Magazine Writing

Originally part of the Suite101 University ecourses offered for free. This content is being removed by Suite101. I wanted to keep it active and useful for myself and others.

Magazine Writing

By Lisa-Anne Sanderson



If you’ve always had an ambition to write, freelance writing for magazines is an excellent place to start. Writing non-fiction articles can be a fun and lucrative hobby, or an interesting way to earn a living. The rise of technology provides writers with the freedom to work at home, another big advantage. The Internet is a wonderful way of doing research, and emails and faxes provide the convenience of being able to send articles straight from home, although some magazine editors still require them to be posted.

There is a magazine to cover everyone’s area of interest, whether it is travel, history, parenthood or women’s issues. There are also trade and industry magazines which are even more specialized, but often pay well. Another big advantage is that freelance writers are not restricted to the magazines of their own country. The Internet can be used to find markets in other countries and email saves the cost of international postage.

There are also many e-zines and websites that pay writers, although writing for magazines is usually more lucrative. Countless websites are designed to benefit writers. They often include helpful articles, links for writers and useful lists of markets.

Many people want to write freelance but are unsure where to begin. This course will give you all the information you need to enable you to begin writing for magazines.

It will show you how to use your background and interests as a starting point and show you the right procedure to begin freelance writing. By the end of the course you will know how to research and write articles for magazines.

If you are interested in freelance writing as a career, however, it is best to ease your way into it. Unless you have a lot of experience and good connections, making a reasonable living as a writer can be difficult. It is usually best to write as a hobby, and see where this leads, unless you have independent means. However, if your articles are interesting and designed for the right market, and you have determination and perseverance anything is possible! As Peter de Vries succinctly remarked: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at nine o’clock every morning”. (The Observer, 1980)

The course will answer your questions on doing research, finding and analyzing potential markets, writing query letters, outlining articles, and the process of writing an article.

My lessons will concentrate on the following areas:

  • How to find ideas
  • Finding markets
  • Matching ideas to markets
  • How to research your article
  • Writing and submitting query letters
  • Writing outlines
  • Writing and submitting articles


Many freelancers, especially beginners, can feel extremely dejected and perhaps even depressed by rejection letters. Sometimes an editor can be unduly critical. Sometimes they don’t answer query letters or submissions at all. This can be quite difficult to handle, and I will give you some tips on some ways to cope with this kind of rejection.

During the course I will use the process of researching and writing an actual article as an example. I will also provide links to writer’s markets, newsletters, and helpful web sites for writers.

Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?

Lesson 1: What should you write about? In this lesson you will discover how to find ideas and markets, and how to match ideas to markets.


Lesson Objectives and Glossary


The objectives of this lesson are to give you a clear picture of how to find ideas; how to judge whether an idea is marketable; how to research markets and most crucially, how to match your ideas to markets. The resources I will use are: Michael Perry’s Handbook for Freelance Writing and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freelance Publishing. Another helpful book which I will quote from is Writing for Magazines by Jill Dick.


Angle: the theme or argument of your article. This should be fresh and original.

Clips: these are samples of your writing.

Queries: these are letters summing up the themes of your articles to see whether they are suitable for your intended markets.

Markets: these are the magazines in which you would like to be published.

Sample copies: these are issues of the magazine. Sometimes you can find free issues, but often you have to buy a sample copy.

Writer’s guidelines: Many magazines publish writer’s guidelines. Some are very detailed but others are unfortunately very vague. Usually, however, they will say what kind of articles they want, whether they are accessible to freelancers, the style of the articles that they want, and the word length they require.


By the end of the course you should be able to fulfil your dream of successfully writing articles for magazines.


Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?


The famous writer Sinclair Lewis once held a writing seminar at which he asked his students what they were doing there. He asked them if they wanted to be writers why weren’t they at home writing? The students were probably astonished to be greeted in this way, but there is much truth in what the irascible author said. Writers love to write.

Whether you want to take up writing as a hobby, or make it your career, it is a good idea to write every day. Even if you are not working on an article or story, keeping a journal or writing a letter is still good practice.

