8 Questions You Can Ask Yourself to Write Better Articles
There’s no exact method for writing articles that people want to read. You can write about a variety of topics successfully if you understand the patterns behind the type of articles people want to read.
It sounds simple and obvious, but many new writers miss the point. If you want a lot of people to read your writing, you have to write the type of articles people actually want to read.
If you want to stop banging your head against the wall, feeling frustrated that your work is getting nowhere, focus on that simple truth.
You don’t have to write a certain way. You’re free to do what you wish. But, you also have to live with the results. I see far too many writers who blame their lack of success on the audience.
Josh Spector once said, “You can write for an audience or write for yourself, but you can’t do both.”
If you don’t want commercial success that’s fine. But too many writers want commercial success doing it their way when their way doesn’t work.
The choice is yours. But always remember the golden rule of writing. It’s never the audience’s fault.
You don’t have to write how-to articles and listicles to get ahead. You really don’t. But, your articles will perform better if you have the right answers to some of these key questions.
Have I Nailed the Essential Elements of My Article?
You can write a more or less solid article and mess it up by failing to nail a few key areas of the piece. You don’t have to dumb your work down to nail these essential elements, but you be mindful of them.
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. They could read any article online. On top of that, reading articles isn’t on the top of anyone’s priority list, even people who like to read.
They instinctively want to click away from your articles as soon as possible.
Nail these elements to keep them engaged:
- Headlines – Look, headlines are an art and science that take time to learn. If you want to get good at them, write a bunch of them. Short tip, avoid cryptic headlines that don’t give the reader any sort of clue what your article is about.
- The main points/sections – One main point or section that doesn’t fit your article can kill the whole vibe. Same thing with a list that has too many ‘filler’ points and not enough ‘meaty’ ones.
- Intro – You can open an article in many different ways — a cool story, talking directly to the reader, using a crazy opening line to leave them hooked. You do want to hook them as soon as you possibly can.
- Conclusion – Leave the reader with either a takeaway, call to action, or a feeling that they’ve been on some sort of mini-adventure with your story
Would You Read Your Own Article If You Weren’t You?
You’re wired to focus on your own wants and needs. It’s natural. Human nature. But it creates a large blind spot when it comes to writing for an audience.
Honestly, there’s no magic trick for learning how to step outside of yourself and view your own writing objectively.
Here’s a tell: if your articles continue to fall flat, that might be a sign you need to switch something up.
Potential issues might be:
- You write in a self-centered way – You can write a story about yourself without making it entirely about you. Most newbies write naval-gazing personal essays
- You’re writing about the wrong topic – By wrong, I mean a topic that doesn’t have a large enough audience
- You just need to get better – As a reader, you probably prefer to read writing from experienced writers because it’s, you know, better
What’s In It For the Reader?
Back to the personal essay example. If you want to write those types of articles and make them successful you have to ask yourself what the reader will gain from reading your article.
There are a ton of reasons why someone might want to read your essay. Maybe you’re telling a story that’s truly entertaining and unique.
You can write personal essays with details of your life that match the experiences of your reader, e.g., you could write an essay about your divorce that people who’ve been through a divorce can relate with.
I have a simple framework I use to focus on writing articles that address the reader’s needs:
- Entertainment – From unique stories to humor to anything else that evokes high arousal emotions, you can figure out a way to keep readers hooked by keeping them eager to read the next sentence
- Education – “How to” articles work so well because people are always looking for answers
- Inspiration – Inspiration works so well because most people are desperately wanting something better for themselves
If you can manage, try to hit all three at once.
What Do I Need to Remove to Make This Article Better?
You don’t need to write short sentences or limit your paragraphs to three to four sentences to get people to read your articles. But it is helpful to follow this rule from the classic writing guide The Elements of Style:
Omit needless words.
Not just needless words. Needless sentences. Needless paragraphs.
Usually, when you write your first draft, you’re going to have some needless words in it. Editing is an art you learn by doing it on your own.
