How to write an article

Posted by tadelste on Feb 18, 2006 10:13 AM; By Tom Adelstein Editor-in-Chief

Many people want to write but have a fear of rejection. When one understands the correct format to use, it makes it easier to articulate your ideas.

When someone writes an article for a publication like Lxer, they need to use an expository style. Expository articles expose or reveal a subject through facts, reason and argument. When you use an expository style you deal with an event, concept, or idea using facts and examples and not opinions.

When you write an expository piece it does not have to be dry and boring. Your observations and experience often form the basis of your finding in the first place. Using your experience humanizes your writing and makes for an interesting read.

The Format

An article contains a title or heading, lead, conclusion, a body of paragraphs and headings and an ending. Most articles run between 400 and 800 words. Some articles contain 1500 words or about four pages of writing on a word processor.

Consider the heading of your article a meta-phrase. When you write a heading try to summarize your point in three words. That may be impossible but if you can do it, you will catch a readers attention. Sometimes, you will want to use a working title until you finish your article. Afterwards, you will find writing the title much easier.

When you write a lead, remember that it summarizes the topic while saying to the reader that some conflict exists. You tease out something about the drama so the reader can see value in reading the article. You have competition for the reader's time so let them know right away what they will get if they read your piece. Try to stay with three sentences in your lead.

Write your conclusion at the top of your article body after the lead. For example, you might start your article with a paragraph like this:

After interviewing the participants Forrestor used in the survey, we found discrepancies in their conclusions. When asked, 78 percent of the people surveyed said they used Linux in mission critical applications instead of 34 percent. In addition, the original surveyor biased the outcome with his or her introductory remarks.

You might consider it odd to start an article with a conclusion. It does serve an important function. It tells the reader that facts, reasoning and investigation have yielded a result that affects them.

Next you begin your body of paragraphs and headings. Start with the work you did. Tell the reader that you investigated something. For example, you might simply write:

During the past six weeks, we investigated an Enron partnership still running in the Bahamas. The tip came from a former attorney formally connected with the partnership. We found the original partnership filing documents in Austin and gained access to the partnership bank accounts. We tracked down the payments and verified them with the Secretary of State.

I don't expect you to have found such a tip, but the above example gives you an idea of how to describe your work. You could also say that a friend of yours told you about a new database. You downloaded it and installed it on an instance of debian Sarge 3.1 r2. You ran a series of tests, created tables from MySQL and benchmarked performance of both databases.

Now you have informed the reader what you did. You can proceed to write the body of paragraphs and headings. This will explain your findings and allow you to make a case.

Expository paragraphs usually have three sentences. On occasion you can have more than three sentence. You would only add additional sentences if you needed to support your paragraph's topic further.

The previous paragraph demonstrates my point. We call the first sentence the topic. The other two sentences support the topic sentence.

Notice that the first sentence declared the topic that expository paragraphs usually have three sentences. Then we wrote something about the topic sentence. The support sentences gave information about what the assertion in the topic sentence might differ.

You have already given your conclusion and stated the work you did. That should provide ample subject matter to continue writing your article. Start with the most interesting and/or important information first.

I like to add drama or tension into an article. You can accomplish this by providing information in small chucks. You want to provide a way to get to "who done it".

When you follow the who-done-it approach you simply eliminate one possibility at a time. You start with the plethora of possibilities. You then say why one possibility or another doesn't answer the question you raise.

This differs from a simple news item. In a news item you simply announce an event. You can do so in a few sentences and usually two to three paragraphs.

If news leads to a bigger story then you have the basis of an article. An article allows you to explain something that no one has solved before. Your article should solve or nearly solve that something.

I investigated Microsoft's political activities for nearly three years after I encountered their lobbying effort in Texas. I helped introduce an open source bill. Then I saw the dirty tricks for the first time.

I found ample information about Microsoft's attempt to influence the case against them in Federal Court. It didn't seem to make sense. I continued to collect the information I found hoping it would make sense.

I saw a small news article about a former Preston Gates lobbyist who had something to do with Tom DeLay's potential ethics hearing in Congress. I searched for information on that that lobbyist and discovered that Preston Gates had paid an American Express bill for part of one of DeLay's trips to Scotland. That allowed me to put the information I had gathered into a cohesive argument and gave me a scoop on Jack Abramoff.

Once I had a conclusion, I wrote an article and presented my facts. The facts lead to a way of reasoning and an argument. When comments surface that said Microsoft acted like any other corporation I had a counter argument.

Other corporations make contributions and lobby Congress. At the time the events occurred, Microsoft faced a breakup of the company. They had a different incentive for their intense lobbying effort.

When you structure the body of your article look at the kinds of thinking that exists in your readership. Will your article help them interpret the facts? If so, then start writing.

When you have eliminated the possibilities of who-done-it, you can begin the ending. You will find the ending much like the conclusion at the start of your article. You want to write an ending using less formal language and a clever statement.

Writing for a publication like Lxer requires an expository style. If you understand the guts of that style it can offer you a fun experience. Now, please go off and write something for me.

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Good Intro ci27CTr9 3 1,923 Feb 20, 2006 12:27 PM

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