Writers usually like to read widely. Classical authors, such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, and, of course, Shakespeare, with their eloquent and lyrical language are the writers that I would recommend the most. However, read and study the magazines that you intend to write for. Note their style – do the writers use short, snappy sentences or are they long and convoluted? Are the articles easy to understand and simple, or more academic? Do they use unusual words? Reader’s Digest articles, for example, are written so that a thirteen year old of average intelligence can understand them.

Arguably the most important traits for a writer are determination and persistence. There are many stories of authors who received countless rejection slips but finally achieved success. As the old adage goes: Never give up. Most, if not all writers do not have their first articles accepted, but don’t take rejection personally. According to Gordon Wells: “…anyone can do it. You don’t need to be a literary genius – that could indeed be a disadvantage. You don’t even need to have done well at English at School. Editors are more interested in good ideas than beautiful phrases.”1

Writing for magazines comprises finding marketable ideas, suitable markets, submitting query letters and researching, writing and submitting articles. It is an enjoyable and interesting hobby or career, but extremely competitive and not as easy as it may sound. If you want to make writing your career it is best to ease your way into it, and work out your chances of success very carefully, unless you have independent means. One excellent journalist I read about stated that his earnings for one year were only $14,000.00 Australian dollars – hardly enough to live on. As a supplement to an average yearly income, however, it would be a useful sum.

1 Wells, Gordon. The Craft of Writing Articles: A Practical Guide. Allison & Busby, London, 1983., p. 7

Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?

Finding Good Ideas

Writers find ideas everywhere – from newspapers, magazines, books, television and conversations, for example. It is good practice to read an article and think of a fresh angle on the topic. Imagine that you have recently read an article about a castle, for example. Could you expand on the castle’s history? Do the owners have an unusual way of making money? Were any of the former owners especially interesting? You can often ‘brainstorm’ and obtain many different angles based on the one subject.


1. Using your professional background can give you a headstart in the competitive world of freelance writing. Michael Perry, author of the Handbook for Freelance Writing, has a bachelor’s degree in nursing. He writes patient profiles for an in-house hospital publication and chapters for a medical/legal textbook company. I have a Law degree and often write legal articles. One big advantage of using your professional background is that you can write for fellow professionals or you can simplify complicated subjects so that lay people can understand them more easily.

2. Write about what you care about. If you are passionate about a particular subject it is likely to show in your writing. You may, for example, be concerned about the effect of violence on TV and film on children or the easy availability of drugs. The proviso is, however, that health can be a difficult field to break into.

3. Write about your personal experiences – they could be life-changing, humorous or romantic. You may know someone with an interesting story who would make a good interview subject.

4. Hobbies and activities that you like doing will provide you with many ideas. If you like films and books, for example, you could write reviews. Some other examples include travel, technology and sports.

5. How-to articles are always in demand. Use the skills that you are good at to write these. You may be a wine buff, for example, and able to teach others about wine.

6. Humorous articles are popular, but many people, including me, find them difficult to write. The antics of children or articles which are slightly self-deprecating are usually enjoyed by many people.

7. Seasonal articles are always in demand, for example, articles about Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving. So many articles have been written about the history and customs of these celebrations, however, that it is more difficult to find a fresh angle than with many other subjects.

Most writers keep clips of articles about the subjects which they want to write about – to help their research and to provide fresh ideas. An ‘ideas file’ with clips from newspapers and magazines is very helpful. Remember also the wise advice to always keep a notebook handy! A writer is like the Australian bower-bird: obtaining ideas in many different ways.

Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?

