How to Write and Sell “How-to” ArticlesPosted: August 12, 2008
Brian Clark over at copyblogger.com got it exactly right when he posted this:
It’s no secret that “how-to” articles and blog posts are some of the most sought after, linked to, and bookmarked content online. People want useful information, and they’ll reward you by promoting it to others when you provide it.”
There’s even one website, www.ehow.com, consisting of nothing but how-to articles.
But readers of online content aren’t the only ones who like how-to articles. Magazine editors love ’em and so do their readers. Flip through publications on any newsstand and you’ll find scores of how-to articles geared to readers of each magazine.
At my local Barnes & Noble, in less than five minutes I found a diverse group of how-to articles, including these: Digital Camera World showed how to turn photographs into captivating watercolors; Budget Travel ran a piece on how to plan a girl friends getaway; Gardner’s World showed how to choose and care for fish in your back yard pond; Healing Back Pain had an article on how to prevent back injuries at work and at home; and Sky & Telescope offered advice on how to choose and use a telescope.
How-tos like these are relatively easy to write and sell. A how-to can be complex and technical, or as simple as directions for a recipe or a project a schoolchild can complete with ease.
There are multiple ways to write how-to articles. Here’s one that has worked for me:
Assume that readers know nothing about your topic, so jot down notes about everything they need to know. Next develop a rough outline by designating each note as a major point or a lesser point and decide on a logical order in which to present each major and lesser point. This will give you a rough outline that you can flesh out during the actual writing.
When you’re ready to begin writing, you need to hook your readers so they will want to read the entire article. You can use an anecdote, a startling statistic, a quotation, a “what’s new” approach, or whatever is an appropriate lead for your topic. You might even use the same hook used in your query letter to the editor (You do intend to query an editor for your how-to, don’t you? Except for a how-to that’s super simple and short, a query is the preferred way to go).
After the lead, next make sure you present all your information in logical order. You can highlight each point by using subtle breaks or subheads. You can include quotations from others who have successfully completed similar projects, or you can interject your own suggestions for specific points to make sure readers can clearly understand the process. Some writers merely use separate paragraphs for each point, linking them with appropriate transition sentences.
Wrap up your article with a satisfactory conclusion. There are multiple ways to finish, including a summary of the how-to, additional instructions, or a paragraph that links back to your opening hook.
Determine if the piece needs photographs, a sidebar with follow-up information, or a sketch or drawing to explain complex instructions. Ask yourself this question: am I leaving out anything that may be obvious to me but not to my readers?
Finally, polish each sentence and paragraph in your how-to to make it shine. Take out every unnecessary word and phrase and spell check everything, including photo cutlines and sidebars. And don’t forget to include a catchy how-to title.
© 2008 by Laverne Daley
Please leave a comment.