Sunday, August 31, 2014

Research Counts in Article Writing

I'm amazed at the lack of research in articles today. Compare a dozen online articles to any newspaper or national magazine article. (Fluff pieces not included.) Not only are numerous on-line articles less informative, they often create more questions than answers.

Even more appalling, is reading an article with unconfirmed, unfounded or worse, misinterpreted research.
Unfortunately quantity and urgency have replaced quality. Yes, readers want a lot of information, and they want it now.  But eventually, they catch on.  

Research might not be necessary if you have industry knowledge of a subject matter, but it always enhances any written piece--even when you don't include that research in the article.

How can research help when writing a basic article?

1) You'll make fewer mistakes between the lines. (More research means less assumptions and inaccuracies.)

2) You become trustworthy to all involved. Not only will readers appreciate when you confirm or enhance a fact by adding quotes from the actual source, the specialist (a professor, for example) will be more apt to make himself/herself available for future interviews. You might even receive exclusive updates.

3) You'll create a valuable contact list. The more you write knowledgeably about a subject or a professional, they more interviews you'll be granted. If you handle facts accurately, you could become the industry go-to person. Interviewees might just come to you.

4) Research can be used on additional projects. The more information you have on a subject, the more articles you can write. The more articles you write, the more coverage, the more backlinks, and the higher your search potential.  It doesn't take long before all that time and effort spent on research turns into valuable articles.

Five Simple Steps to Proper On-line Research

1) Start with keywords--most writers are willing to tackle this step. What they do next though, can make or break their long-term writing success.

2) Select appropriate links (Pick wisely. Opinion pieces and comments are useful reads for social subjects. However, anything informative should come from experts in the field). Never forget: the Internet does not guarantee accuracy. Tip: try links with .org on the end.

3) Scan for reliable links. What's worth highlighting? Statistics, studies, organizations, associations, experts, etc.

4) Go directly to the source...confirm statistics, review white papers/studies/clinical trials written by the specialists, visit legitimate associations and organizations, contact the professionals directly and ask for a brief interview. While this is often the most time consuming step, it is also the most important, and the one harried writers tend to avoid. See interviewing tips here.

5) Throrough interviews do not have to take long. Ask your source if they prefer a phone interview, video chat or email.  My favorite technique?  I prefer to email my basic questions and then follow up with a taped (with permission, of course) phone interview if necessary.  This way, the interviewee's time is respected (they can take as little or as much time as they like). They can confirm and guarantee that the information that I received is accurate and in their words.  And it's less likely I will make a mistake transferring the information. A follow-up phone call adds tone and confirms any potential misunderstandings. For more interview tips click here.

6) Be prepared to ask the interviewee for clarification as you continue your research. End all interviews with a thank you and brief request to call/email back if any confirmation is required.

7) Carefully choose the information relevant to your story. Categorize the remaining research for future or complentary articles.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Your Words

Have something to say?   Want to include a link to your own site?

One Life to Write wants to hear from you. 

What you can contribute:
1) A story (creative writing, poems, journal entries, funny stories, etc.) *

2) An article YOU created.

3) Favorite quotes (please provide proper attribution/link if the quote is not yours).

4) A non-fiction story: funny, interesting, curious, etc.

5) A request for advice

Here are the requirements:
1) The work must be YOURS, absolutely NO copyright infringement.  Short quotes with proper attribution or famous quotes might be allowed.

2) Absolutely NO lewd content, rude attitude (funny, sarcastic is probably okay), no swearing.  Please save this for your site.  Controversial might be allowed, depending on the content.

4) *Regarding creative writing pieces: If you do NOT want to include your entire piece on this site OR if you are concerned about the content-- excerpts are welcomed.  Just make sure it's a good one, something that will pull the readers to your site!

5) No selling, affiliate links, spamming, etc. is allowed in or with the content.

6) Please, please make sure any articles are accurate and informative.  Otherwise, we both look bad.

7) Understand, potential contributions must be approved before they are published.  I will do my best to approve them within a day.  However, that isn't always possible.  