Original Angles

Ideas that are based on what people want to know are always going to be popular. These include:


  • How to save time
  • How to save money
  • How to be loved
  • How to make money.1Some examples include: ‘Ten Ways to Minimize your Taxes’, ‘Secrets of a Light Packer’, ‘Unusual Ways to find your Soulmate’ and ‘Secrets of Successful Homeworkers’. You can use these simple themes to find ideas on any topic. Take travel, for example. Here are some article ideas based on these themes:
  • ‘Best available airfare deals’
  • ‘How to work all over the World’
  • ‘Ten Ways to save money in Paris’You can also target many different markets by using variations on the one theme. Take my previous example of writing about a castle. There are countless ideas suitable for different markets that you could think of. An article about the castle’s history may well be suitable for a heritage magazine, for example, while an article about the castle’s unusual architecture might be published in an architecture magazine.The old advice to writers is to write about what you know. This can make your research easier and faster. It also provides lay people with an ‘insider’s’ view. Your professional credentials can also help you to get your pieces published. You can also provide factual anecdotes more easily. Michael Perry, for example, wrote about the neurological rehabilitation unit he had worked in as a nurse. It was the first article that he ever had published, and his professional background helped. His work also gave him access to the latest neurological advances which helped inform the article.However, this doesn’t mean that you should never write about what you don’t know. People who write about something as a beginner can often explain things more clearly because their work isn’t riddled with jargon. Professionals who are familiar with terms that they write about can often assume that their readers are as well. The research is much more difficult, and it is harder to make sure that you ‘have your facts right’ but it can be a rewarding experience, leading you into new areas of writing and new markets.The famous author Janet Dailey once stated that: “The worst advice I ever got in my life was to write what you know…you can research and learn anything”. Michael Perry set out to write an article about monster trucks, a subject he knew nothing about. He did so much research that “When it came time to write the piece, I was armed with all those critical bits of minutiae that can make the difference between a cursory overview-type article and a piece that truly takes the reader to the heart of the experience – whether it be monster truck racing or brain surgery”.32. Bykofsky, Sheree, Sander, Jennifer and Rominger, Lynne. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles. Alpha Books. Indeanapolis, USA. 2000, p.783. Perry, Michael. Handbook for Freelance Writing. NTC Business Books, Chicago, Illinois, p.56

    Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?

    Researching Markets

    The magazines that you buy and like to read will probably be the magazines in which you would like to see your articles published. Keep in mind the proviso, however, that it is often best to start submitting to magazines which are more accessible to new writers. These are likely to be those with a smaller circulation that pay less than the larger, well-established ones. Magazines such as Reader’s Digest and Woman’s Day, for example, are hard markets to break into. Generally if a magazine pays a lot, then it will be more difficult to ‘crack’. Even writing for free at the beginning can provide you with experience and published clips to send to editors. It must be admitted, however, that writers are often exploited or scammed, and really shouldn’t be expected to work for nothing. Charities are an exception, because you are using your skills to benefit a cause.

    You should study your intended market thoroughly. Look at quite a few copies, or, if that isn’t possible, at least a sample copy, and look at:


    • How many articles are published by freelancers? If the magazine is entirely written by the staff freelance articles are probably used very rarely, if at all.
    • The demographics of the magazine. This means circulation and advertising. Who are the magazine’s readers? Is it aimed at up-market, wealthy people? Are the readers professionals? Are they mainly women or men?
    • Departments and fillers. See if these are staff-written, if possible. These are often areas that are easier to break into.
    • The kind of articles published. Are there many interviews? Do they include many anecdotes? Do they publish stories about personal experiences?
    • The style of the writing. Is it snappy and chatty, or more academic and serious?Sometimes you can obtain a media kit which tells you about the readers of the magazine – their ages, interests and income, for example.Sometimes it is easier to break into new magazines which often have a greater need for new writers.Most magazines have sample copies and writer’s guidelines. Study these very carefully. Many editors complain that many writers who submit articles have never read any issues of their magazines.There are many books of writer’s markets containing general guidelines for magazines. There are also many Internet sites such as Writer’s which contain several guidelines. Study these and circle all those which interest you as possible markets.

Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?

Matching Ideas to Markets

According to Jill Dick the most successful freelancers find their potential markets first and then think of ideas which they think might match them. This is easier than thinking of the ideas first and then finding possible markets for them, because you have something tangible for which to aim.

Think carefully about what kind of idea would suit your potential market. A health magazine may be interested in new research on a particular disease, for example. Women’s magazines are often interested in human interest stories, or interviews with famous people. The latter could also be suitable for TV and screen magazines if they involve famous actors.

