HOW TO WRITE THE "BASIC" ARTICLE
I take issue with those who say a picture is worth a thousand words. It is simply not always the case. Without a caption, a picture can often leave viewers scratching their heads saying, “Huh?”
David Ogilvy, founder of the Ogilvy and Mather ad agency and guru of modern advertising, notes that photo captions are usually the first thing a person will read on the page. So if you're ever in advertising, be sure your photos don't stand alone. Add some sales copy beneath that picture, to clarify or reinforce the message you’re trying to communicate.
Granted, properly chosen photos and illustrations almost always enhance an article, story or poem. But they are not necessary to communication. Some of my favorite portions of magazines are those non-illustrated sections like editorials, columns, and letters to the editor. The key is good ideas, well-presented.
Essentially, what I wanted to present here is an overview of your basic article structure.There are many kinds of articles. If you read at all you'll soon recognize their distinguishing characteristics. Here, off the top of my head, are just a few of your most common article types: list articles, how-to articles, features, question and answer articles, and (today’s subject) your basic article.
Having a pattern or structure helps both the reader and the writer. Instead of a hodgepodge of miscellaneous notions, the reader is guided along and does not have to work at understanding what is being said. Perhaps you've had the experience of reading something and not “getting it” and thinking it was you. Frequently it is not you at all, but the writer who is at fault. The writer has not done his or her job, which is to communicate clearly.
It’s similar to bad handwriting. Yes, one can eventually decipher it, but it would be more courteous if the letter were written legibly.
Having a structure also helps the writer. It provides a form for organizing one’s ideas. I like think of it like pouring a concrete patio. First you build the forms using a network of boards; then you pour in the concrete. Once you have your structure, pouring out your ideas can be relatively easy.
The “basic” article consists, basically, of the intro (or hook), the billboard, the body and the ending, which is usually a summary or conclusion. When teaching writing, always challenge your children or students to think in terms of readers. This is especially important with writing introductions. In a world filled with television, video games and a thousand other distractions, one must learn to grab the reader quickly. Whether it's a story, an essay, a letter to the editor or a business proposal, a good opening whets the appetite, creates anticipation and gets the reader engaged. No matter what their writing assignment, be sure to remind your kids to make the beginning zing. They'll probably surprise you! I know my kids always did.
The next section of your basic article is the billboard. The billboard is a brief paragraph, usually no more than a few sentences, that tells the reader where your article is headed. In this particular article it is paragraph four. The meat of your article, that is, the main part of what you are writing, is called the body. Of course you can call it anything you want. Sometimes it is a little plump and should be trimmed a bit, but you don’t want to be all skin and bones. In the body of your basic article you generally make three main points to support your premise, or to flesh out your topic. Whether it is five hundred words or five thousand, it is easier if you break your main article into sections. When writing longer articles I almost always add subheads to help the reader identify the main sections.
The summary, or conclusion, is usually best if brief. You know how tiresome long goodbyes can be. Long endings can be the same. Once you've made your point, take a bow. Tie up the loose ends and do the sayonara.
In short, your basic article has four parts. An intro that hooks the reader, a billboard that announces where you're going, the body which amplifies what you are trying to say, and your conclusion.
I know you can do it. And so can your kids.
TIP: If you do not already have a copy of the compact and profoundly simple Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, then be sure to buy one. It will help every aspiring writer and writing teacher, and help improve the quality of communication in the age to come.