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How to Write Articles That Sell: A Beginner's Guide to Freelance Writing

Updated on June 29, 2017
Austin Hackney profile image

Austin started freelance writing in 2007. Since 2010 he's made his living selling words to both print publications and online markets.

How to Write Articles That Sell
How to Write Articles That Sell | Source

The Secret of Good Article Writing

Anyone with a basic grasp of grammar and syntax can write an article. But if you want to make a living, you must learn how to write articles that sell. As a new freelance writer, you’ll generate most of your income by writing articles published in print or online.

Magazines, newspapers, commercial blogs, and informational websites are always hungry for fresh, original content. Even when writing white papers, business-to-business communications, email campaigns, advertising, marketing copy, reports, guidelines or handbooks, the article structure is your starting point.

The secret to good article writing is to understand how to plan and structure a piece before you write it. A well-structured article allows you to use your writing skills to best advantage and communicate your ideas correctly, concisely, clearly, coherently, and completely. The key to good structure is good planning.

Each article you write should include:

  • an appropriate title
  • an opening paragraph
  • the main discussion
  • a closing paragraph

Let's look at each element in more detail.

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Crafting a Good Article Title

New writers often overlook how important titles are. But you must craft a title that's informative and enticing. It's the first thing an editor reads. Make sure it's not the last. A good title communicates at a glance what your article is about, the target readership, and the questions the article promises to answer.

Take the title of this article as an example.

"How to Write Articles" tells you it's an instructional piece about article writing. "That Sell" informs you it's aimed at writers who want to make money. "A Beginner's Guide" lets you know the target audience are new or aspiring writers rather than seasoned hacks, and "to Freelance Writing" defines the niche. The question the title promises to answer is, "How can I write an article an editor is likely to buy?"

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How to Write a Title for an Online Article

I wrote this article for publication online. That means most readers will discover it via a search engine. So the title structure includes popular search terms known as "keywords". The keywords in this article title are:

  • how to write
  • how to write articles
  • write articles that sell

Choosing keywords people type into search engines is essential if you want readers to find your article online. If you're writing for the web, your title should include at least one keyword. But you must incorporate the keyword or keyword phrase in a way which seems natural. While it's important to make your title easy for search engines to discover, you must remember your readers aren't search algorithms but people.

Unless requested by the editor, you should avoid "click bait" titles. Editors associate them with spam, sensationalism, and dishonesty. Typical click bait titles are things like, "She Didn't Know Anyone Was Watching... Until This Happened" and "10 Things Children Do When Their Parents Aren't Looking. Number 7 Will Shock You". You still see click bait titles, but they are falling out of fashion. Aim for something better.

In summary, a good title for an online article should include:

  • a search-friendly keyword or keyword phrase
  • the subject the article covers
  • the target readership
  • a question it promises to answer

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How to Write a Title for Print Publication

Treat the title for a print article in a different way. There's no need to use keywords as the reader either subscribes to the publication or picks it up at a newsstand. It's unnecessary to mention the readership because the branding, cover design, and editorial style already target someone who buys a newspaper or magazine. But you still need your title to show something of the article's content and raise questions in the reader's mind.

While online titles must be unambiguous and search-friendly, you can be more creative with titles for print publication. Above all, magazine headlines must be eye-catching. Puns, ambiguity, allusion, and humor can all work.

Imagine your article is for a gardening magazine and your subject winter-flowering border plants. "5 Easy to Grow Plants that Flower in Winter" would be a good online title. But for a print magazine you could try, "Add Warmth this Winter with Naked Ladies". As keen gardeners know, "Naked Lady" is the common name for Amaryllis belladonna, a popular plant which flowers late Fall. Without the constraint of keywords you can have more fun. While many editors still like a title to illustrate the article’s content, in print it's often more important for a headline to pique curiosity than to inform.

Take time crafting titles. Always study your market, or the publisher's guidelines, and conform to the editor's preferred style. One last word about titles: prepare for editors to rewrite or replace them. It happens. The final decision on headlines is the editor's prerogative. But whether your title finds its way into print or not, learning to craft a good title is the first step in understanding how to write articles that sell.

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How to Write a Strong Opening Paragraph

If your title has done its job, the editor will read on. The first paragraph is the most important part of your article, and the first sentence is the most important part of the opening paragraph. The first paragraph has a lot of work to do. It should:

  • hook the reader's attention
  • apply to the title's promise
  • arouse curiosity
  • lead in to the rest of the article

If the opening is illogical, dull, or irrelevant you'll lose the editor's interest. It won't matter how good the rest of the article is because the editor won't read it. Keep your sentences short. Be clear, coherent, and concise. The editor shouldn't have to work out what you want to say. You should say it. The most common reason for a form rejection is a weak opening. If you want to learn how to write articles that sell, make sure you invest time and talent in crafting your opening paragraph.

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How to Write the Main Body of an Article

When you write the main body of your article, use the same style as you did for your opening paragraph. In a short piece the body may contain as few as three paragraphs. In a long-from article you might write dozens. But in every case the logical flow of ideas from one paragraph to the next must be seamless.