There are many different types of markets. They include:

1. Consumer magazines. These include women’s magazines and magazines on different subjects – everything from general interest to stamp-collecting. It is easiest to start with specialist magazines which often don’t pay as much as the larger ones, such as a cricket magazine, for example.

Women’s magazines are incredibly popular. According to Jill Dick: “Women buy over 80% of all titles of all types and ‘women’s interest’ titles sell in greater quantities than do those in any other single section of the market”. This field is extremely competitive, but pays very well and it is worth aiming for this market.

2. Trade Magazines. These are magazines for particular occupations and industries. There are trade magazines for lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers… the list is endless. If you know a lot about a particular, specialised area it is worth checking the trade magazines. They often pay well, and are more accessible to new writers. However, according to Michael Perry, your research and facts have to be double-checked. Slips are likely to be noticed by specialist readers.

Even if you don’t know about the subject but you’re interested in writing about it it is sometimes possible to have your articles published in a trade magazine. This is harder, however. A magazine for engineers, for example, is not likely to want articles from lay people.

3. Literary Magazines. These have small circulations and don’t usually pay well, if at all. However, the quality of the writing is usually excellent and publication in these can be quite prestigious. ‘In the end, writing for literary publications will serve you two ways: it will reinvest your writing with emotion, and it will add life to your ‘everyday’ writing.

It is worth looking for new magazines, and for free copies of magazines that you may want to target. Airline magazines, for example, are often free. You can often find the latest issues of magazines which come from overseas at the newsagent at the airport.

You should now have a clearer idea of how to find marketable ideas and how to match your articles to markets.

Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?


Read and study some issues of a particular magazine that you are interested in writing for. See if you can come up with ten ideas for articles which you think will interest the editor.

Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?

Optional Reading Assignment

Read Chapters Six and Seven of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles. Note that this is only suggested, not required reading.

Lesson 1: What Should I Write About?


Bykofsky, Sheree, Sander, Jennifer and Rominger, Lynne. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles. Alpha Books. Indeanapolis, USA. 2000

Perry, Michael. Handbook for Freelance Writing. NTC Business Books, Chicago, Illinois,1995

Wells, Gordon. The Craft of Writing Articles: A Practical Guide. Allison & Busby, London, 1983.,

Lesson 2: Writing Query Letters

In this lesson you will learn about query letters and how you should structure a query letter.

Lesson Introduction and Objectives

Query letters, if done properly, show that you are a professional writer, and save time and money. Many magazine editors do not even accept unsolicited articles, but will look at query letters from freelancers. Sending a letter first to see if an article idea interests the editor can be done much more quickly than researching and writing a whole article. If you send an article instead, you run the risk that the editor may not even read it and that it may not be returned. You may also have spent a lot of time and money on research.

However, be sure to always check the writer’s guidelines of the magazine. Some editors would rather receive actual articles than letters of enquiry. At the beginning, too, you may feel more comfortable writing an article rather than a query letter. Writing a query letter can be more difficult than writing an article, so you may be better off sending unsolicited articles at first, if allowed by the guidelines.

Many magazines have web sites now where you can read sample articles from back issues to give you an idea of their style and content. Many of them also contain writer’s guidelines which will tell you whether they accept unsolicited articles. Often query letters and articles can be emailed which saves the time of printing them out and mailing them. Many editors, however, still like to receive queries and articles by post.

Like anything, writing good query letters takes practice. I read about one freelance writer who aims to send one per day, which is an excellent idea.

Objectives and Resources

After this lesson you should have a clearer idea of what a query letter is and how to write one. Resources I will use are The Handbook for Freelance Writing by Michael Perry and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles.

Lesson 2: Writing Query Letters

How do you Structure a Query Letter?

The purpose of a query letter is to interest the editor in your article, convincing him or her that it would provide excellent copy for the magazine. It should be attractive, attention-grabbing, well-written and, needless to say, free from any grammatical or spelling errors.

Query letters should usually only be one page long, although the example given in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freelance Writing and some of the queries in Michael Perry’s excellent chapter are longer. At the beginning, however, it is suggested that one page is enough.

