Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reasons for Deletion: Not in How To format

eHow wants practical, hands-on kinds of how to articles. Not everything has to involve a hammer and nails, but it is good to think of your article as aiming for that kind of approach. An article about writing an essay should focus on the process and break it down into proper steps, as though writing an essay were like building a bird house.

eHow's publishing tool helps us with this. They have an introduction area, a place to list things needed to complete the task, specific spaces for each of the steps, and an area for tips and warnings.

Articles which are deleted for not being in proper format usually try to find ways around this form. The introductory material should be limited to the introduction. The steps have to be actual actionble steps - not places to talk about various aspects of the task.

Lists of materials should be in the materials area. (Some people do like to put their materials in the first step too, but if you do this, make sure you put it in proper sentences and paragraphs. "Gather your materials. You need a hammer, three nails and six pieces of wood." I am wary of this. I prefer to repeat the items and quantities within the steps as you use them.)

If you don't really need to put something in the "things you'll need section" leave it blank. Don't put things like "Determination. A desire to change the world." We all do that at some point (I think it's just something writers have to do) but it really doesn't belong there. This is for tools and materials.

Your steps should start, if at all possible, with a verb. "Do this. Cover that. Open this." A really excellent article is not going to be deleted just because a step started with "Once you have finished chopping the carrots, put them in a pot on simmer." However, the longer it takes to get to that verb the more likely the editor is to think, "this isn't really a step." Other flaws plus that could get you deleted.

Just remember NOT ALL ARTICLE IDEAS ARE SUITED TO A HOW TO FORMAT. An awful lot of the best keywords are just not suited to it either. A lot of people try to force an article into the format. They put a verb at the beginning of the steps, but the steps themselves are really "about" type articles, or "informational."

For instance: "Consider how bees affect your daily life. They make honey. They pollinate more than just pretty flowers. Agriculture is dependent on bees to produce most of the food we eat." That's not a step, even though it has a verb at the front. That's what we call informational. There is no outcome that leads us to the next step.

And that is a clue to help you decide whether an idea or article is suited to a "how to" format. Summarize each step into the essence of what you want to get across. Is the point to "consider the bees" or is the real point "bees are important to all life"? Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference - so think about this, if you JUST gave somebody the outline with little short sentences for each step, would the article make sense? And would each of these actions lead to a particular result.

In writing an article about how to write an essay, you might have a step that starts "Consider your topic" but that should really be an action that leads somewhere - and odds are, you will find that the "consider" part can be removed. "Consider your topic. Write down the first five ideas that come into your mind when you think of it." You can just cut out that first sentence. Get to the action.

"Not in How To Format" overlaps with a few other problems, the most common of which is "Blog/Opinion."

But next I'd like to talk to you about Common Sense. (Back to Series Index.)

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