How to Write an Amazing Article

Mar 17 2010 by James Costa | 25 Comments

Writing and design have always been two passions of mine. When someone first approached me with a writing opportunity for their blog, I was shocked. It hadn’t crossed my mind for a moment that the two could be brought together harmoniously. I still remember writing that article and building my first brainstorm of topics. I found myself asking, "What makes a good article?"

How to Write an Amazing Article

But, to hell with good articles. Anyone can write a good article. I wanted something that would floor everyone–that would make everyone say, "Who the heck is this guy, and why haven’t I read his stuff before?"

I’m always trying to take things to the next level, so I asked, "What makes an amazing article?"

Content is King

Content is king

That’s right. We’ve heard it time and time again. As designers, it can be something that frustrates us. We make superior aesthetic creations for our clients, but we don’t have much say in what they do with it afterwards. Generally speaking, it isn’t our job to write the content, even though the content is what can make or break the website.

Users will check out a site once and bask in its beauty, but the content is what will make them come back.

Know your readers

It’s very helpful to pick a subject for your writing. Know what your users like to read, and pay attention to trending topics in the industry to know what your readers are going to be interested in reading.

Original content

It can be frustrating to come up with a topic, only to search it in Google and find a similar article already written. Since everyone and their pet retriever is blogging, we find topics that have been "rehashed" over and over. As a reader, I find myself hitting my head wondering what some people are thinking when they write articles that have clearly been written before (sometimes even with the same title).

Suffice to say that since so many people are blogging now (especially in such a large community as design), it is very difficult to find topics that haven’t been talked about.

But this is our job as writers – we need to find topics that our readers will be interested in, and write about them in a creative way. Sure, our style of writing will greatly affect an article’s originality, but we need to attack points from different angles.

This doesn’t mean taking an article about "How To Get a Ketchup Stain Out of Your White Shirt" and changing it to "How NOT To Get a Ketchup Stain Out of Your White Shirt", but figuring out different ways to get that stain out, and elaborating on content and points you thought weren’t emphasized enough in previous articles.

Style and Flow

Style is something very personal to writers. I find myself reading content of several writers not based on what they’re writing, but based on their style.

As a writer, the first thing you need to create is your style and the personality that comes through your writing. This should often come easy as you write, and it will build over time, but the style you create will greatly determine who will come back.

There are a lot of well thought-out articles out there, but some of them are too all over the place for me. Make sure that in your writing you’re moving from point to point smoothly. Keep on topic, and make every article a story.

Be ready for criticism

Be ready for criticism

Know what you’re talking about, and edit, edit, edit. I like to think of every article I put out as important as a legal document. Design is such a broad topic that not everyone knows everything, and everyone has different experiences. So don’t be surprised when someone leaves a comment that leaves you baffled as to how you should respond.

After my final round of edits and before publishing, I like to look over my articles in a different way. Back in high school, I was a key debater on my school’s team. Our coach had always taught us to look over our speeches as a competitor, and to find holes in what we were saying. If we find holes, we patched them up. If something we said was debatable, we made sure we knew how to refute points. This way, we wouldn’t be (as) baffled when they picked at one of our points.

Every blogger who has been around a while has had this comment, but we all learn from it. You find that your audience has a voice and opinions as well, and you need to make sure that what you’re saying is politically correct in every way. Not only this, but you have to be ready to debate the points in your article. Be ready to know what you’re talking about so you don’t look like an idiot.

Design is the Shiny Robe and Crown

I can’t take credit for this headline – DesignBump wrote a nice little article on what design is in relation to content that I think you should read as well. If you’re proud of your content, make sure that it’s looking how you did when you went to your high school prom.

Typography

I find myself moving through different fetishes in design, and I’ve been stuck for the past few months on typography. So much so, that I’ll go into a website’s CSS just to find out what line-height and letter-spacing people are using to make their content more readable. There are a few principles we should meet when dealing with typography for the web:

Maintain a hierarchy

We should all know the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts. Sans-serif fonts should be used for titles, and serif fonts should only be used for body text. Make sure that you create a hierarchy of titles that uses the proper font and also visually breaks down the content. No one likes big blocks of content. Having contrasting typefaces will help clearly distinguish a hierarchy.

Maintain structure

Make sure that your typefaces are legible and your content is readable. Generally speaking, a measure (or line of text) should be contained within 2-3 alphabets (or the equivalent to 52-78 characters including spaces). When you’re designing, using grid systems can help heaps with making sure that everything is readable.

Adjust your CSS accordingly

You should always adjust your font size (using relative sizes like ems and percentages) accordingly, paying close attention to your line-height and the color you’re using. Since most websites have blocks of unindented text, you should create extra padding at the bottom of your paragraphs to compensate for this.

Line-heights should generally be set to 1.5em including the approximate pixel-value to the bottom of paragraphs to maintain consistency.

Using font styling appropriately

As we’ll discuss in the next section, large blocks of text are very boring. Use font styling such as bold and italic/oblique to emphasize points in your content.

Graphics

Graphics

Reading blocks of text are boring. We’re designers, so we have the ability to go into Photoshop and throw something even simple together to break up our blocks of text. Generally speaking, readers of online magazines like to skim content. Having interesting content using the above along with interesting images will interest them in reading what you’ve written. If you’re good with graphs, use graphs as well to layout statistical information.

What do you think makes an web content?

The design community is a very tough community to write for and hold an audience with so many other great blogs out there. I don’t know about some of you, but I sometimes come across articles from the other side of the Internet that is still stuck in a 1990′s-style design with amazing content, and I can’t read it. However, for some reason I’ll read garbage posted on some nicer-designed websites just because I think the typography is pretty. Therefore, the right balance of content and design is what will create a truly amazing article.

