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Writing Magazine Articles

1) Make sure to study several issues of the magazine you want to write for. What tone and style do they seem to favor? How do the writers structure their stories? Do they use lots of dialogue? Do they use bullets and lists? Review these magazines articles with a critical eye.

2) Make a list of several publications that publish work similar to the story or article you plan to write. If the first one you submit to turns you down, send it right out to the next.

3) Study the publication's submission guidelines. Send exactly what they ask for, no more or less. If they want no more than 1500 words, don't send 1600. Make the editor's job easy; make her/him want to accept your story.

4) Structuring your article – This is general advice that applies to many magazines.

a) Start out with a paragraph or two that serve as your story's "hook," meaning that it will immediately engage your readers and make them want to read on. Avoid a lot of dull backgrounding in this opening.

b) Now you can drop back to a chronological "telling" of your story.

c) Include dialogue, which breaks up long, expository paragraphs.

d) Like fiction writers, be sure readers can "see" your characters (what they look like; little quirks they have).

e) End your story in one of several ways. Tie the ending back to your opening, or end with a punch line. A twist or surprise ending always has impact. Of course, if it's a personal story, you can tell what you learned from the situation. Just don't make it preachy or schmaltzy.

5) Use a nice, conversational style that will appeal to the audience you're addressing. This works even when you're writing for geniuses. Critics call this "accessible" writing.

6) Avoid technical jargon unless you're writing for a technical journal. If you must use terminology your readers won't understand, explain it as simply and clearly as you can.

7) Have a few "honest" friends, colleagues, or family members read the story and give you feedback. Was anything unclear? Did your attempts at humor work? Did they finish the story or article with burning questions that needed answering?

8) Most important, carefully edit your work for grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, etc. If you're not good at these things, hire a professional!

9) Avoid clichés. Try coming up with fresh, new ways to express your thoughts, rather than using tired, trite phrases.

10) Avoid long, awkward sentences that your readers will struggle to understand. Again, make sure your writing is accessible to the audience you want to connect with.

Note: Prior to beginning her career as a book editor and author, Susan earned her living as a freelance journalist based in Atlanta. Her feature stories and news articles appeared in city, regional, and national newspapers and magazines, and she taught part-time in the journalism department at Georgia State University.

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