Writing a “how-to” article is something you should consider trying. Think about the endless possibilities for these types of articles. Throughout any given day, hundreds of thousands of people are searching online for articles that will show them “how to do something.” Some of the how-to articles I have written include: How to Get Your Child to Brush Their Teeth, How to Find the Best Chiropractor and How to Shop for a Used Car.
Here are six steps that will help you create great how-to articles:
1. Find a great idea.
Ideas are everywhere but the secret to your success as a freelance writer is deciding which ideas are the best ones to pursue. The #1 source of finding great ideas is you. Every personal experience that you have survived is an idea for an article. Some years ago, I had a flat tire late at night. I had no flashlight and no cell phone, and after nearly 30 minutes of struggling to get the hubcap off, a large truck passed by. The headlights of the truck revealed that I was trying to remove the rim. A few days later, I sat down and wrote “How to Prevent and Survive a Flat Tire” which was immediately purchased by an editor for Family Safety & Health magazine.
2. Remember your audience.
Before you start writing, remember your audience. Who will be reading the article? Will it be for a professional audience – perhaps physicians and scientists? If so, then your article needs to be written in language they will be looking for. But, if you are writing the article for everyday people, your language needs to be free of technical jargon.
3. Use quotes to validate your article.
Every successful how-to article should have an expert or two offering a quote. Finding experts who are willing to be quoted is very easy. Profnet.com is operated by the Public Relations Society of America and they allow journalists and freelance writers to submit questions to experts in hundreds of subject areas. I use ProfNet quite often and my articles and books are filled with quotes from many sources.
4. Rewrite until it makes sense.
Many new writers get an assignment, but then rush through the writing process, and turn in a manuscript that doesn’t make sense. Every writer needs to write, rewrite, and edit until they feel their masterpiece is ready to submit. This is especially true for a “how-to” article.
5. Use humor when appropriate.
There is nothing like a touch of humor to make a “how-to” article shine, but only use humor if the market you are writing for allows it. Check back issues of the publication you are writing for to see if other articles have used funny quotes or stories.
6. Know when to wrap up.
Unfortunately, many writers fall victim to what I call the “Energizer Bunny” syndrome. They keep going, and going, and going…and never know how to end the article. It is important to know how to write a “how-to” article that has a super ending paragraph. Study other examples of these types of articles and you will be on your way to writing your own dynamite closing.
Throughout my freelance writing career, I have found that these types of articles have been the easiest and the fastest ones to create. Once you try a how-to article or two, you will see and experience what I mean.
John Riddle is a freelance writer, author, and ghostwriter from Bear, Delaware. His byline has appeared in major newspapers, magazines, websites and trade journals all across the country. He is the author of 34 books, including a few health and medical titles, and has worked as a ghostwriter on numerous projects. John is also the Founder of I Love To Write Day, a grassroots campaign he launched in 2002 to have people of all ages practice writing every November 15. Last year over 25,000 schools all across the United States held special I Love To Write Day events and activities. He is a frequent speaker at both Christian and secular writing conferences, and recently appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
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Excellent advice. The only thing that I would add fits into tip #4, and it pertains to ensuring that you actually provide all necessary details. Unfortunately, too many “experts” take important steps for granted and don’t realize that they leave those steps out of their instructions — or they fail to define terms that they think everyone knows.
Simple example: Cooking onions to use on burgers. Slice the onions, and saute them in a frying pan. Should the onion peel be included in the pan? How thick should those slices be? Should the rings be broken apart? And what, exactly, does “saute” mean to someone who knows nothing about cooking? How do you know when the onions are done? For that matter, is butter required, or would olive oil work just as well?