I’ve been asked to write an article but I don’t know where to start

in Top copywriting tips

Confessions of a copywriter… When I was at school, the idea of having to write an essay that was two sides of A4 filled me with dread. And at university, on hearing the news I needed to write 1,500 words in response to the question, my heart used to sink.

These days, such ideas no longer scare me. If anything, I rather relish having to write an article of 1,500 words. But that’s because it’s the sort of thing I do (nearly) every day. If it isn’t the sort of thing you do every day, I quite understand your feeling of dread.

It seems to me there are two fears around writing an article. The first is that the number of words involved seems overwhelming and it all seems a bit too much.

The second is the fear of writing itself. Writing an article might never seem other than awful if you don’t enjoy writing even the shortest of emails, don’t think you’re a very good writer or don’t know where you’ll find the time.

Here are my top tips for overcoming both types of fear.

But in the first instance, whatever your fears, there are some good practice tips to bear in mind.

Good practice article writing

If you have been given a free reign in your article to write about whatever you want, the first step is to decide what you’re going to write about. Useful starting points for ideas include:

  • What’s the question you’re most frequently asked?
  • What’s the hot topic in your field right now?
  • What do you do differently to everyone else?
  • What does the future for your industry look like?
  • What’s new in your business?

To help make the final decision on subject matter, think about the readers of the publication you’re writing for. What will they most like or find most useful to read?

Once you have the subject of the article, think about the readers of the publication you’re writing for and what they need to know about the subject you’ve chosen. For example, let’s imagine you’re writing an article about an aspect of your profession. The information you need to include in a beginner’s guide to the area is different to the information you need to include in an article for fellow professionals in your field. Brainstorm everything your readers will need to know and capture this in a series of bullet points.

Next, take the bullet points and organise them into a logical order that covers the topic coherently. Each bullet point will form the basis of a paragraph or section of your article. It’s highly likely that some of the bullet points will have no place in the final cut and that’s fine.

Finally, check that your bullet point structure starts with something that will be your introduction and ends with something that will be the conclusion. Also decide if any bullet points will need text to link one to the next.

At this point, you have the basic structure of your article. Read on for the next stage.

Overcoming word count woes

If the number of words involved in writing an article seems daunting, this next step should help you overcome this.

Divide the number of words you’re allowed in the article by the number of bullet points you have. Bear in mind that some points – especially if they’re linking points – may only need a sentence or two. But ask yourself if – broadly speaking – the numbers are realistic. If they are, great. At this point, the whole thing should start to look more manageable. Instead of writing 1,500 words on a topic you’re actually writing ten sets of 150 words (or whatever your calculation is) on much smaller subjects. And doesn’t that sound much more achievable?

If it feels like you’re going to struggle to fill the word count with what you’ve got to say, consider whether there is more detail or information you could usefully add without boring your readers.

If it feels like you’ve got too much to say, then consider if there’s anything you could leave out without losing anything vital.

Failing this, it’s time to go back to the drawing board to look at your subject matter, I’m afraid. But it’s better to get it right at this stage than wasting time writing something that will have to be binned eventually anyway.

Overcoming the fear of writing itself

If none of the above has helped you get over a sense that there are still a thousand other things you’d rather be doing, don’t despair. Try these tips instead.

If you would have been delighted to be asked to do a presentation rather than write an article, this one’s for you. Do the planning as above, then record yourself giving a talk based on it. Transcribe (or have transcribed) the results and use this as the basis of your article.

If the thought of the number of people reading the article is what bothers you, set this to one side. Think of a receptive person who would be interested in what you have to say, then write the article as if you were writing to them.

If it’s the time it will take that bothers you, there are two ways to solve this. The first is to write it in sections over a period of days – the planning you’ve done will make it easier to do this. The second is to ask a professional to write it on your behalf. It gives you back time and still gives you the valuable publicity an article offers.

Just do it!

Articles are a great way to give your business credibility and position you as a thought leader. Don’t let your fear of writing them stand in your way. Instead, take steps to overcome that fear.

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