How often do you read an article and realise that it has been well written? Like most people, the answer is probably not very often. Ask yourself why that might be. Is it because you wouldn’t know a good article from a bad one? Is it more likely to be because you automatically expect articles to be well written, making poorly written ones stand out instead. Poorly written or badly presented articles leap from the page at unsuspecting readers and can damage a writer’s reputation very quickly. It’s vital that a writer makes the effort to ensure each article is as well written as possible. With that in mind, here’s a few points to help you think about mistakes you should avoid from the outset.
Decide on your subject before you start.
There can be few things more infuriating for a reader than a rambling article with no sense of purpose or point being made. Just as bad, is an article with a point left lurking in the background that fails to make it to the reader. Before you put pen to paper, summarise the subject of your article and the key points or messages you want to get across. Sort these into a logical order that will allow the reader to follow your thoughts. Taking this approach has three key benefits. Firstly, you are less likely to forget something important as the creativity starts to flow and you get caught up the details. Secondly, you’ll find that the words come more easily when there is a logical sequence to your writing. Lastly, the reader will see the logic in your article and in the flow of the subjects you tackle, making your article feel well structured and considered.
Don’t bore the reader in the first paragraph.
Every article can benefit from an introduction but keep it simple and keep it to the point. A short preamble is always much more preferable for the reader than a long drawn out boring introduction that could easily be an article in itself. Providing background to your article in the form of an introduction can be very valuable and can serve as a hook for the reader. Think carefully about whether you want to include some teaser statements in the introduction to increase anticipation of the points you’ll make later. These points are, after all, what the reader has come to find out.
Consistency, consistency, consistency.
In constructing an argument or explaining a complex subject it can be very easy to contradict something written earlier in the article especially if you are constructing your argument as you go along (remember what was said about deciding on your subject before you start?). It’s imperative that you don’t contradict yourself in the same article as this will undermine your credibility and confuse the reader. While the process of writing inevitably inspires new and developed thoughts and opinions, many of which will add to the value or impact of the article, make sure they don’t undermine the original point you set out to make. You don’t want a reader left wondering just what you’re talking about.
Chunk the text down into readable paragraphs.
Fewer things will be more off-putting to a reader than a solid wall of text with no breaks or points to catch their mental or visual breath. Massive paragraphs of text will switch the reader off faster than if you had openly insulted them. Paragraphs are vital to ensuring the reader sees the article as being manageable in terms of readability but also to allow the reader to stop and restart without having to waste time going over text they’ve already read. Paragraphs are particularly important when writing for the web, as large blocks of text can look daunting on screen. For long articles, try breaking things down into subjects or areas and use headings and sub-headings to help the reader along. Some web articles can also benefit from the use of bullet points if you feel they are appropriate in the context of the article and the website.
Effective editing and proofreading.
You would be amazed at the number of articles, particularly on the internet, that get published without having been proofread or spell-checked in any way. Never be tempted to send an article either to a traditional hard copy publisher or onto a website without first having proofread and edited effectively. Put your finished article aside for at least a few hours, preferably days, and proofread it again before you send it anywhere. Don’t become dependent upon automatic spell-checkers and grammar checkers. Understand the limitations of spell-checking software. They can be a great help but they won’t spot every mistake, especially where homophonic words are used. Similarly, grammar checkers are great provided you understand what they’re doing for you.
Include your readers. Don’t exclude or abuse them.
Insulting or abusing your readers will switch them off. Alienating a reader or a particular community of readers through misguided or uninformed writing can be disastrous, especially if you’re trying to promote yourself, a product or an idea through your writing. Don’t forget that every reader is a potential supporter of your story, product or opinion. Be careful what you say and how you say it.
Being methodical, careful and considered in your approach to your article, its subject and the way in which you write will greatly increase the chances of you producing an interesting and engaging article that the reader will enjoy and, more importantly, tell others about.