by Chauncey Tinker – 6 Aug 2019
I started writing in late 2015, since then I have been writing on political and social issues more or less continuously. In that time I have had a lot of time to think about what makes for a good article, and so I thought I would share my experience and ideas on this with our readers here. These are just my own opinions on what makes for a good article, of course other people may have different ideas. Please feel free to disagree with any of the suggestions I make here, and/or add your own further suggestions in the comments below. Any good suggestions will be incorporated into this article to enhance it.
I think the most important thing to do first is to decide on the main theme of your article. You may well have a number of points you want to make, but you should always keep in mind the main theme and think about how the points help to lead the reader towards the main conclusion of your article. For example the main theme of this article is the subject of how to write a good article, and all the points I make here are focused towards the goal of helping prospective writers to do just that. If you digress too frequently into other subjects you are liable to lose your reader’s attention, and they may stop reading part way through. If you realize you have more than one main theme you want to write about then it’s probably a good idea to break the article up into separate articles (and perhaps space the publication of them).
In my experience it is best to keep your article reasonably brief, fewer than 2000 words is my very rough rule of thumb. I find that articles much longer than that tend not to be read in full as people either have a shortage of time these days or perhaps a lower attention span in our fast-moving modern world. Remember that there are literally millions of websites nowadays, and we are all competing with each other trying to keep our readers’ attention. As I am usually trying to lead the reader towards a particular conclusion at the end of my articles it obviously defeats the object if they lose interest and stop reading part way through.
I find that no matter how important what I have to say is, if it is not a topical issue in the current public discourse then it will attract fewer readers. One approach to get around this problem is: if you have a valuable point to make on a big subject you can save it for example until a suitable situation in current affairs arises where it becomes topical. You can save your ideas on file for the right moment in other words.
Quote/link to sources as much as possible, especially where facts are less well known and where facts are likely to be disputed. If someone spots a single factual error in your writing they may well simply then dismiss everything else you have to say, even if you only make one factual error. The mainstream media in particular (desperate as they are to stem the rising tide of alternative voices) will jump on such errors and use them as an excuse to label up and coming websites as “fake news” etc.. The best counter to this is always to be as absolutely accurate as you can be. Also, where you are quoting facts that you have some doubt about but you feel it’s important to what you are writing to include them then you can at least admit that you acknowledge there is some doubt over what you are quoting.
Familiarize yourself with logical fallacies. For example a well known logical fallacy is the ad hominem fallacy, which is where you try to dismiss an argument by discrediting the person making the argument instead of making a reasoned rebuttal of the argument.
The non sequitur is where the conclusion does not follow logically from the premises of the argument. An example:
Other fallacies include the strawman fallacy, and the tu quoque fallacy. There are a number of other logical fallacies that are somewhat less well known. I recommend that you study them in detail and learn as many of the technical terms as you can manage, learning the terms will help you to remember them. Logical fallacies are a big subject in their own right, there are too many to discuss them all here. In any case there are plenty of useful resources on this subject already, for example here is a page on the subject from the University of North Carolina:
Here is another, from a website called The Best Schools:
15 Logical Fallacies You Should Know Before Getting Into a Debate
The above link mentions the causal fallacy, which it explains is more a category of fallacies including the post hoc fallacy and others. A special point to make here is that conspiracy theories often rely on such causal fallacies, and therefore learning to identify such fallacies helps us to debunk such theories.
Yet another resource here, that explains the fallacies perhaps in terms that most people can more easily understand:
Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies
Of course knowledge of these fallacies is also very useful in more general debate, so it’s not only article writers who can benefit from learning about them.
Grammar can be a bore, and avoiding grammatical errors is certainly less critical than avoiding factual errors and logical pitfalls, but if people are spotting grammatical errors some will take your writing less seriously. Obviously it may also be more difficult for the reader to understand what you are trying to say. If anyone knows of good websites on the subject of grammar, please feel free to leave a link in a comment below.
It scarcely needs to be said that the fewer spelling mistakes there are in your articles, the more professional they will look.
I tend to quote only short sections of text from other writers on the whole, this is partly to avoid copyright challenges. It’s important to be able to criticize what other people are saying/writing, we should oppose any attempts to limit our ability to do that however. At the moment I think fair use guidelines are reasonable, but in these days of increasing censorship we need to keep a watchful eye on our governments and oppose any moves to limit our ability to do this.
(My astute readers will probably have noticed at this point that I have wandered a little bit off the subject of the article. Increasing censorship would be a worthy subject for a dedicated article, there’s no real need to mention that subject here. It’s not completely off topic however, and I will leave the sentence there as an example of what not to do).
It’s probably worth familiarizing yourself with copyright limitations in the country where you are publishing. Of course in these days of the internet the problem increasingly arises that we are quoting from articles published in other jurisdictions. I think if you make a point of linking to any articles you are quoting it probably helps to mitigate copyright challenges, and it is generally better to quote your sources as much as possible in any case, as already mentioned.
Please don’t plagiarise text (simply including another person’s text without acknowledgement), write your own words, it’s not so difficult to write once you get into the habit. If you do write then you will appreciate how much time it takes to put together a well written article, you wouldn’t want someone else to steal your work.
There is no point in writing articles if few people ever get to read them. Think about how you are going to encourage people to read your article. One good approach is to engage in debate at social media sites and other websites that share your interests, and share links to your article at those places with a short summary. It is best to try to do this as much as you can in suitable places within ongoing debates, under related articles and so on. Again, obviously the more topical the subject the more likely you are to succeed in persuading people to read your article.
In these social media times you can get a lot more attention for your article simply by including an image that is somehow relevant to the article you are writing. Try to make sure that the image is free from copyright limitations however, you can use sites such as pixabay or wikimedia commons to find free images (for wikimedia images there is often a requirement to attribute the image correctly – see where it says “you must attribute the author” or “you can attribute the author”). Other sites also exist where you can obtain images for a small fee. Using at least one image is very important for catching people’s attention. Again, remember that you have a lot of competition nowadays from a growing number of other websites.
In summary then the most important features of a good article are (in my opinion anyway) that it should have a clear single focus or theme, not digress unduly from that theme, not be unduly long, quote sources, avoid logical fallacies, be reasonably free of grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, avoid copyright violations, and not plagiarize the content of other writers.
There is no point in writing something only for nobody to read it. The above suggestions will hopefully help writers to write articles that gain and keep the reader’s attention.
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