A one-page query letter should have three to four paragraphs. The first paragraph is usually designed to catch the eye of the editor. A boring beginning is not a good idea. Grab his or her attention by an interesting statistic, a quotation, or perhaps a startling fact. In Query Letter 6, for example, of Michael Perry’s examples, he captures the editor’s attention with this sentence: “Do you remember where you were the day Big Boy died?”1. This sentence, with the substitution of Princess Diana for Big Boy, could be used for a query letter concerning an article about her. He has grabbed attention by jolting the editor’s memory. Personalizing the article idea is also a good technique.

In the sample query letter in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freelance Writing, the writer uses a mutual connection to obtain the editor’s attention.2. This is a very good idea if it can be managed because it establishes credibility.

Apparently not all editors like an eye-catching opening, however. According to Michael Perry, some are tired of this technique and would prefer a clear, direct and straightforward opening saying why the article would interest the readers. “One thing is certain…skip the small talk and get right to the point”.3.

In one sample query letter in Perry’s book he opens by flattering the magazine, showing that he knows the publication and the type of articles it contains. This is also a good way to open a query letter.

The second and possibly third paragraphs should summarize the theme of the article and the angle of the article clearly and succinctly. They should also tell the editor why the article is suitable for his or her magazine. Interesting facts and interview subjects should be included here. Michael Perry favours bulleted lists on occasion, especially if the magazine’s articles contain them. They can provide clear and direct summaries. Make sure all of your facts are correct before sending your query letter, however. If an editor notices a slip he is unlikely to give you an assignment.

The last paragraph should sum up why you think you are qualified to write the article. Here you can mention any relevant educational qualifications or specialist knowledge, and whether you have had work published before. It is a good idea to include a clip or two especially if you have had previous articles published on similar subjects.

End your letter in a polite manner. Michael Perry’s sentence: “I thank you for your time and consideration and look forward to your reply” is a lovely and sincere ending, which most editors would like.

How to submit your Query Letter

Query letters should be professional. Don’t use unusual stationery or fancy paper, such as coloured or gold leaf or paper with pretty designs. Use plain, white stationery. Fancy signatures also look unprofessional. The query letter itself, should convince the editor that you can write the article. Always include a SSAE so that the editor can reply.

Check carefully for any grammatical or spelling mistakes before sending your letter. Also always address the letter to the editor.

In many cases you can submit query letters by email, but the same procedure applies for the format.

1. Perry, Michael. Handbook for Freelance Writing. NTC Business Books. Chicago, Illinois, USA, p.100

2.Bykofsky, Sheree, Sander, Jennifer and Rominger, Lynne, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles, Alpha Books, Macmillan, USA, 2000, p. 93

3.Perry, Michael. Ibid.,p.93

Lesson 2: Writing Query Letters

Lesson 2 Exercise

Think of an article idea for a magazine and write a practice query letter.

Lesson 2: Writing Query Letters

Optional Reading Assignment

Read Chapter Eight of Michael Perry’s Handbook for Freelance Writing. Study the sample query letters.

Lesson 2: Writing Query Letters


Bykofsky, Sheree, Sander, Jennifer and Rominger, Lynne. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles. Alpha Books. Indeanapolis, USA, 2000.

Perry, Michael. Handbook for Freelance Writing. NTC Business Books. Chicago, Illinois, 1995.

Wells, Gordon. The Craft of Writing Articles: A Practical Guide. Allison & Busby, London, 1983.

Lesson 3: How to Research your Article and Write an Outline

In this lesson you’ll learn about the secrets of research and how to outline your articles.

Lesson Introduction and Objectives

Once you receive your first assignment you’re ready to research and write the article. The editor’s acceptance letter should be read very carefully. Some are quite detailed, outlining the style, the required length, the deadline and the proposed fee. There might also be some discussion of the angle of the article. Other letters can be very vague, however.

Many editors will only accept articles from unknown writers on spec; i.e. they will only publish the article if it is acceptable for the magazine. Sometimes they require changes in style, or more details about the facts before they will publish the article. Unfortunately, many magazines only pay on publication, so if the piece is not published, no cheque will arrive in the mail!