A couple of guidelines you can use are:
- Redundant words and sentences – Often, you’ll repeat two sentences that say pretty much the same thing. Or you might have two entire paragraphs that make the same point
- Odd sounding phrases – Reading your work out loud can help you catch gaffes you wouldn’t find by just reading your draft
- Sentences and paragraphs that don’t fit the context and flow of your article – Maybe you have a long-winded story that really doesn’t add to the flavor of the piece that much. Perhaps you write an essay with five points, only to find that three of them truly support the main thesis of your essay
After removal, you can focus on addition.
What Do I Need to Add to Make This Article Better?
You could answer this question by using the inverse of the tips I just listed above. After you go through and remove the excess, you’ll notice that your article is still missing something.
Again, editing is an intuitive process, but some elements you might want to add to your article are:
- Interesting stories and anecdotes – Say you’re writing an advice article. You’ll be more credible to readers if you share a story about how you implemented said advice.
- Data, facts, statistics – Some topics and article styles benefit from citing the right sources, e.g., articles about science, business, psychology, etc
- Useful sentences and words – This is something you’ll learn over time. Certain little phrases will make your articles pop more. You might need to add a single sentence or two to support the point you’re trying to make in a section of an article.
When it comes to editing, I keep things simple. I write the first draft. During the second draft, I focus on removal. During the third draft, I focus on addition. Then, I make one final pass to make everything look pretty, add links, quotes, data, etc.
How Can I Make My Articles LOOK Better?
Like I said earlier, you don’t have to write the exact I do, but always be mindful of the way your blog posts feel to the eye. Even if I were to write longer paragraphs, for example, I’d still want them to be appealing to the eye, e.g., maybe making them look more square or rectangular than jagged.
Think about some of the other visual ways you can make your articles more appealing.
Some techniques you can use are:
- Pattern interruptions – Anything from a subheading to a photo, to a dividing line can give the reader a tiny break that gives them more energy to finish your piece.
- Emphasis techniques – From using italics or bold to make a point, using blockquotes, or bullet-points to display a list of facts or recommendations
- Images, period – Some people go out of their way to choose the most potent cover-images possible for their articles and it boosts their click-through rate. Remember, humans are visual creatures. Solid photos can have an impact on performance
Platforms like Medium have an amazing interface and set of tools you can use to make your articles ‘prettier.’ Use them.
How Can I Make My Writing Standout Against the Competition?
Odds are, you’re going to be entering a topic with a lot of competition. Take the main topic I write about, self-improvement. It’s probably the most saturated field for writers out there, but I found a way to thrive.
Again, this is something you develop an intuition for overtime, your voice, but let my story be an example for you.
I’m willing to say things many of my competitors won’t say. I write brutally honest, often politically incorrect, truths about what it takes to succeed. I don’t take myself that seriously. I curse in my articles, make wisecracks, and add random pop-culture references that I find entertaining. Ultimately, I realize that a lot of people use self-improvement as a form of entertainment and I play to that. I studied many different writing styles and prefer to use short punchy sentences instead of long-winded writing with flowery language.
Some people hate it, others love it, and that’s what I aim for. I don’t want everyone to like my writing because that means I’m trying to be a people-pleaser. When it comes to your writing, you want to figure out how to simultaneously be yourself and meet the needs of your audience at the same time.
Again, you can only learn so much by studying writing. You have to write a lot to actually find your voice.
Can My Issues be Solved With More Writing?
Writing is one area where speculation doesn’t do you a ton of good. Yes, plan and prepare. But eventually, you’re going to not only have to write but publish your stories.
Is the market perfect? No. Does the audience always get it right? Hell no. But you’re never going to get the level of feedback you need to improve unless you put your work out there.
Yes, some of your writing will suck. You’ll be criticized. You’ll feel like quitting and go through stretches where you ask yourself why the hell you’re even trying to become a writer.
I’ve been you.
Six years ago I decided to write a handful of articles. I liked it and kept going. If you were to tell me back then what I’ve accomplished now, I’d think you were insane.
I know how far away that dream feels to you. I know that you look up to established writers as unicorns, freaks of nature. But, we were all you at one point.
Always remember that. And write.