How to … Write Your Articles Faster and Better

Writing can be a tedious activity. Don’t fool yourself. No matter how good you are, there is NOTHING easy about it. Think about it: How many times have you been faced with a blank page and nothing, nada, zip to say. Writing easy? I don’t think so. And article writing can be the most tedious of tasks, even for seasoned writers. So, if you are writing articles and want to have them see the light of day, and get PAID for it, you need to write faster and better. Here’s how:

SHORT ARTICLES Plan on writing a lot of articles? If so, it’s a good idea to keep them short. Quick reads. When writing, keep these articles to 300-400 words. And if you have a lot to say about your subject, break it into more than one article. Think of your blog posts and use that as a guide.

GREAT TITLE If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a THOUSAND times: Write a strong headline!!! This is the first thing your readers will see, so it HAS to be an attention-grabber. Hint: Place at least one main keyword in your title because it is the subject that readers will search under; and, if you publish online, it will help you move up in the search engine rankings.

MAKE IT SCANNABLE Simply put: Make your articles easy to read. Keep paragraphs no longer than two or three sentences. Print and proofread your article. Then send it out to be published.

How to … Write Like an Expert

So you want to write an article, a little something for your local newspaper or maybe a regional or national magazine, but you either can’t come up with an idea (we’ll tackle that in another post) or you don’t think you have the credentials to back you up to get it published.

Not true. All you need to get your article published is a great idea with an even greater hook or angle (again, look for a How to in another post!) and the following: impeccable research; proper format; authoritative writing; and careful proofreading. These are the the four key areas that will make what your writing sound as if you ARE an expert.

RESEARCH IT Research doesn’t have to be hard; it just has to be good. You certainly don’t have to spend hours on end on the Internet or in a library pouring over your subject. First, create a title for your article then Google it. Look through the hits you get and select only those sites that come from reputable sources. Skim through three or four of the top sites and come up with three to five points for your article. Rewrite each one in your own words and NEVER plagiarize.

USE PROPER FORMAT Sloppy writing, just like sloppy research, will kill your chances of getting published. Want to get noticed? Make sure your article has: An introduction, body, and conclusion. These are your foundations.

  • Introduction: Keep it short. Get to the point of your article in 50 words or less, then move on.
  • Body: Lay out the context of your article, point-by-point. Consider your audience and write to them. A mass market piece shouldn’t talk over their heads. For this audience, take no more than three or four sentences for each point and back up your claims with facts or data.
  • Conclusion: End your article with a summary and, this is important, keep your opinions to yourself.

AVOID ADDING FLUFF Get to the point of what you want to say; don’t be wordy! Fluff gives your article a passive tone … the exact opposite of what you want as an “expert” – an authoritative tone. This stye of writing is not only easier to read but it makes a statement, and your readers will react positively to this.

PROOFREAD If you solely rely on spellcheck to check your writing, you are making a HUGE mistake. It won’t catch words spelled correctly but used improperly, i.e. from/form, affect/effect, etc. The most effective way to proof your work: Print it and read it out loud. Your ears will hear any awkward sentences and you’ll probably catch one or two homophone typos or complete mix-ups.

So now you know how to write something that makes you sound like you are the expert: Research your topic. Use proper format. Leave out unnecessary words. And print and proofread by reading out loud … the secrets to writing an engaging article on any topic you choose.

Is Proper English Becoming Obsolete?

Is proper English becoming obsolete? Going the way of the typewriter and liquid paper? OMG, I hope not. But wait! I just short-handed in my own blog, so maybe there is something to this story …

Short-hand via texting and instant messaging is quickly replacing the way we “write” and that lingo is not only creeping into our everyday writing, but in the way we compose our business emails and quick correspondences. Are you serious? Yes. And not only am I serious, but sad to say, I am guilty of it too.

Oftentimes I end a quick internal email to a co-worker with three little letters: Thx. I got into this nasty habit when I started receiving emails from another coworker that signed off in the very same way. Insidious! Then there’s the evil “K” as in “k?” or “k.” Is it really too hard to write “ok” or better yet, “okay?” We have shortened an already short word to one lone letter. And yes, I have to admit that I have done this as well. Shameful.

But this is the danger of short-handing it. It’s quick. It’s easy. And it creeps into our business writing where it has no business. Use short-hand where you should: instant messaging and texting. And maintain the purity of proper English in your written work so you maintain your stellar reputation as a professional who actually has a handle on the English language.

