When I first started offering content services, I wrote for a company that mainly requested “how to” articles, and some have been among my favorite to write. I’ve picked up helpful tips while researching them, including tricks for peeling garlic and determining my correct bra size.
“How to’s” have also been some of the most mind-boggling, overwhelming and difficult pieces for me to tackle. I’ve found three main stumbling blocks with such articles. The topic is:
- very bizarre
- common knowledge that doesn’t require written instructions or
- way too complicated to explain in the number of words allotted.
Here are some actual titles I’ve come across and suggestions for working around the challenges.
Tip # 1: Don’t think too much “How to Dye a Cat”
Picking up a strange title can throw you for a loop. You may wonder if you are reading it correctly or if the client made a typo. Just because it seems crazy to you doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there for whom it makes perfect sense. I sometimes do weird things with my cats, like sing them the theme song to “Perfect Strangers,” so who am I to judge if someone wants to dye their kitty? Just dive in. Do the research and write an article offering step-by-step instructions. Do not include your opinion. Keep it informational.
Tip #2: Use subheads and bullet points “How to Sit in an Office Chair”
This was a 500-word article. Coming up with so many words about an act that I’ve never heard of anyone needing instructions to perform was a daunting task! I decided to expand the article to include different types of office chairs and tips for sitting without back pain. Almost any simple article can be expanded with subheadings, bulleted “fun facts” and lists of additional information.
Tip #3: Think Outside the Box “How to Perform Brain Surgery”
Sometimes the word count isn’t nearly high enough to adequately cover the topic. I didn’t feel comfortable writing instructions for safely cutting into another person’s brain, especially in 400 words. I took the article in another direction instead by addressing how someone becomes qualified to perform brain surgery. By thinking outside of the box, you can narrow your focus to one aspect of the topic or find an interpretation that makes more sense for the word count.
When you simply can’t wrap your head around what the client is looking for, ask for clarification. Maybe it really was a typo and they want a 50-word blurb and not a 500-word article. Perhaps they left out part of the instructions. They may point you in the right direction to get the information needed to write the article or share what they are hoping to achieve. Reaching out to the client often saves you both time and anxiety.
So how do you dye a cat? Very carefully!
Rachael M is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.