Grab your reader’s attention
How many times have you sat in the dentist’s waiting room, opened a magazine, read the first paragraph of an article and flicked over to the next page? Now think about the times that first paragraph or maybe the heading photograph caught your attention and you carried on reading. When writing illustrated articles you have seconds to grab your readers attention. Here’s how.
Identify your reader
Not everyone is going to be interested in your writing. Are you writing for an enthusiast; someone who already has a knowledge of the subject or a beginner who will want every detail explained? Are you trying to stimulate the imagination or inform?
Most aircraft enthusiasts will read my article A Brief History of the P51 Mustang and think, yes I know that – tell me something new. Someone visiting an airshow and seeing the plane for the first time might read the history in the programme and think, that’s interesting. I have written two versions of a caption for my picture of The Black Prince Steam Engine. One aimed at the casual reader and one at the enthusiast.
Magazine editors know the profile of their readers. Their age, sex and social classification, their education level, political leanings and tastes. The first person to read your article is the editor. In the past, on a larger magazine, this would probably have been a sub editor or the sub editor’s tea makers assistant. Now many magazines may have just an editor but they still know their readers profile.
Magazines also have a house style. Sometimes this even covers grammar and punctuation. If you are writing for a specific market read your target publications and tailor your articles to thier house styles.
Showing and Telling
Showing is when you use your (or your subjects) senses or reactions to an event or scene to transport the reader into your world. Slow your writing down, describe what you heard, smelt, tasted and your feelings about what you saw or did. If you are recounting another person’s experiences, ask them questions or read accounts to try and find out how they felt. Telling simply presents a factual piece of information and moves the article along which leads me to …
Don’t Repeat What is in the Picture.
As writers and photographs we know that a picture is worth a thousand words (see next section) so do not spend those thousand words telling the reader what they can see in the picture. Use your writing to tell your reader something new; that they cannot see; the history, the sounds, what it feels like to see, smell, hear a place or touch an object.
The aircraft went up like a rocket. The sunset was beautiful. The Quol Sharif mosque is stunning.
Try – the P51 Mustang, a veteran of world war II, arced almost vertically into the blue sky, the beat of its Merlin engine echoing across the crowd. As it reached the top of the loop sunlight flashed on the polished metal wings.
Looking back towards Chania silhouetted against the sunset all I could hear was the gentle beat of calm Mediterranean waves against the ancient sea wall.
The minarets of the new Quol Sharif mosque tower above the walls of the Kazan Kremlin announcing that this is predominately a Muslim city.
Write about what you know and what you love?
Write about what you know is a piece of advice often offered to writers. For me part of the fun of writing is researching what I do not know about.
You may have gathered from this site that I am an aviation and enthusiast (OK nut) as well as a photographer. I write about these subjects primarily because I have a good knowledge of them. That does not stop me writing about anything else I find interesting; history, travel, different foods; I just have to do even more research.
My article on the Tatar poet, Musa Calil, was inspired by seeing his statue in Kazan and researching him to find out who he was.
Get Your Facts Right
Do your research; check the sources of your facts. The internet is a wonderful resource but so much of it is inaccurate or just plain wrong. Even when cross checking several sources always bear in mind that they can all have copied one another. If you cannot go there, see it or do it find a quotable first-hand source. If you cannot establish exactly what happened, for example when writing in an historical context, quote more than one reliable source. Quoting from other writers is not plagiarism but always recognise your sources. Provide a link to any articles you have quoted when researching you own.
Use attention grabbing pictures.
You don’t have to be great photographer. Clear sharp, correctly exposed and well composed pictures will often grab a readers attention. If you cannot produce your own photos do not just rip them off from other websites (you could end up with a large copyright infringement bill). Buy them from stock photography sites such as Alamy or approach the photographer. I often allow publication of my photos for free on non commercial sites as long as I get a credit and a link and the watermark is not removed. But if you are making money from your site, and my pictures, a fee is payable.
Writing articles is about engaging the reader whilst conveying the relevant factual information. A good article with clear illustrations will help you get your work seen and published.
Interested in travel writing? Ten Tips For Writing Travel Articles