Writer's retreat

Writer's retreat

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Writing articles

Most people who call themselves writers refer to their ability to create fiction, but many careers rest on the art of article writing. Ask any academic what keeps them in post and considered the leading light in a particular field and they will reel off a list of articles published in academic and popular journals. Indeed, you cannot apply for any research or lecturing university post unless you have published copious amounts of academic articles. Even junior pre-registration doctors start their careers with their name at the very end of a list of collaborators of a piece of published research.

While writers struggle to place short stories in a dwindling number of popular magazines, the market for article writing is much broader. As well as professional journals which require each article to be peer reviewed before they publish, there are also niche market publications and most charities and societies will have their own in-house publications which are usually desperate for copy.

Unfortunately the potential for payment for writing articles is probably just as limited as it is for stories. Most special interest commercial magazines will pay for one or two page articles and will provide their own illustrations. This is true of some professional magazines as well, although the dilemma then is - did you write them in your own time or in work time? If you claim the fee for yourself, you have to declare it for tax purposes, which then upsets your PAYE arrangements and brings you the delights of a fully fledged tax return.

Most special interest magazines and some professional journals will not pay for articles, even though they are commercial ventures with a cost per copy to their reading public. They claim they don’t have the resources to pay their feature writers. Instead you receive two copies of the magazine, so you can keep all your articles in a folder to impress new editors or lend them to friends to dazzle them with your achievements in the big wide world.

To write a good article, the process is the same as for stories. You need a title which will catch the eye of your reader. (This may be your own or may be provided by the magazine editor of a newspaper sub-editor.) Your first sentence must be dynamic and engage the reader before they turn the page and move on to something else.

Every article has an introduction, a middle and a conclusion. You tell the reader what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then describe what you’ve told them. Short articles need short, interesting sentences which move the information forward, trying not to drown the reader in whatever technical jargon might be involved. A designated word length helps to keep the writer focused, making sure each word helps to improve the article’s “story”.

I am not a prolific article writer, but I am successful in getting my articles published in both professional and niche market publications based both in the UK and the US. I write about the health service, mainly using stories told to me during my time supporting complainants. I also write about herbs and esoteric matters, depending on what subject matter tickles my fancy.

Article writing has been on my mind recently because I’ve had another complaints article published in Health Care Risk Report this week. The article argues the moral case to investigate a complaint after the statutory time limit has passed because sometimes people are too traumatised by an event to complain earlier.

I’ve also been writing two articles for the Solihull Writers Workshop annual non-fiction writing competition, adjudicated and sponsored by a former member, Mike Megano. Both articles are about subjects I’m interested in and hopefully, after the competition I shall send them out somewhere for possible publication.