MOST IMPORTANTLY, you can include YOUR LINK (blog, twitter, website, etc.) with your contribution, plus a brief notation about you or your site.   The only thing I ask, is that you kindly return the favor, and offer a link back to One Life to Write. And if you really enjoy the site, spread the word.  I'm happy to do the same for you. (You can still contribute without a link.)

If you are interested in contributing, please use the contact form to the right.

Return to One Life to Write Blog

An opportunity is also available on my sister site: More Than Mom.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Start With Pictures

Pictures are worth a thousand words, right?

Here's a beautiful way to get your words flowing.

I've gathered three pictures.  You put them together (any way you'd like) in a story.  If you can't get started on paper (darn writer's block), create a short story in your head first.   The beauty of this prompt is that you can write a little or a lot, but no matter what, you'll have something lovely to look at in the end!

Here's another set. Perhaps, a bit more sinister?  You decide...


Proper Notes and citations

Here's a quick run down on how to properly research and cite facts for articles.

1) Use proper resources 
2) Interview the direct source whenever possible
(See 'accepted query, now what' post for more detailed information on resources and interviews.)

Next, be sure to:
1) Prepare questions ahead of time. This keeps you organized and makes note taking faster.  

2) My best suggestion is to always record the conversation. You can find recording devices at most electronic stores (or find apps online). Because laws vary by state, recording a conversation without permission may be illegal. Always ask your interviewee for permission and get that permission on tape. If the interviewee says "no". Turn off the device immediately. If you are able to record the conversation, the audio will protect you any many ways: you can check for mistakes, clarification and you'll make the magazine fact-checkers job much easier (especially, if you take a few minutes to provide a written transcript).  

3) Double check proper spelling of any names, proper nouns, etc. 

4) Ask for references to other useful, reliable sources. 

5) Try to take notes during the interview. I prefer NOT to rely on the recording alone; you don't want to be surprised by a malfunction. Plus, written notes bring you one step closer to a written article, particularly if you want to cut and paste exact quotes or statistics. (Note: use the recording to confirm the quote/stats are correct.)

6) Provide your notes, transcript (and/or the actual recording if requested) for the fact checkers. For national publications, I provide two copies of my article. The first copy is the consumer version. The second connects the facts/statistics to the source.  Remember the good old bibliography? If you're concerned about the traditional bibliography format, visit an online site for proper citations. Most magazines, however, are happy with citations that are easy to confirm/follow. Here are some quick examples:
1 Dr. Douglas, Eric interview, transcript page 4, audio 1:10,
Need for Later Start Times,

8) Please note, these are my suggestions based on the editors I've worked with. The best option for you really comes down to the specific expectations from your editor.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Query Accepted--Now What?

Use your query as a guide.You already created
the layout for your article. You have a working title, an interesting lead, a few important statistics, excellent resources, and the subsections (or main points) of your article.
If you need a review on the major query points, click here.
  1. Remember, the first draft is just that--a draft-- for your eyes only. (This allows you take general notes without fear of perfection.) You'll utilize it to get your juices flowing, note any items that could be of value to the article, and eventually allow you to organize sections and dismiss any unnecessary notations.
  2. Writing an article for a magazine, is ALMOST like writing a term paper for school. The most important similarities include: accurate facts, reliable resources, traceable notes (see below) and an organized format. Do NOT underestimate these components.
Accuracy and reliable sources:
First, make sure you've included the latest facts available. Statistics change often.

Facts/statistics should come from reliable and respectable organizations. Never utilize statistics from biased companies/people. Find a different or secondary source.  Also, never assume any .com website is accurate. One trick is to include .org in your search (typically reserved for organizations, such as American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institute of Mental Health, universities, large hospitals, etc.). Another option is to search recent studies and reliable scientific publications. Again, only use reliable sources--how? Go directly to the source. Who was in charge of the study: a physician at a hospital? Go to the hospital or physician's website. Then contact them for a brief interview.  The worst that can happen is they'll say "no". 
Most important tip: Interview the direct source WHENEVER you can!  I didn't expect to get the lead physician in charge of the tears study for "Cry, Baby", but I did. Guess, what?  Despite the various articles written about his study, hardly any journalist had contacted him directly.   Instead those authors took their facts from the other articles. Dr. Frey admitted to me that most of the articles covering his study were incorrect. Sad, but true. Taking this extra time ensured a more detailed, more accurate article. 