Here are some articles to get you started on improving your web content:

Related Content

About the Author

James Costa is the Creative Director at The Phuse. Based in Toronto, Canada, James has been designing and developing for the better part of 10 years and isn’t ready to stop yet. If you like his style, follow his company on Twitter, and read more of his stuff on their blog.

25 Comments

Logobird

March 17th, 2010

Great article James. I wish I had something more insightful to see but you have pretty much covered it all here. Thank you.

Norke

March 17th, 2010

This article is Good. But, to hell with good. There are a bunch of this in every blog that has some popularity.

Bea Litao

March 17th, 2010

I’ve read somewhere that graphics aren’t really that important but I agree with you. Somethings, huge blocks of text can get really boring and well, it might not catch the reader’s interest at once.

Thanks for the post!

Dan

March 17th, 2010

Good article! Think about adding proof-read :)

paul

March 17th, 2010

“Sans-serif fonts should be used for titles, and serif fonts should only be used for body text.”

says who?

Pixil

March 17th, 2010

Thank you James, Completely agree with you, writing for the design community is indeed challenging. The main takeaway for me is to create a unique writing style that expresses experience. This article is inspiring me to write more articles opposed to video tutorials :-)

Jacob Gube

March 17th, 2010

@paul: I’m going to ask James if I can edit that part of his article. That’s a big statement to make and there aren’t any rules that you have to use a particular font style for headlines or body text. Some say that it’s easier to read sans serif on web pages for long blocks of text (and vice versa) on print (I read this on Wikipedia), but it really all depends on how you lay out your type, but there is also plenty of evidence that shows there is no difference in readability of serif/sans serif fonts. Thanks for catching this.

Heck, this web page uses sans serif for both headings/headline and body copy…

James Costa

March 17th, 2010

Thanks for the comments, guys!

@ Dan: Excellent point. There are too many good topics out there that are poorly written, and you feel like the topic has been wasted. Thanks!

@ Paul & Jacob: By all means please edit that out. This article was written some three months ago when I had been doing some research on sans-serif versus serif fonts. This information is more for print products and less for display purposes where (especially here) sans-serif types are used everywhere (as Jacob mentioned). Thanks for the catch – really appreciate your reading, Paul!

Mark Burgess

March 17th, 2010

Good tips and well done!

stellacyan

March 18th, 2010

last night i was thinking about improving my writing skill and shoot! this is just what i need.

thank you, and i hope we all can be a good designer – also a good writers as well :D

I hope you get a very happy day, all.

Jordan Walker

March 18th, 2010

This article touches on what I was thinking this morning an my way to work, how do you write an effective online article. Great advice.

Nick Parsons

March 18th, 2010

Wow – great article, James! I especially agree with your point about the importance of graphics. Some blogs like this one and Design Informer have really set themselves apart in my mind just because of the excellent post graphics that they use.

Of course, when guest posting you don’t usually have much control over styling, but in general these are some excellent tips and ideas. You’ve given me some ideas for improvement, and that’s good!

Ted Goas

March 18th, 2010

What does typography and font choice have to do with writing an article? Is this post about writing an article or designing it?

Also didn’t give me anything new to think about. Disappointed…

viettel adsl

March 21st, 2010

Do you think writing that way can cost you many time?

Vectornpixel

March 22nd, 2010

i have been reading dozens upon dozens of posts that talks about blog improvement for the past couple of weeks, they have helped me a lot while launching my blog. i like to thank you for writing this article, im def. gonna use this info for my next article!

Dan Northern

April 4th, 2010

Great article. It made me realize that I realy need to focus on editing my articles before I pubish them.

Dan Northern

April 4th, 2010

*publish (haha and my comments as well!)

jashim uddin

May 3rd, 2010

Dear James Costa, Great article . I wish I had something more insightful to see but you have pretty much covered it all here. ThanX

mily ghosh

July 27th, 2011

Yea! I realize, editing is a prerequisite to publishing the article. I’ve been greatly benefited.

Jalees

August 18th, 2011

listen i want school type article

oto

August 28th, 2011

I think creative writing is not for everyone. You can teach someone how to be creative only if the person was born with creativity.

paris

October 13th, 2011

how do you write an article?

BRIJESH

October 17th, 2011

Nice article and very helpful for new bloggers

Russ Hudson

October 19th, 2011

I strongly disagree with your comments on original content.

Every article does not need to be a new topic or idea. Think about it: how many Die Hard and Lethal Weapon type movies are there? How many romantic comedies that all have the same plot? How many songs that cover the same exact topic – even the same exact event? Don’t even get me started on books – think of the number of biographies and historical accounts of identical subjects by different authors – yet they all sell and they sell very well.

If a topic is listed in Google a number of times that is a GOOD thing. It is an indicator of what will sell, A.K.A. “what readers are interested in.” If you’ve ever published a serious work before (novel, textbook, etc) you know that agents, editors and publishers aren’t looking for NEW material as much as they are seeking material that has demonstrated success. This is why we see so many of the same themes/topics in all types of entertainment and information.

Come across a title or article similar to the one you want to write? So what?! Write it better. Expand on the ideas. Insert a little bit of editorial. Make it yours.

Different readers respond to different styles of writing, so it’s okay if you cover something that’s already been done.

But otherwise, great post and very detailed. Thanks!

-Russ

Beyond Fixing

September 3rd, 2012

Thank you for the great article. I love writing and I am learning by reading other blogs out there. So far you have given me so much ideas on what to do with my site. Again, thank you.

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