Value of a Plan. Just as a builder would hesitate to erect a house without a carefully worked-out plan, so a writer should be loath to begin an article before he has outlined it fully. In planning a building, an architect considers how large a house his client desires, how many rooms he must provide, how the space available may best be apportioned among the rooms, and what relation the rooms are to bear to one another. In outlining an article, likewise, a writer needs to determine how long it must be, what material it should include, how much space should be devoted to each part, and how the parts should be arranged.
Time spent in thus planning an article is time well spent.
Outlining the subject fully involves thinking out the article from beginning to end. The value of each item of the material gathered must be carefully weighed; its relation to the whole subject and to every part must be considered. The arrangement of the parts is of even greater importance, because much of the effectiveness of the presentation will depend upon a logical development of the thought. In the last analysis, good writing means clear thinking, and at no stage in the preparation of an article is clear thinking more necessary than in the planning of it.
Amateurs sometimes insist that it is easier to write without an outline than with one. It undoubtedly does take less time to dash off a special feature story than it does to think out all of the details and then write it. In nine cases out of ten, however, when a writer attempts to work out an article as he goes along, trusting that his ideas will arrange themselves, the result is far from a clear, logical, wellorganized presentation of his subject. The common disinclination to make an outline is usually based on the difficulty that most persons experience in deliberately thinking about a subject in all its various aspects, and in getting down in logical order the results of such thought. Unwillingness to outline a subject generally means unwillingness to think.
The Length of an Article. The length of an article is determined by two considerations: the scope of the subject, and the policy of the publication for which it is intended. A large subject cannot be adequately treated in a brief space, nor can an important theme be disposed of satisfactorily in a few hundred words. The length of an article, in general, should be proportionate to the size and the importance of the subject.
The deciding factor, however, in fixing the length of an article is the policy of the periodical for which it is designed. One popular publication may print articles from 4000 to 6000 words, while another fixes the limit at 1000 words. It would be quite as bad judgment to prepare a 1000-word article for the former, as it would be to send one of 5000 words to the latter. Periodicals also fix certain limits for articles to be printed in particular departments. One monthly magazine, for instance, has a department of personality sketches which range from 800 to 1200 words in length, while the other articles in this periodical contain from 2000 to 4000 words.
The practice of printing a column or two of reading matter on most of the advertising pages influences the length of articles in many magazines. To obtain an attractive make-up, the editors allow only a page or two of each special article, short story, or serial to appear in the first part of the magazine, relegating the remainder to the advertising pages. Articles must, therefore, be long enough to fill a page or two in the first part of the periodical and several columns on the pages of advertising. Some magazines use short articles, or "fillers," to furnish the necessary reading matter on these advertising pages.
Newspapers of the usual size, with from 1000 to 1200 words in a column, have greater flexibility than magazines in the matter of make-up, and can, therefore, use special feature stories of various lengths. The arrangement of advertisements, even in the magazine sections, does not affect the length of articles. The only way to determine exactly the requirements of different newspapers and magazines is to count the words in typical articles in various departments.
Selection and Proportion. After deciding on the length of his article, the writer should consider what main points he will be able to develop in the allotted space.
His choice will be guided by his purpose in writing the article. "Is this point essential to the accomplishment of my aim?" is the test he should apply.
Whatever is non-essential must be abandoned, no matter how attractive it may be. Having determined upon the essential topics, he next proceeds to estimate their relative value for the development of his theme, so that he may give to each one the space and the prominence that are proportionate to its importance.
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