Friday, June 13, 2008

Seven Ways To Structure Your Article

Las Vegas needs gamblers, London needs Harrods, and articles need structure. Apart from a beginning, a middle and an end, the main body of your feature (the middle) needs a structure that’s fun to read and easy to write. And once you know how, the structure can help you generate many more ideas for hundreds more articles!

27 Ways To Get Rich

How many times have you seen such a claim on the front cover of a magazine? Readers love numbers, which means that editors do too. Look at the title of this blog. This method of structuring is perfect for those articles that comprise a number of themed ideas. It’s easier to deal with each idea as a separate paragraph, and this will keep you focused and to the point. Popular numbers are multiples of 5 (10, 20, 25, 50, 75 etc) although any number works. Company magazine recently had “237 new fashion ideas”. I sold an article to Cumbria magazine about humorous incidents on its open top bus service, and called it “Ten Open Top Tips”.

Alphabetti Spaghetti

If you can’t use numbers then how about letters? Want to write an article about the healing properties of herbs but don’t know where to begin? Well why not write it as an A-Z? Identify one herb that begins with each letter of the alphabet and write a few sentences on each one, then move onto the next. Get a good idea and an editor may want to spread the article over two separate issues. An A-Z is an excellent way of getting the basics across about a new subject, but it can also be flexible. The Lake District Magazine recently ran a piece entitled “An A to Z of the Lake District” where each letter focussed on an individual village. Sometimes your creativity is required with the X’s and Z’s, but often a tongue in cheek approach adds humour!

The Taj Mahal Approach
Travel articles are popular with writers because they can feature somewhere near or far. What’s on your own doorstep will be exotic to someone else in a different location! But if you’ve been asked to write about your locality for a national audience, structuring the article can be the most difficult challenge. What do you write about? Which attractions do you mention, and which do you leave out? The answer is to make comparisons. You’ve heard of the 7 wonders of the world, well why not give them the 7 wonders of Winnipeg? Your local country estate garden may not be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but I bet there’s one feature there that is unique to them. Sow that seed in the reader’s mind and then find your next wonder.

The Time Line
Historical features appear in many general interest magazines such as The Lady, Best of British, People’s Friend and the Scots Magazine in the UK. In the USA titles such as American Heritage, British Heritage, Gateway Heritage and Preservation Magazine are good markets to approach. But it’s very easy to confuse your readers if you jump from one time period to another and then back again. A chronological approach is better, allowing you to break each paragraph down into centuries, decades, years or weeks depending on the time frame that you are covering. Time can be a useful way of telling a particular story of an unusual job or organisation. Articles that are titled “A Day In The Life Of …” are popular with editors and are often used as the final article in the magazine. With a title like this, there’s only one way of dealing with the information, which means as a writer your thoughts and comments will be clear and concise.

The Accumulator

This is a variation of the numbers structure, but it needn’t follow a mathematical pattern. It’s often used to suggest to readers how they can save thousands of pounds, with several short and easy to achieve tasks. (Save £6,000 by following these 12 easy steps.) However, instead of numbering each step 1 to 12, the figure used is how much you could save by implementing each piece of advice. So the first idea may show a total saving of £50, combine this with the second idea and you could save £125, implement the third and you save £220, the fourth £390, and so on.

Excuse me, but how do you do that?

Instead of collecting a series of facts and then regurgitating them in a haphazard way, why not use a question and answer technique? This is sometimes used for interview pieces, but it can also work well when you need to explain a subject. By anticipating the questions that you think the reader may ask, you can then answer them, ensuring that you restrict yourself to answering that specific question. It’s possible to improve your structure further, just by rearranging the questions and their appropriate answers into a logical sequence when you’ve written all of your text. I felt that this was a useful format when I wrote an article about questioning technique for interview situations.

“To Be, Or Not To Be. That Is The Question”

Sometimes a series of quotes or proverbs can help you assemble your ideas in a logical sequence. In an article about money saving tips, I used 8 proverbs to head each paragraph. Each proverb demonstrated the point of that specific section. So when I discussed about saving a regular amount of money by Standing Order, I titled the paragraph with the proverb, “From Tiny Acorns, Grow Mighty Oaks”. The paragraph dealing with the benefits of saving was headed with “A Moneyless Man Goes Faster Through The Market”.

Giving your article the right structure will make it easier to write, and improve its appeal to readers and editors. Find a structure you like, and it could spark off hundreds of other ideas. Next time you analyse a magazine, analyse the structure of the article too and you’ll be one step closer to making that sale.

Good Luck!