How do you write an article? As with all writing, the methods for writing nonfiction will likely vary from writer to writer. But this is the process that's worked for me. Part 1 focuses on prep work--ideas and research:
Step 1--Choose a topic
Nonfiction ideas are everywhere, and once our mind is open, we can quickly wear down pencil lead trying to keep up with them. Do you have a unique hobby or talent? My family loves Geocaching, and I wrote about it in Modern Day Treasure Hunt. Is there a quirky aspect to your hometown? Are there common misconceptions about your day job? Do you wonder about the origins of certain words, places, or monuments? Is there a little-known historical figure you've always been curious about?
As you can see, ideas for nonfiction are endless. I jot down oddball ideas on notebook paper and keep them in a 3" binder. There are enough ideas in there to keep me busy for a lifetime.
Step 2--Narrow your focus
Take a familiar topic and find something new and unfamiliar about it. Or choose a unknown topic and share it with readers.
Countless articles have been written about firefighters, but in my article Putting Out Fires (Scholastic Math--page 8), I narrowed the focus down to how firefighters use math when figuring out hose suction, water pressure, and even recipes in the kitchen.
Look for fun facts that take you by surprise. While doing research for my article A Spoonful of Laughter, I learned there was such a thing as a laughter epidemic. Who knew? Facts should be cross-checked by multiple sources.
I check out books from the library, and also search online. When taking notes from books, be sure to jot down the book's title, author, publishing house, publishing date, and the page number where you found each fact. You'll need those later for your bibliography.
For more research tips, check out 8 Tips for Slicing Through the Research Jungle.
In Part 2 I'll discuss organization and structure.
Even though I now write novels, I still like writing nonfiction. Sometimes I'll whip up an article in between novel drafts. It's nice to give my fiction brain a rest, while still writing about fun topics. There's a hungry nonfiction market out there, and if you give it a try, you might find that you also enjoy writing nonfiction.
Have you ever written an article or nonfiction book? If so, how does your idea and research method compare to mine?
Do you have detailed questions about the process? Feel free to ask in the comments, or email me directly at julie (at) juliemusil (dot) com.