Six Rules for Writing Good Articles
Writing a good article requires two things: good content and good technique.
There’s a lot of noise to compete against when writing on the internet. Anyone can write something, post it, and call it an article — in the information age, the definition of an article has become a very blurred line. The line between good and bad, however, is much more defined — and arguably, more important.
Good content is relatively easy to create. Most people don’t realize it, but everybody has interesting things to say. Good technique is harder — it can seem abstract and nuanced, and it’s often the thing that makes or breaks an article.
A weak article falls flat. A strong article changes minds, gains followers, carries weight, demands respect. It’s a worthy and valuable pursuit.
My top rules for writing a good article:
Rule #1 for writing a good article: minimize your barrier to entry. Make it easy for your reader to be drawn in.
A large opening paragraph at the start of an article is a huge barrier to entry. Your reader has to wade through a large wall of text before determining if the article is really interesting and worth reading. This requires a large expenditure of effort. Most people won’t bother.
Keep your opening short and punchy. A one-sentence or two-sentence leading paragraph is an easy buy-in. You can skim it and read it in barely more time than it would take to scroll past.
Start with something short and easy to engage with. Prove to your reader that you’re providing value, then ask them to expend effort.
Rule #2 for writing a good article: keep your paragraphs short and your text visually appealing. In general, shorten everything.
How many times have you seen rows and rows of dense paragraphs and lost interest? Be honest. Even after you’ve sold a reader on committing, you can lose them if consumption becomes too much work.
Short paragraphs, on the other hand, are tantalizing. They’re easy. They feel like an accomplishment. You always want to read just one more — your eye gets drawn down the page. So break your text up. Keep your reader chasing the words from paragraph to paragraph. Pace them. Give them space between ideas.
Balance words with empty spaces — like the breaths between spoken sentences.
Note: short does not mean that your writing can’t be stylistic and beautiful. Do not make the mistake that short must be bland. I thought that once, and I was wrong. Short means strong and precise — like a shot of tequila instead of a bottle of light beer. See?
When you’re brief, your words aren’t simple and cheapened. They’re potent.
Rule #3 for writing a good article: keep it short and sweet. As the old adage says, “kill your darlings.”
This is a bleed-over from rule #2, but it deserves its own rule, because it’s important. Just get to the point. Cut out all unnecessary words in a sentence. If a complete sentence doesn’t take you another step closer to making your point, scrap it completely.
It hurts, but your writing will be better.
Rule #4 for writing a good article: give me substance. One of the worst things on any news feed is an article that says nothing. They’re shockingly common. So often people just write fluff.
Often the empty articles are packaged up as something useful. There are enough “top five tips” and “productivity hacks” articles in the world to last me to eternity — if I didn’t die of boredom first. Rarely do any of them contain anything useful. They’re just abstractions — they have nothing of substance to say.
There are more shallow, surface-level blog posts on my radar in any given day than I care to count.
They’re made of words, but there’s no point and no meaning. It’s content for the sake of having content.
Don’t write content for the sake of writing content. Write content for the sake of conveying meaning and understanding. Tell your reader something. Imagine they ask “why?” in response, and then answer that question.
The world does not need more surface-level going-through-the-motions content. It needs content designed to teach, convey meaning, make people understand.
Rule #5 for writing a good article: tell me a story. People love stories. It’s one of the basic truths of humanity — we always respond to a compelling story. Keep this knowledge in your toolbox!
One of the best ways to draw a reader into an article is to bring it to life with human interest. Capture their attention with a recounting of an event, the setting of a stage, the unfolding of a plot.
Stories are a brilliant way to open articles. They’re equally brilliant ways to illustrate a point. They don’t have to be excessive and garish to be effective. Tell me in your article about a specific tool you recommend using, and then tell me a story about how you used it yourself and what it did for you. Short, simple, to the point, but suddenly your article is human.
Avoid dry writing. In the content-oversaturated age of the internet, nobody’s going to read something bland.
Rule #6 for writing a good article: show, then tell. Start by showing me your point in action, then explain to me what it means and why it matters.
This is a rule for your overall structure. Present your ideas in the following order: illustration, explanation, understanding. Show it to me, then tell me what it is, then help me understand why it works and how to use it myself.
Any other order will bore your reader, and will likely make less sense.
The final and unstated rule of good writing is practice. Practice, practice, practice. Practicing one’s craft is how one perfects it. Practice until you internalize the form and structure of a good article, and producing them becomes second nature.
Everybody has something interesting to say. You have more to share than you realize — and the world is always in need of meaningful, compelling content that conveys knowledge and helps people understand. Go create some!
I wish you happy writing.