Each paragraph should have a central idea. Explain the idea and support it with facts. Vary the lengths of paragraphs to manage the pace of your article. The main body should be coherent, with each idea building on the one before it, starting with the attention-grabbing opener and progressing to a satisfying conclusion.

Tailor the length of an article to the demands of the market for which it's written. If your article falls short of the required word count, don't pad it with superfluous waffle. Go back to your research and find more facts to add to the piece.

If you find you have more information than you can fit to the article's length, don't cram it in at the expense of clarity and coherence. Select the essential facts to support your argument and cut the rest. You can always use the information in another article.

It's hard for new writers to sell opinion pieces. I recommend you stick to factual articles at the outset. If you want to learn how to write articles that sell, remember the market for information is bigger than the market for opinions. It's also easier to plan a well-structured factual article than an opinion piece.

In summary, the main body should include:

  • a series of paragraphs in logical sequence
  • a central idea in each paragraph
  • supporting facts and information

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How to Write a Good Closing Paragraph or Conclusion

A good closing paragraph is often short. While researching and writing your article, focus on what you are trying to say and say it fully and clearly. Don't introduce new information in the closing paragraph. If you've done your job well, there should be little left to say when you reach your conclusion.

Three of the most common styles of closing paragraph are:

  • a concise summary of the article
  • asking the reader a question
  • answering the article question

If you write a summary conclusion, keep it short and sweet. Three sentences should be plenty. You should answer the question your article raised in its opening paragraph by the time you reach the end. But it's effective to close with a new question which follows from what has gone before. This technique works well online to encourage lively discussion in the comments. If the main body of your article has laid out a logical argument but not yet answered the question raised, the closing paragraph is the place to answer it.

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What to Do after You've Written Your Article

When your article is complete, you'll be eager to submit it. Don't. It's probable that despite all your hard work the article is not yet in a saleable condition. Learning how to write articles that sell involves learning to revise.

Put your article to one side and work on something else. Leave it for several days before rereading it. Then read it three times.

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Check the Facts

The first time check all your facts are correct. It's risky to rely on memory. If your article includes quotations from another work, proper nouns and dates, verify your facts using multiple sources. If an editor buys an article and finds it's misleading or inaccurate, you'll never sell another article to that publication. And remember, editors talk to each other. It's in everybody's interests you make sure you get your facts straight.

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Proofread Your Article

In the second pass, proofread your article, which means checking spelling and grammar for errors. I recommend printing a copy of your article or changing the font in your word processor before proofreading. It's easy to miss errors in a text you wrote yourself. Changing its appearance helps you see it with fresh eyes. Sub-editors will correct remaining issues, but it's not their first responsibility. To make a successful career as a freelance writer, take pride in your work and make it the best you can.

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Rewrite Your Article

Read your article a third time. Use red ink or the delete key and cut out every unnecessary word or phrase. Rephrase sentences to make them shorter and clearer. Remove clichés. Be as unforgiving and critical as you dare.

Now put your article aside once more. The following day give it one more pass to make sure it's in keeping with the publisher's guidelines, reads well, is logical, clear, and complete. You might like to copy the following table and use it as a checklist.

Article Pre-Submission Check List

Does My Article Include
Check
An appropriate title?
Yes/No
A strong opening paragraph?
Yes/No
A logical and complete main body?
Yes/No
A concise closing paragraph?
Yes/No
A central idea in each paragraph?
Yes/No
Supporting facts and information?
Yes/No
Facts checked for accuracy?
Yes/No
Correct spelling and grammar?
Yes/No

Finally, submit your work for publication.

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How to Write Articles That Sell: Submitting to an Editor

Read the submission guidelines for your publication and follow them. If there's anything you don't understand, contact the editor and ask for clarification.

Most publications today expect electronic submissions. Follow the editor's requirements for layout, font, and font size. Editors may ask you to attach documents or paste articles into the body of an email. Check attachments are in an acceptable format such as .doc, .docx, .rtf, or PDF. Some publications use online submissions portals. In that case, go to the portal, sign up, and follow the instructions.

If you must make a postal submission, print your work on good quality white paper in black ink with inch-wide margins. Make sure your name and contact details appear on your cover letter and the first page of your article, along with the title, your name, and a word count. Print a new copy for each submission you make. Nothing is more off-putting to an editor than to receive a dog-eared copy which has done the rounds.

Keep your cover letter brief, polite, and to the point. Address the editor by name. The editor will decide whether to buy your article on its own merits and has no interest in your biography unless it's pertinent to the article's content. If your article is about swarthy pirates and you are a swarthy pirate, you should say so. Otherwise, omit personal details. Likewise, when submitting an article, there's no advantage in mentioning previous publication credits.

A good cover letter is as simple as this:

Dear [Editor's name]

Please consider the [enclosed/attached] [word count] word article, [Title] for publication in [Name of publication].

Thank you for your kind consideration. I look forward to hearing from you in due course.

Sincerely.

[Your name]

My Tips For Writing Articles Editors Will Buy

What to Do When You've Submitted Your Article

The final aspect of learning how to write articles that sell is to understand the need for productivity. The more articles you write and submit, the greater your chances of making a sale.

So when you've sent an article off, don't sit around waiting for a reply. Make a note of the submission details in your records, forget about it, and set to work on the next piece.

© 2017 Austin Hackney

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