As a nonfiction writer, your purpose revolves around inspiring transformation or making a difference. You might want to change lives, communities, organizations, or the world. And you can accomplish these goals with a how-to article.
Even if you dream of becoming an author, writing for publications provides an avenue to reach your readers—and authoring change on one level or another. And, if you know something about anything, you can write a how-to article and make the difference you desire.
Do you know how to cook an edible gluten-free loaf of bread, teach your three-year-old child to juggle a soccer ball, keep deer from eating your plants, travel around India on a budget, or know of to create an online course? Then you can write a how-to article.
Have you ever shared directions with a friend, written down a recipe for a co-worker, or told a coworker how to do something step by step? Then you can write a how-to article.
Transform Your Readers Step by Step
Even the most mundane how-to article, such as how to build a birdhouse or organically and safely clean bugs off a windshield, can transform someone’s life. How? It provides that person with a way to solve a problem or to do something differently.
How-to articles are sequential in nature. You might provide steps for completing a process or doing something, or you can use sequential language. For example:
First, do this. Next, do this. Now, do this. Last, do this.
In the process—and it is a step-by-step process—the reader learns how to do something new.
How to Write a How-To Article in 12 Steps
To begin writing a how-to article, follow these 12 steps:
- Discern what you know how to do or want to learn how to do. Find a topic that interests you or that you feel passionate about and want to explore.
- Decide if you can teach someone the process. Evaluate if you can break the topic down into steps—and if you know enough to do so. Do you need to do research to help you write a how-to piece with authority?
- Identify your readers and markets. Make sure your topic has a market and that magazines exist that will be interested in such an article.
- Angle this subject to a specific audience or make the subject more narrow. For example, instead of an article about how to keep deer away from plants, you could write a piece on how to keep deer away from fruit trees. Your article could be written for orchard owner, the average person who has a few fruit trees in their yard, or by region, such as homeowners in the South.
- Outline the necessary steps to complete the process. What does someone do first, second, third, etc., to complete the process? Start by asking, How do I start? Then, ask, What do I do next? Ask What do I do next until you run out of steps.
- Use the steps you created as the primary structure for your article. You need a lead and a few introductory paragraphs that state your premise and compel readers to read on. You also need a conclusion to your piece. In between these two structural elements fall the steps you will teach—the how-to information your readers seek.
- Explain each step in detail. Once you have your steps outlined, it’s time to describe each one so readers can follow the process.
- Add an introduction and a conclusion. You may prefer to write the introduction, then describe the steps, and finish with the conclusion. Either way, the a how-to article needs all three parts.
- Edit with the reader in mind. Imagine you are the reader of the article and want to know how to learn how to do whatever you have described. What questions do that have left that you still need to answer? Have you met their needs? Have you left anything unexplained? Fill in the gaps.
- Add research. Ground your article in facts, such as studies, articles or books, quotes, definitions, statistics, and anecdotes. These give your article credibility and color. Do the research; add it to your piece.
- Edit again for grammar, punctuation, and unnecessary words, content, or information. You always can improve and tighten your draft—and you should before submitting it to a publication. Also, notice if you indicated a sequential process by using words like first, next, then, or last.
- Read like a dummy. Finally, read through your piece one last time. Does it all make sense? Did you provide a logical order for your steps? Have you left anything out? Can someone follow your directions? Have you provided a compelling reason to read the piece? Also, read as if you are the editor. Have you targeted your reader and the magazine’s market in the process of writing your article?
Once you’ve finished, write a short cover letter—if you didn’t query the publication first. Attach it to your how-to article, and then send it off to appropriate publications.
Notice that this article is a how-to piece as well. I taught you how to write a how-to article by completing the 12 steps above. You don’t have to number your steps. You can use subheadings, and stress which steps comes next in the process. Either way, you’ll find how-to articles easy to compose and staple content for many magazines.
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