My Ongoing Love Affair

Okay, I admit it. I have had an ongoing, lifelong love affair … with my dictionary. I can’t help it. I love discovering a new word that I haven’t heard of or used before and finding a way to strategically place it a new piece I am creating, or casually slipping it into conversation. What could be more fun than that? Okay, so maybe that are a THOUSAND and ONE things more fun than that, but not for a writer.

Take the following list of new discoveries: how many have you heard of? How many have you actually used in your writing? Would you even dare?

advertent: giving attention

bhakti: devotion to a deity constituting a way to salvation in Hinduism

bewray: divulge, betray

ceinture: a belt or sash for the waist

digamy: the second marriage after the first is terminated

If you’re a writer, your dictionary truly is your best friend, well, next to your thesaurus.



Project Manage Your Project

I get it. You’re a writer. Words are your life. The way they fit together, the way they ebb and flow, the way they tell a story in vivid detail. But, most writers are of the “work-for-hire” variety. Freelancers. And that means you are responsible for FAR more than just the writing you do. You have a business to run. Finances to deal with. Money to collect (OMG. I could write a blog about that alone!). And of course, the most important thing of all, a project, or if you’re lucky, projects to manage.

So, how do you go about juggling all of these roles while writing stellar copy? Here’s how: You HAVE to have solid project management skills, and you need to put these skills in place asap. So here’s your blueprint to managing your multitude of projects with the utmost skill.

First, PLAN each and every project down to the final detail.

1. Do the right project. Using benefit cost analysis or ROI, look at the project that gives you the biggest value for your effort and is most aligned with your strategy, moving you in the direction you want to go.
2. Define the scope clearly and precisely.
3. Plan the whole project and make a plan.
4. Work with words and pictures to bring people with different perspectives onto the same page, contributing to the project as needed.

Prepare your team in just two steps:

5. Get the right team. Define the skills needed and get people with those skills. Be honest about gaps, and close them by taking time to learn to get it done right.
6. Get the expertise you need if necessary. Know that being an expert in one area does not mean being an expert in other areas.

Cover all the bases with the nine knowledge areas:

7. Scope. After defining the scope clearly, explain the cost involved in making changes to reduce change requests, then manage all changes, adding to the project only when it is essential.
8. Time and cost. Use unbiased, accurate estimation techniques. Set up systems to gather, track, and analyze time and cost information, so you can keep them under control
9. Quality.  At the project level, work to prevent error, then find and eliminate the errors that slipped through. Allow time for rework to ensure you’ve eliminated errors without letting new ones creep in. At the business level, include customers in the revision process, and remember that the goals are customer satisfaction and added value.
10. Risk. Plan for uncertainty; prepare for the unexpected. Perform risk management every week of the project.
11. Human Resources. Help each team member step up self-management and technical expertise. Teach everyone project management skills so that they can improve. Then teach them to work together, until you have a great team of great people.
12. Procurement. Get the supplies and resources you need. If your project involves contracts, be sure to keep the contracts in alignment with project value and specifications.
13. Communications. Have a communications plan, and follow it so that you are in touch with all stakeholders throughout the project. Make sure everyone knows what they need to know to make decisions and get the work done. Analyze status information to create status reports. Be prompt and decisive.
14. Integration. Constantly direct corrective action. Evaluate all events that could change the project schedule, and all scope change requests. Review the effects of any change on all nine areas before making a decision, and then implement a revised plan with re-baselining.

Keep the project on track with stages and gates:

15. Use a life cycle. At a minimum, put a gate at the beginning to clearly launch the project, and then a gate after planning, a gate after doing, and a gate after following through.
16. Every gate is a real evaluation. Bring every deliverable — parts of the product, product documentation, technical documents, the project plan and supporting documents — up to specification. If a project can’t deliver value, be willing to cancel it.

Use feedback with your team and focus on scope and quality in the doing stage:

17. Use feedback at all four levels. Teach workers to stay in lane and on schedule; ensure delivery of milestones; manage project risk; and manage project change. Watch out for continuing problems that indicate a serious planning error, such as lack of attention to one of the nine areas.
18. Focus on scope and quality. Get it all done, and get each piece done right.

Follow through to success:

19. Deliver customer expectations. Seek to exceed them while leaving customers happy with every encounter with your team. Use every success and every error as a chance to learn to do a better job.
20. Remember ROI and lessons learned. Compare actual ROI to planned ROI, so you can be honest about the degree of your success. Compile project historical information and lessons learned to make future projects easier.