How to write a great article: a checklist
By Paul Maher
I f you are trying to improve as a writer you should want to try new things. No one wants to crank out tired, stale copy that sends everyone to sleep.
At the same time, you can’t forget the fundamentals. You must always remember the primary reasons why you are writing anything. Sounds obvious I know, yet, it’s amazing how often people surrender the basics in search of creativity.
So, I’ve developed a mental checklist over the years to help avoid this. It’s a list of questions I’m constantly asking myself (often subconsciously) that keeps me on track.
The more experienced I become as a writer, the longer the list gets. Here’s a small sample of the questions I ask before, during or after writing.
Is the subject matter worth writing about?
What makes an article interesting?
Is it newsworthy (focused on a change/ what’s new)? Is it controversial (does it shock or contradict current thinking)? Is it thought provoking (does it look at an issue from a different perspective or offer an alternative view point)?
Does the subject matter have depth?
Can you offer the reader a deeper understanding of the subject matter than they already have? Can you share clear definitions or provide an example or analogy? Do you know the potential repercussions of a change – be that regulations, customer behaviour, etc?
Would people share this?
Is it credible? Have I sourced the information contained from reputable sources?
Have I considered the readers perspective?
Will the headline inspire readers to click?
Is it relevant and interesting to the audience we are targeting? Does the headline intrigue (from a psychological perspective does it act as click-bait)? Does it differentiate the piece from other articles already out there? Is it an honest representation of the copy?
Is the tone and style appealing?
Does the tone of voice work for the target reader? How colourful and descriptive can your language be? Can you try to build trust with the reader by sharing personal experiences? Can you talk directly to the reader on a personal level or do you need to be more general? If you are offering advice, have you strayed too far and become patronising?
Is it logically structured?
What’s the key premise of the article and is that clear throughout? Do all the subpoints support the main thrust? Are any side issues discussed in the piece confusing, and a distraction from the main premise (and do they need to be removed)?
Does it flow from start to finish?
It is easy to read quickly? Do paragraphs segue neatly, or does it jar? Is the sentence structure smooth and enjoyable to read or is it convoluted and complex? Have I used 20 words where five will do?
Is the writing credible?
Are you demonstrating a sufficient level of understanding around the subject matter to maintain the respect of the target reader?
You can break the rules. No doubt you will at times read articles that seem to break all the rules and are fantastic none-the-less – often for that very reason.
What this proves is that rules exist. And, if you don’t know the rules, you won’t know if you are breaking them or not. Consequently, you’ll just end up guessing why somethings work and somethings don’t.
Interested in hearing our other tips and tricks for working in the PR industry? Read our series of blogs, covering everything from the value of an internship and the practical advice you need to know when getting started full-time, to how a career in PR compares to a career in journalism.
Paul is Fourth Day's Content Director, based in Manchester