One more tip worth mentioning is to make sure you take excellent notes. Improper or lazy note taking sets you up for serious mistakes, misquotes, and if the magazine fact-checkers find the mistakes for you, you're not likely to get a second chance.
See tips for proper note taking.

Now, the fun part: How do articles often differ from term papers:
By VOICE. Some magazines (such as scientific or technical journals) are more likely to resemble a term paper.  However, the majority of consumer articles will have a definite voice or tone. The voice is usually determined by the magazine (or business). Check recent versions at of the magazine at your local library. Are most of the articles conversational? Is the audience directly addressed by using "you" in the sentences? Are articles broken into multiple subheads?  Is the tone serious, silly, flirty, etc?   Matching the tone is critical if you want to connect with both the audience and the editors at the magazine.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Acceptance Letter

Here's the Results of the Query

Dear Susan,

Thanks for sending us a pitch on crying during pregnancy; as we discussed, we'd like it for our Your Body Third Trimester section in the June 2008 issue. It should run 800 words total and it is due the week of February 4.

Working Title: Go Ahead and Cry, Baby
Synopsis: Hormones can make a woman feel like laughing, screaming, and crying all at the same time:-Combine these with the fears and frustrations of pregnancy and it's no wonder moms-to-be sometimes feel like bawling. This story will explain for readers the difference between reflex tears and emotional tears, and why pregnant woman are more prone to crying. It will also explain the theory behind why a good cry can be good for
you. You will base your research on interviews with Dr. William Frey, the author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, and at least one additional medical expert, hopefully an ob/gyn or psychologist who specializes in pregnancy. A couple of stories or anecdotes
from real moms would be fantastic as well.
Sidebar box: This could be a cute list of ways to cope with pregnancy tears ... maybe a kit you could carry along with tissues and mascara, ideas for how to excuse yourself without too much embarrassment, where to go when you feel the need to cry, what not to do when the tears come on (like drive!). Let me know if you have other ideas. I look forward to reading your article!


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Query Letter Example--Large

Link to Query Letter Tips

Current Editor’s name

Dear (Editor’s name):


I'd like to propose the following 600 to 800 word article for Pregnancy’s What’s Kickin’: News You Can Use, titled "Go Ahead and Cry, Baby!"  
Hormones can make a woman feel like laughing, screaming and crying-- all at that same time.  Combine these hormones with the fears and frustrations of pregnancy, and it’s no wonder moms-to-be sometimes feel like bawling. According to Dr. William Frey II, biochemist and author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, pregnant women should.  Dr. Frey and many psychologists believe crying is crucial to both our mental and physical well-being. “Go Ahead and Cry, Baby!” explains:
1)  The difference between emotional tears and reflex tears (those caused by irritations such as sand or a peeled onion)
2)  Unlike reflex tears, emotional tears contain:
  • Leucine-enkephalin - Endorphins (painkillers)
  • Andrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) – An indicator of stress and related to high blood pressure, heart problems, etc.
  • Manganese - A mineral that affects mood
3)  Emotional tears remove stressors from the body
4)  Tears also contain prolactin (the same hormone that  stimulates milk production)
  • Women have more prolactin than men (50-60% more)
  •  Pregnant women have an even higher level of prolactin (making them even more prone to crying)
 5) Go ahead and cry, it’s good for you!
This article includes interviews from Dr. Frey  and psychologists, as well as comments from pregnant moms. It can be completed in two weeks or less from acceptance.  Sidebars are available if required.
I’m coauthor of the Half-Dolls Guide Book published by Hobby House Press.  I’ve published more than 300 articles in a variety of magazines, newspapers and trade journals including these national publications:  Pregnancy magazine, Family Fun, Pregnancy & Newborn and others.   I currently publish a monthly column titled “Mom’s Talk.”   My fiction has appeared in literary magazines.   My true passion is fiction/novel writing.   Clips are available upon request.
Thank you (Name)
Contact Information