How to Write an Article

By Linda Formichelli

When you’re a new writer and you get your first assignment, you first want to do the happy dance — and then you want to wet yourself in fear that you now need to actually produce a publishable article.

A lot of mentoring clients ask me to describe my methods for writing an article. So — here you go!

1. Write in your head.

I think about my assignments during down times, like when I’m taking a shower or driving in the car. It’s a habit — it’s become automatic for me. Then, when I sit down to write the article, a lot of it is already written in my head. I may have an idea for a lede or a kicker (that’s the end of your article), or I may have thought about what information from my research and interviews I want to include and what I want to leave out.

2. Draft an outline.

Don’t freak — I don’t mean that you have to write a detailed outline with all the letters and numbers like you did for high school essays.

For me, outlining is as simple as jotting down the subheds I think I’d like in the article, in the order in which they’ll appear. Even writing a quickie outline will keep you from feeling overwhelmed by all the research you’ve done. You now have an idea of what you need and what you don’t.

3. Divide it up.

If you’ve written a quick outline, divide up your word count among the sections, making sure you save words for your lede and kicker. For example, if I’m writing a 2,000-word article with 4 sections, I know I have about 450 words per section, which gives me 200 words for the beginning and conclusion. This keeps me from overwriting, and it’s a lot easier to write to length when you’re looking at chunks of 500 words (or whatever) instead of an entire article.

4. Read your notes.

I like to quickly read over all my research and interview transcriptions before starting just to refresh my memory on the main points. Then, I start writing from my head, without looking at the notes. If there’s anything I forget, I mark that spot in the article with a TK (journalism parlance for “to come”) and fill it in later.

5. Use the notes.

I often use the technique I outlined in My Trick for Writing Difficult Articles. In short, I go through each of the interview transcriptions, pull out the best quotes, and plop them into the right sections in the article. Then, I use my mad skills to blend them into the rest of the article, or to paraphrase the quotes if I find the article is becoming too quote-heavy.

6. Make raisin bread.

Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing and the Freelance Writers Den has shared the “raisin bread” technique she learned from a journalist when she was starting out: Think of quotes as the raisins in raisin bread. No raisins, and your bread is dull and bland. Too many, and the bread falls apart. You want to sprinkle in just enough to make the bread tasty and interesting.

7. Edit as you go.

Some people like to blast out a draft and then edit the heck out of it, which is perfectly fine. As for me, I prefer to edit as I go. So I’ll write a paragraph and edit it. I may have a brainstorm and go back to an earlier section and add or delete words there. Then, when I finish the article, I only need to do a quick proofreading before sending it out.

8. Put on the finishing touches.

You’ll definitely need to include a source list, and your editor may also ask you for an annotated copy of the article for the fact checker. More info on those and other end-of-the-article details here.

That’s it! Do you have any super special tips for writing a great article quickly and efficiently? Please post them in the Comments! [lf]

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21 comments… add one
  • I love your “recipe” for writing. I spend a ton of time in my own head doing something similar. Where I’m heading next is to your post regarding more info on source lists and end of the article material.

    Happy Holidays!

  • Hey! Just browsing over here and found myself. Thanks for mentioning my raisin bread technique!

  • Nice post Linda!

    I usually do some variation of all of these tips when I write, but when a topic is really challenging or I’m not finding inspiration, I take a few moments to be good to myself. Examples include: (time permitting)taking a scented bath, putting on my favorite music or going for a brisk walk. One (or all) of these usually put me at ease to tackle the job at hand.

  • Norm

    I think that literally making raisin bread before going back to edit is a great idea. I like to empty my head of thoughts on what I am writing before going back to the article in edit mode. Doing some kind of activity to take your mind off of your writing is a great way to empty your head. Great tips!

  • Thanks for your article on articles. 🙂 Many times I do edit as I go along, but there are other times I spit it all out and they fix it up afterwards. One of the most popular articles on my blog so far has been, Edits:5 Quick Checks for Better Writing.

  • Thanks Linda! These are great pointers for a writer to keep in mind while writing. I do follow almost similar formula. Additionally, I edit my articles after a few hours, i.e. I give them some rest.

    • Thanks, Shiful! Yes, I know lots of writers who let the articles rest for a while before editing!

  • Linda, your article is a life saver!

    I keep it open in my browser as I work, so I can look back at it when I feel discouraged to go on with my writing. I recently went through a bad case of depression and getting back on track is… painful… so your advice here is a big help to keep my mind under control.

    Actually, I edit as I go, too. Waiting for the end of the draft often triggers some kind of anxiety attack, so I just listen to my guts: if they tell me I should edit as I go, that’s what I do.


    ~ Luana S.

    • Thanks, Luana, I’m glad you like the post! And good for you for editing in a way that works for YOU!

  • Nice post! I seem to be so busy with all my projects that when it comes to writing, I put it off because the task seems so daunting.

    You have simplified the process for me and now I look forward to trying your technique on my first lengthy (1,000 words) post tomorrow.

    Thanks for your insights!


  • Hi Linda

    I stumbled on to your website via a link someone posted in a “newbie freelancing” group on LinkedIn. And am I glad I did. I am in Aladdin’s Cave – stumbling over a nugget here, happy dancing over an ingot there – revelling in the treasure trove of information you’ve provided 🙂


    (Trembling with fear Newbie)

  • Linda,

    That I’m even writing this indicates how badly I’m procrastinating on the feature article I need to write, but just had to say this was helpful even though I’ve been writing for years! Sometimes you need to revisit the basics. Thanks!


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