How To Structure An Article For Success: Eight Essentials

Posted at 22:27pm on 3rd June 2009

Part 5 of 6 in a Series on Article Writing

The structure of an article – that is the components that make it first grab our attention and then read on – barely register, if at all, when we pick up a newspaper, or read a blog. It’s a little like cleaning your teeth, or showering: either is a function which requires little or no thought, but which, once accomplished, has a pleasurable outcome! Well, perhaps that’s an analogy too far.

But the fact is that even those of us who are writers, rarely, if ever, consider the factors of a successful article when we’re in the process of reading it. Analysis of the secrets of article writing is not in the forefront of your mind if the content of the piece is compelling. And that, surely, is the purpose for which we read? The topic, and the information it conveys should, rightly, supersede all other thought. The Right Brain, with its instant, global and emotional faculty, is engaged in absorbing, by osmosis, whatever it is we have read.

When it comes to writing an article for a specific publication, however, Left Brain function needs to be utilised at some point. This is the analytical lobe, capable of objective scrutiny and unemotional critique. By all means write your article from the heart – if that is your preferred modus operandi – but you will, then, need to employ your editorial skills. Alternatively, first learn the components that go into the successful structure of an article, and you should, subsequently, be able to operate in automatic mode.

So what are the features required for success? I have previously dealt with the matter of title, the need to know your market, and exactly what is required for a lead paragraph. Building on that specialist knowledge, I would identify the following issues:

  1. An article should expound one theme, only. You may, for example, be writing a seasonal piece about the real meaning of Christmas. That would be your theme. It would be quite legitimate to come at it from, say, a historical and spiritual perspective, using today’s commercialism as a means of proving your point. However, if you began to creep into the realms of the best way to decorate the tree, or how to plan a succession of meals for a dozen people, although still on-topic (Christmas), it would be completely off-theme (the real meaning of . . .)
  2. Write for your readers. This comes under the category “know your market” but here it is specifically aimed at vocabulary and syntax. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) is the standard you should keep uppermost in your mind. This, if I’m honest, is something that I have to work on – long, convoluted, clause-ridden sentences being a love of mine! The thing to do is to bear in mind the age and gender of your readership, and to use the language and sentence construction which would come naturally to the people for whom you’re writing.
  3. Check your grammar. Regardless of how you might vocalise the last sentence above i.e. “. . . use the language that would come naturally to the people you’re writing for. . .” your grammar should be correct in all but the most informal publications. I can personally recommend Jan Venolia’s classic book, Write Right! – an invaluable tool for a serious writer.
  4. Use specific nouns. Try to avoid ‘it’, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’ whenever possible. If you’ve already mentioned a book by title, use something like, ‘the paperback’ next time, instead of simply an ‘it’. Better still, describe the book in a way which will arouse a response in your reader: ‘this epic read’ will entice them to buy and read the book; ‘a dreary tale’ will warn them off!
  5. Don’t overuse adjectives. Following on from No. 4 above, a well chosen noun has far more impact than a word qualified by an adjective. Thus, “brogues” rather than “brown shoes”; “ria” rather than “drowned, high-sided valley”; “mansion” “tenement” “cottage” rather than “large country house”, “block of flats” or “small, village dwelling”. It sounds obvious when you see it here, but believe me, the natural thing to do is to take the easy way out during the writing process, and fail to spot it during the editorial stage.
  6. Active v Passive Voice. A previous post on this topic has been written by Mel. Or, to put that sentence in the active voice: I’ve written on this topic in previous posts. Given that If You’re Writing In The Passive Voice, Consider Revising is one of my most visited posts, this would appear to be a problem to many writers. The main thing to remember is to construct your sentences with WHO, DID, WHAT.
  7. Show & Tell. “A large tabby purred at the feet of Fame Celeb.” That sentence shows your reader what you are seeing whilst you’re interviewing the pop-star, whereas, “Fame Celeb owns a cat,” tells them very little.
  8. Use accurate verbs. This is a similar point to that in No. 5. “He sprinted to the bus stop” is a far stronger sentence than “He ran fast to the bus stop”. “Peered” is better than “looked closely (or short-sightedly)”; “fondled” than “stroked affectionately”; “blended” than “mixed thoroughly”.

Learn these eight essentials on how to structure an article for success, and you may find that you never again read a news report or feature in quite the same way. Developing an analytical, Left Brain response to what you take in is no bad thing. Better still, use the check list above to ensure that what you give out is spot on. Master the secrets of article writing, and grab the attention of editors and readers alike.

If you have anything to add to this, or to query, please use the comment box below. That way, we all learn more. All the best.


We’ll take a look at sentence and paragraph construction in Part 5
The Structure Of An Article: Think Base, Building & Boundaries

Previous articles in this series:
Although many of the articles on this website may be used freely where expressly stated, this one forms part of a series, and may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

Author of a number of books, one a No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. Book her here for your event.

All proceeds from Mel’s latest novel, A Painful Post Mortem, are for charities benefiting children worldwide. Buy a copy here and help raise cash for children like Rachel, who, at 13 is mother to 6 kids orphaned by AIDS, or this project, drug-proofing teenagers in the UK

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