Sometimes a kill fee is paid. This is intended to provide some compensation for the time, research and writing of the article, even though it is not accepted for publication. Many American magazine editors will pay kill fees.

Michael Perry gives good advice about how to maximize your money from writing. He states that: “When I’m pitching a story idea, I begin by creating a list of magazines for which the topic is appropriate. I then order that list based on the mercenary principle of who pays the most! Then I work my way down from the top, submitting proposals to high-paying markets first.”

Research can be so fascinating that it can be difficult to leave it and actually write the article! It is also much easier these days because of the Internet. Researching on the Internet saves time and can usually be done from the comfort of your own home. However, it is not often possible to do all the required research on the Internet. Encyclopedias, reference books, interviews with experts, brochures – all of these are useful. In this lesson, I hope to give you some tips to make your research faster and easier.

It is a good idea to have a plan or outline for your article before you begin to write. Some editors require outlines for suggested stories while others may ask for summaries of the theme. A plan helps you to know where to start, and can help to make the article smoother. It is true that some writers like to write their articles without a plan, but beginners, especially, tend to find them helpful. You don’t have to stick to the outline absolutely, but can change it around while writing. In this lesson I will show you how to prepare a plan for your article.

The article itself is the most important part of the process. It should be informative and interesting and keep the reader’s attention. I would suggest that more time should be spent on writing and editing the actual article than on the research. It can be easy to include too many facts and fall into the trap of ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’.

In this lesson I will use the two books which are recommended and the web sites listed in the Research section of the links.

Lesson 3: How to Research your Article and Write an Outline

Researching Your Article

When you are about to research your article it can be difficult to know where to start. One way is to imagine that you are a reader of the magazine and ask yourself what you would want to know? What facts and anecdotes should the article contain to give it more life? How can you make the subject more exciting?

There are many different research ‘tools’ that a writer can use. These include the Internet, encyclopedias, reference and introductory books, magazines and newspapers and interviews. It is easiest to start with the general and then move to the specific.

If I were writing an article on the many different types of shells, for example, (a subject that I know little about) I would start by looking up shells in one or two encyclopedias. I would also look at reference and introductory books and perhaps some articles and interview an expert or two.

Researching on the Internet saves the time and cost of travelling to the library and it is usually interesting and fun to use. The big Internet portals, such as Suite itself, and have sites on many subjects with lots of articles and links on each, so they are good places to start. Looksmart, Yahoo, and Google have directories of links on many subjects. They are also excellent search engines.

Some search tips:


  • Two-word searches. Your search is more specific if you put a plus sign between the words.
  • Phrases. Placing the phrase between inverted commas also gives you more specific links.There are usually several sites on any subject that you may wish to research. Special sites for journalists such as the ones under my Research links provide masses of links to newspapers, magazines and organizations that may be useful. The large news services, such as the BBC and CNN, all have their own web sites. Most of the articles of newspapers, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, can still be read free of cost. However, check facts obtained from unknown sites on the Internet carefully. Sometimes they can be inaccurate.There are also sites, such as, where you can find experts on almost any subject, to interview. News and mailing lists can also provide you with extra information.It is a good idea too to use your local library. There is always a reference section and taking out books saves you the cost of buying them. Librarians can help if you are having trouble finding extra information.

    Free brochures and advertisements are often good sources of information. If you are writing a travel article, for example, there are usually masses of free brochures and leaflets on tourist subjects.

    Government departments, organizations and companies usually have their own web sites. However, if they don’t, the telephone book is another source of information.

    It is a good idea to keep files of notes on the subject of your article, and organise them carefully. Write down your sources of information, and quote your interview subjects exactly. A tape recorder is handy here, although it is helpful to have a notebook as well, in case anything goes wrong.


Lesson 3: How to Research your Article and Write an Outline

Writing an Outline

Writing the actual article itself can be much easier if you have prepared a plan or outline. Some writers like to prepare detailed outlines, listing the main points of each paragraph, but others like very simple plans. Some outlines include bubble clusters and spider diagrams, or you could draw boxes listing key ideas like Lynne Rominger does. She lists the items that she is going to cover and the first words of pertinent quotes in each box.

