Must-Know Terms for Article Writers

Editors expect freelance writers to speak their language.

Especially if you’re new to the world of writing for magazines, newspapers, and websites, you’ll find these terms useful:

Takeaway. Editors want to know what benefit someone will receive by reading an article or nonfiction book. Use this as a key element when you ask if they’d be interested.

Lead. Pronounced like leed, it’s the beginning of an article or nonfiction chapter, especially the first paragraph.

Hook. Sometimes used interchangeably with lead, it’s the way the start of a manuscript appeals to a reader’s interest. (If she’s hooked, she’ll keep reading.)

Title. Your manuscript’s name. Brainstorm multiple versions and choose one that’s no more than five to seven words. Nonfiction titles should attract attention and suggest reader benefit.

Subtitle. Especially for nonfiction, a one-sentence subtitle explains the benefits of reading — especially when the title primarily draws attention (Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation).

Subhead. A title for a section within your article or chapter. Shorter is better.

Sidebar. Related material presented alongside the main text. Often presents “for further information” resources.

Cutline (caption). Identification of what appears in a photo or illustration.

Inverted pyramid. A metaphor for how to write a news article. Put the most vital information in the first sentence and the first paragraph, with supporting details in paragraphs that follow. If someone reads only the first paragraph, she’ll get the big idea.

Direct quote. Someone’s exact words, placed within quotations marks and attributed to the speaker or writer. “Avoid fragmentary quotes,” says the AP Stylebook. “If a speaker’s words are clear and concise, favor the full quote.”

Indirect quote. A paraphrase of what someone said or wrote. The AP Stylebook says to use a paraphrase if the material is “cumbersome … reserving quotation marks for sensitive or controversial passages that must be identified specifically as coming from the speaker.”

Angle (slant). The approach a writer takes to cover a topic. For an article about health care, you could interview: government officials, political candidates, insurance executives, hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, hospital admissions clerks, hospital patients, emergency room patients, uninsured people, theologians, pastors, or laity — or combinations of those groups. Or you could relate your own story about getting treatment for a chronic illness. Whatever angle you take results in a different article.

Narrative. A story-telling approach to writing about a true subject. It may be about your experience or another’s.

As-told-to. The writer interviews a notable person (often a celebrity or someone thrust into the news) and presents that person’s story in a polished, first-person account.

Anecdote. A real-life episode used to illustrate a chapter or article. Unless an editor asks for a humorous anecdote, don’t assume such stories need to be funny.

Journalistic. In the style of a news report, interviewing qualified sources on both sides of a matter and reporting them fairly — without the intrusion of the writer’s opinions.

About Andy Scheer

With more than 30 years in publishing, Andy Scheer has provided freelance editorial services since 2010. He has edited fiction and nonfiction for publishers including Moody, WinePress, and BelieversPress, as well as for clients including Dirk Cussler, McNair Wilson, DiAnn Mills, Heather Day Gilbert, and Sammy Tippit.

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