It seems a little presumptuous even after 15 years as a writer to address this topic. After all, I am no A.A. Gill or David Leser.
Nonetheless, I have written thousands of articles, and read hundreds of thousands more, and there are some consistencies between all the great pieces.
1. Clarity of purpose
Just like in debating, tell people what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them. If your article is about demystifying self-managed super funds, state that up front, explain yourself in the body copy, and then summarise your explanation in the closing paragraphs. If your article is for the web, link out at the end to resources where people can learn more
2. Well-designed content
Huge, unbroken chunks of text are a rarity in modern publishing. Write a catchy title, a sub-heading, an intro and body copy. Use box-out text for ‘side’ information such as tips, facts and recipes. Select good quality images (that you have copyright access to) to run with your piece.
If you are self-publishing, you have the advantage of controlling the typography and layout so keep it logical and easy-to-read. Don’t be seduced by trendy design – I have seen many good stories buried under unintelligible layouts.
3. Keep it simple
While it can be tempting to use multisyllabic words, complex phrases and flowery adjectives, please resist. A good article is not about verbal gymnastics. It’s about communicating a message in the simplest, clearest and most effective way possible.
Be articulate. Be clever. Be fun. Be whatever you like, but above all, be clear.
4. Have an angle
It doesn’t matter what you’re writing about, look for a fresh angle. What does that mean? It means finding an interesting entry point into a story that will capture the attention of the reader.
‘How euthanasia saved my life’, ‘Why God is a dog’, or ‘Five reasons that heroin should be legalised’; it doesn’t matter what your angle is. You just need to be able to back it up and expand on it. The purpose of an angle is to attract the reader and give your article direction.
5. Supporting information
If you want to add weight to your story, interview some experts, do some research, and/or include some current statistics or case studies. By casting your net wider than your own experience and opinion, you are supporting your position while also exhibiting a level of curiosity and openness that is characteristic of the best journalists and writers.