I often like to use detailed outlines in the form of numbered paragraphs. Within each paragraph I note the main points that I want to make. The lead, or beginning of your article is probably the most important part – here you want to ‘hook’ the reader. Some good beginnings include startling facts, strong quotes, questions and interesting anecdotes. The body or main part of the article will expand on these. The conclusion should also be strong. Some articles fall flat at the end – try not to make that mistake. If you have a plan you can quickly see whether the order of the article will make it smooth and easy to read.

An example of an outline for an article on single women characters on screen would look something like this, for example:

1. Lead – 40% of single women today will never get married. (startling fact) – proliferation of single women characters in films and TV reflect growing numbers of singles – not only in twenties, but in thirties and forties – some examples: ditzy Ally McBeal and Bridget Jones, well-balanced Amy in Judging Amy – Amy, arguably truer representation of single women than Ally and Bridget

2. Body

Main points:

– Ally and Bridget both career women in thirties, yet main object of both is to get married – TV series and film concentrate mostly on love affairs, rather than careers – tend to portray single women as only interested in finding husbands, – also both ditzy, accident-prone, get into silly situations – Ally, in particular, obsessed with marriage and biological clock – witness dancing babies Judging Amy

– more interested in career, relationships secondary – show focuses more on life of divorced single woman working and raising daughter – Amy’s mother also single, working woman, even though much older, Very focused on her work – also about family – Amy’s relationships with mother and brothers and daughter – based on true-life characters

– all are improvements, however on Alex in Fatal Attraction

– shown as crazy, obsessed,

– male of film shown in good light even though he is unfaithful to wife and

has a one-night stand with Alex

– quotes from expert or two

– anecdotes?


– Judging Amy show truer to life – We have come a long way from Fatal Attraction

You may not want to prepare such detailed outlines. “Anything that works for you will work for your article”.

1.Bykofsky, Sheree, Sander, Jennifer and Rominger, Lynne. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Freelance Articles. Ibid., p.197

Lesson 3: How to Research your Article and Write an Outline

Writing Your Article

Now we come to the hard part! However, it is also the part that you are likely to enjoy the most if you like words and writing. Once you have prepared your outline it is a good idea to start writing –don’t procrastinate. Also once you have written your article leave it for a few days and then read and revise it.

Some tips:

1. Give your article a snappy title. Editors like short and catchy titles. You could use a pun, or alliteration, or a part of a quote which is included in your article. An example of a good title of a piece asking whether President Bush had sufficient knowledge of a likely attack before September 11 is ‘BushWhacked’. This uses his name and is also an old, albeit Australian, expression. 2. Include one idea per sentence and one topic per paragraph.

3. Make sure transitions between paragraphs run smoothly. Try to make each paragraph lead to the next.

4. Many editors, especially American editors, like positive verbs and the use of the present tense. I often find the use of the present tense annoying, however, and I prefer to read writers who don’t use it. In Australia it is not used as often.

The style of your article will depend to a large extent on the style of the magazine for which it is intended. Many magazines have ‘Style Guides’ – read and use these carefully. If you are writing for a women’s magazine, for example, a chatty, gossipy style is often preferred. How-to articles are usually written in a straightforward, factual style. You may need to use a ‘heavier’ style for a serious, news feature, while a human interest story will have a lighter style.

Lesson 3: How to Research your Article and Write an Outline


Prepare an outline for an article that you intend to write for a magazine.

Lesson 3: How to Research your Article and Write an Outline

Optional Reading Assignment

Read Chapter 18 of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freelance Writing for Magazines.

Lesson 3: How to Research your Article and Write an Outline


Bykofsky, Sheree, Sander, Jennifer and Rominger, Lynne. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles. Alpha Books. Indeanapolis, USA. 2000

Perry, Michael. Handbook for Freelance Writing. NTC Business Books, Chicago, Illinois,1995

Wells, Gordon. The Craft of Writing Articles: A Practical Guide. Allison & Busby, London, 1983.,

Lesson 4: Writing and Submitting Your Article

This last lesson concerns editing and submitting your article. Many beginners hate editing and re-writing, and, admittedly, it is difficult. It can be hard to part with phrases and paragraphs with which you are especially pleased, however editing is probably the most important part of the whole process. It can make the difference between acceptance and rejection.

