamara Horton listened to the radio with teary eyes. Even though the baby was missing part of one leg and part of one foot, she couldn’t imagine parents leaving their newborn infant in a forest to die. Didn’t they know that every life has value to God?
Tamara found herself loving the child described on the radio without even seeing her. Could the child become theirs?
Middle where the various obstacles are overcome:
I tell the story of the many ways God provided for their family during the adoption.
End which gives the reader something to take away:
The Horton’s job of raising Tamara K had just begun but God had been so faithful in the past, they knew they could trust Him for the future.
Persuasive article that begins with dialog and has a surprise ending:
“Everybody Does It,” by Deb Brammer, September 20, 1992 by Regular Baptist Press
Beginning with dialog:
“You want to buy what?” The man behind the counter looked at my husband, Art, as if he seriously questioned Art’s sanity.
“I want to buy an authorized copy of this computer software program,” Art told him. We had just bought a computer from this man, and now we needed the software to make it run.
“Look,” the man reasoned, “I can sell you a copy of this program for two hundred NT dollars (about five US dollars at the time). An authorized copy would cost hundreds of US dollars. Besides, here in Taiwan it is perfectly legal to copy computer programs and sell them. Everybody does it.”
“I know that,” Art said. “But I still don’t think it’s right.” He explained his reasons. “I want to buy an authorized copy. Do you have one?”
“Of course I don’t have one,” he said. “Who would ever want to pay hundreds of US dollars for something they could buy a copy of for just two hundred NT dollars?”
It was an ethical dilemma….
The story develops revealing the cost of standing for ethical principles.
Art gained the seller’s respect for his stand which caused the seller to give us a new used computer to replace our out-of-date computer.
How-to article which starts with a situation and ends with a personal challenge:
“Pure Gold Christians,” by Deb Brammer, December 31, 1989 by Regular Baptist Press
Beginning with a hypothetical situation
Picture yourself going into Tiffany’s.
“I’d like to buy a gold ring,” you tell the clerk. “It must be pure gold—24 carat. I won’t take anything else.”
The clerk unlocks a case in the back of the store and takes out an exquisite gold ring. “Is this what you have in mind?” he asks.
It is a beautiful ring. Its design is unique and its craftsmanship is excellent. But as you study it from every angle you notice a chip in the back. “Are you sure this is pure gold?” you ask.
“Ah, you are most observant,” the clerk says. “This particular ring is made out of stainless steel and plated with gold. Just be careful when you wash your hands. The gold plating tends to come off. But with proper care it will last many years. I tell you what,” he offers. “Since you are such a shrewd businesswoman I will sell it to you for a mere $10,000!”
Would you buy the ring? Of course not!
I give 6 tips on living an authentic Christian life.
End with a challenge:
Why not begin practicing these things now? As valuable as solid gold rings are, they can’t begin to compare with the value of pure gold Christians to God.
Humorous article which starts with a quotation and dialog and ends in a twist:
“The Over-Examined Life,” by Deb Brammer, October 11, 1998 by Regular Baptist Press
Beginning with a quotation:
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” What he needed for the examination was a teenager.
“Mom, you didn’t use your turn signal when you changed lanes.”
“No one was behind me.”
“But you’re supposed to signal. It’s the law.”
[Two more examples.]
Christian parents, like Socrates, know they need to examine themselves. But they are rarely ready for the close scrutiny of a teenager.
I give humorous examples of my teenager examining her parents’ standards.
God works in mysterious ways. While you’re training your teen, He’s training you, challenging you to re-examine issues, to think, to be totally real. And there’s something exceptionally real about a living, practical faith that has passed the test of the probing eyes of a teenager.
Inspirational article which starts and ends with a question:
“Just One Suitcase,” by Deb Brammer, December 29, 1996 by Regular Baptist Press
Beginning with a question:
If you had to suddenly leave the country with only one suitcase, not knowing when or if you’d return, what would you take? That sounds like an opening question you’d ask in a Sunday School class or Bible study. For my family, however, the question was not hypothetical.
I tell my story and talk about what we can accomplish now that will last for eternity.
End with a challenging question:
Have you started packing yet?
(Examples use by permission of Regular Baptist Press.)