Most Popular & Publishable Types of Nonfiction Articles (Part 1)

11 Apr

If you are a writer of nonfiction (for magazines, newspapers, websites), you may want to know what type of writing you should focus on. You may ask: What types of articles are most popular? Which articles should I devote my time to?

To make the most of your efforts, it’s important to understand the markets for which you want to write. You need to spend some time understanding what’s in the pages of that magazine or what’s most needed by the editor of a particular website.

The most basic place to start is at an understanding of what types of pieces you might consider selling. In this first part of a two-part entry, here are the most popular types of nonfiction articles you see in print today. Consider if they are the type of writing you’d like to publish.

How-to Articles

One primary reason people read magazines — or newspapers, or websites, or nonfiction books — is to learn how to do something. Most magazines strive to provide information for their readers that will make their lives easier, more productive, less stressful, or more enriching. How-to articles fill this need by providing step-by-step, usually simple, information for readers.

Open the magazine closest to you, and chances are you will quickly find a how-to article. Readers are told how to do almost anything, from how to lose weight, to how to improve job productivity, to how to encourage their child’s productivity, to how to save money at the grocery store, to how to make their marriage stronger.

Most freelancers should consider writing how-to stories. They are some of the easiest to research and write, simply because they are usually straightforward and not too complex. Most of us can tell someone how to do something. Everyone has an expertise — and if you don’t, you can interview someone who does. Therefore, material for a how-to article can come from personal experience or from interviewing an expert on the topic.

Although how-to articles are easy to write, that does not mean that they should not be written well. Even with a simple idea, you should be challenged to write about it in a way that a reader will find entertaining. You want to enhance your how-to piece with an interesting lead, good anecdotes, and strong examples.

A story on something you might consider bland or even “boring” — such as saving money at the gas pump, for example — can still be written and presented in an interesting way that will both help and entertain the reader.

Informational (or Service) Articles

Informational articles are closely related to how-to pieces. They both provide readers with useful information. Informational articles don’t, though, focus on how readers can do something but provide them with a storehouse of knowledge about a particular subject. They provide a whole slate of information about a topic — roses, breast cancer, Tuscan wineries, marathons, etc. — by providing the traditional 5 W’s learned in journalism training (the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a topic).

Informational articles require research because they must provide as much detail about the topic as possible. They should include good quotes, up-to-date statistics, resource information, and true-to-life examples.

These articles may not seem to be the most exotic to write, but magazines eat them up! They are worth learning how to do. You can make them interesting by selecting topics that particularly interest you and by using effective stylistic devices.

With informational articles, accompanying sidebars can be especially helpful. Sidebars make the articles even more marketable. They provide supplementary information on your topic. Editors find them especially appealing. An article on autism, for example, could include sidebars on resource websites, warning signs in young children, and a real-life story of a an adult with autism.

Personality Profiles (or Interviews)

People love to read about other people, which accounts for the popularity of personality profiles and interviews in most magazines. Profiles and interviews focus on one of two types of people: celebrities (actors, musicians, athletes, business people, leaders, or well-known people in certain fields), or ordinary people who have done something out-of-the-ordinary — people who have been through a crisis and come out stronger, have an unusual hobby, have achieved great success, have a special expertise, or make a special difference in other people’s lives. The people who are the focus of these stories are people who, in one way or another, will make an impression on the reader. They will inspire, or teach, or entertain them in some way.

These articles can be written in either of two ways. As profiles, they include information from the individual who is the focus of the article and information from interviews with friends, family members, colleagues, and anyone else who can add something to the article. As an interview, they contain information just from the person being profiled. They can be presented in a “question and answer” format, or the information from the interview can be incorporated in a narrative structure.

Personal Experience Pieces

The old adage “Write what you know” certainly applies to feature writers. Many magazines will pay for what you know and what you have experienced in the form of personal experience articles and essays.

In thinking about your experiences or things you know about especially well, you should consider if they are things that magazine readers could benefit from. With what aspect of your experience can other people identify? Was it an experience that was especially eye-opening, inspiring, harrowing, humorous, even unbelievable? Is your special knowledge something that can make a difference in the lives of your readers? Can they identify with your feelings or learn how to improve their lives from hearing about your experience and/or knowledge?

You can write about personal experiences in three different ways:

      1. As a narrative story based solely on your experience. Example: an article about your first-person experience traveling to Disney World

      2. As part of a larger article on a particular topic. Example: a how-to piece on taking care of elderly parents and you use your own experiences as a springboard for the article

      3. As an essay based on a personal experience, which provides a more esoteric meaning to the reader. Example:  an essay about your experiences cooking as a child with your grandmother

(Come back for part two of this entry, to learn about investigative articles, roundup pieces, historical articles, travel articles, opinion pieces, and short articles/fillers.)



One Response to “Most Popular & Publishable Types of Nonfiction Articles (Part 1)”

  1. Jonna April 17, 2012 at 7:44 pm #

    These are some great ideas. Thanks, Cheryl!

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