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Introduction and Objectives

Email has made the submission process much faster and easier. However, as many editors don’t accept articles sent in this way, often writers have to use the old ‘snail mail’ system. Sometimes the Writer’s Guidelines will tell you exactly how to submit your article. In this case, just follow them. The article should look professional. There are no rigid rules, however, on the submission process. A perfectly typed article without spelling or grammatical errors, presented on white A4 paper, will, at least look good.

After this lesson you should be able to edit and submit your articles professionally. The resources that I will use are the two recommended books.

Lesson 4: Writing and Submitting Your Article

Editing Your Article

Your article should be easy to read, clear, direct and smooth. It is a good idea to write the article and leave it for a few days. Then you are ready to read it more objectively. Imagine that you are the editor of the magazine. Would you accept it? Here are some guidelines for editing your article:

1. Does it meet the required word length? It is likely to be much too long and you will probably have to ‘cut’ it.

2 Read it aloud. Note how it reads. Can you understand it? Does it read smoothly?:

3. Check for any grammatical and spelling errors. This is much easier now with wordprocessing programs.

4. Notice any unnecessary phrases or adjectives. There may even be unnecessary Sentences. Prune these. Some writers advise to prune any phrases that especially please you, but there are no hard and fast rules.

5. Does each paragraph deal with one topic? Does each sentence express one idea?

6. Is the transition between paragraphs clear?

7. Are there any long words which are difficult to understand? Cut these.

8. Are the sentences varied? A mixture of long and short sentences makes articles easier to read.

9. Finally, try to use active verbs, rather than passive.

If you decide that the article is not acceptable the way it is, you may have to re-write it altogether. The re-writing process and editing process are definitely worth it, however.

Read Michael Perry’s story about the editor of the Saturday Review on p.163.

Lesson 4: Writing and Submitting Your Article

Submitting Your Article

Email submissions are usually not sent by attachments, but copied and pasted onto the emails. Many editors don’t like attachments, because of the fear of viruses.

Articles which are going to be posted should be double-spaced and printed on white A4 paper. Plainer stationery is better, although a professional looking letterhead for the cover letter should not do you any harm. Even a simple logo can look good.

According to Michael Perry it is best to place your name, address, phone and fax numbers and e-mail address in the upper left corner of the first page. Place the word length on the right hand side. Cover letters seem to be considered old hat by some editors who think that they are only sent by amateurs. However, if your article is unsolicited, in my opinion, they’re not likely to do you any harm. They should be short and professional, giving minimum details. Michael Perry includes some examples in his chapter on query letters.

Centre the title and double-space your manuscript. Also make sure that it is easy to read. Number pages on the top right hand side.

I would advise, too, to study the way in which the magazine’s articles are set out. Are the footnotes (if any) printed at the end, or at the bottom of the pages, for example?

Michael Perry’s advice to fasten pages with a paper-clip is excellent. Removing staples is hard on the hands and annoying.

Check your manuscript again for errors before sending. Michael Perry advises that a self-addressed, stamped envelope be included, but, Jill Dick asks: “Why do you want It back anyway?” Editors prefer clean copy, and, if you use a computer, you only need to print it out again in order to re-send it.

Lesson 4: Writing and Submitting Your Article


Write and edit an article.

Lesson 4: Writing and Submitting Your Article

Optional Reading assignment

Read Chapter Twelve of Michael Perry’s Handbook for Freelance Writing.

Lesson 4: Writing and Submitting Your Article


Bykofsky, Sheree, Sander, Jennifer and Rominger, Lynne. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Magazine Articles. Alpha Books. Indeanapolis, USA. 2000

Perry, Michael. Handbook for Freelance Writing. NTC Business Books, Chicago, Illinois,1995

Wells, Gordon. The Craft of Writing Articles: A Practical Guide. Allison & Busby, London, 1983.,


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