Friday, September 16, 2011

A simple route to Publication: The How To Article

One day I was sitting in the library and got an idea. I took 100 magazines off the shelf at random. Yes, I got some strange looks from the librarians, but they know me and know I do strange things. They also know I'm more familiar with the library than they are. So, they don't worry too much.

Out of the 100 different publications I surveyed 83 of them had some sort of how-to-do-it article in the current issue. The how-to article is so ubiquitous that we rarely even think that someone has to write those articles. It might as well be you.

One advantage to the how to article is that it is easy to organize. There are only four parts to one. They are the hook, the why, the how to and the go-to-it.

The Hook

This is the introduction where you "hook" your reader. You have about 100 words to do that, if not they will turn the page or click over to another part of the website. More importantly, the editor won't stick with the article longer than it takes to type your name on the rejection slip.

The idea hook for a how-to article is something that appeals to the person's self interest. For instance, if you are going to write an article about how to get more mileage out of your car, you might begin: "If you've been to the gas station recently, you know the price of gas just keeps going up. However, with just a few simple and inexpensive tricks, you can improve your gas mileage by 20% or more saving thousands of dollars a year."

The Why

If you didn't clearly appeal to self-interest in the introduction, then you want to do so shortly thereafter. After all, someone is going to spend the next 15-20 minutes or more of their life reading what you wrote. You need to give them a reason to do so.

The How To

This forms the bulk of the article. This is where you tell the reader step by step how to do whatever it is you are showing them how to do. Most of the time this will be a sequence of activities. For instance, if you are writing an article about some sort of craft project you might begin with a list of materials and then start with the very first step in the process and continue to the last.

It can be helpful, if you do the project and take notes throughout the process. That way you will be aware of all the steps including those you might forget if you weren't actually doing the project.

Sometimes, though, a how-to article won't be sequential. For instance, if you are a financial advisor and you are writing about how to pick a winning stock, it might not matter whether you check their price to earnings ratio first or their stock rating with Standard and Poor's.

Either way, you want to keep the steps simple given your readership. For instance, let's say you are showing how to build a china cabinet. If you are writing the article for the Professional Cabinet Makers Quarterly, then you could say "Make a dovetail joint," and that would be all you would have to say. However, if it was "Weekend Woodworker" targeting amateurs, then you would need to go into more detail because many of your readers would not know how to make a dovetail joint.

The Go to It

This is the conclusion. You want to end on an upbeat note letting the reader know that if they follow these steps they can succeed on the project.

So, what are you waiting for. How to's are easy to write and easy to sell. GO TO IT!!!

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