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Every article starts with a choice (or several). Every time I sit down to write I must wrestle with semi formed ideas, attitudes, nuances and self-biases, not to mention the self-doubt and ever constant pressure to execute a kind of justice when writing on a particular topic. It is not unusual for me to finish a session with more convoluted ideas than words on a page (a messy page at that). So how then does one choose a topic? And more importantly craft a unique and compelling commentary? If this article is anything, it’s a guide – if perhaps a rather subjective one – to determining the point of your article.

Failure to clearly articulate the situation/issue/debate will leave your readers confused and bored.

Choosing exactly what you will say is no simple task and requires serious consideration. Of course how easy you will find choosing a topic will depend upon how much you care, and that you must work out for yourself. But it’s safe to say when the first few ideas that are likely to cross your mind will reflect your concerns and passions, this is where your knowledge will come in, or rather lack of. It’s highly unlikely that you will be able to write an insightful and compelling article right off the bat. It’s going to take time and effort to acquire the right kind of knowledge to make your article stand out, which brings us to our first point: research.

Do your research

You’re siting in front of the largest and most accessible accumulations of knowledge in the history of humanity. If you don’t know something, go look it up. Research will make or break your argument. It’s important you dedicate as much time to it as is physically possible.

It goes without saying that the more research you do, the more knowledgeable you will become and the more nuanced your argument will be. Your topic choice need not be finial at this stage – far from it. Your research is as much a test as it is a commitment. Find your topic dull or tedious? Then pick a new one. Spend some time browsing news sections, turn on the TV, strike up a conversation with a friend. You’ll find yourself naturally gravitating to the right topic. The longer you spend doing this the better positioned you will be when it comes time to commit words to a page. On a more fundamental level you will have discovered more about your own interests, and perhaps a few more hates. It’s also important during this stage that you explore all the major views, including all the major players and the impacts of what is being discussed and of course, is it relevant?

Has it been said before?

An element of your research should include articles that address similar subject matter. It’s okay to adopt their points of view but go too far and you risk simply repeating somebody else’s unique stance. This looks lazy and you won’t contribute anything new to the debate. If, however, you find a gap or a completely unaddressed issue that you think you can fill then it could be a great opportunity to contribute something unique. But be careful: a gap may not mean a chance to dominate that particular niche but indicate a lack of interest in that particular area, so proceed at your own risk.

What are your intentions?

Once you have completed your research you should have an idea of the main players and debates. Here you will need to decide what you want to say on the subject – are you simply reporting on important events, giving a contextual overview, advocating a particular argument, or are you giving your own opinions? But be careful, the point of your article will depend on who you are as a person. Everyone brings with them their own biases, nuances and visions, however biases aren’t always as visible as we’d sometimes like. I would advise avoiding bias but of course this will entirely depend on what you have to say and the research you’ve done, naturally you should limit as much bias as possible to bolster the credibility of your argument. If, however,  you are looking to cause shock, outrage, and mass debate, use all the bias you want. Katie Hopkins has certainly made a career of it. 

“…bear in mind future readers will judge you by what you’ve written…”

Keep your audience in mind

Focus on the exact reason the issue is important to your readers, who the key players are, and what the potential outcome is. Is your article left wing, right wing or liberal, where does it fit on the spectrum? Your reads will hold very specific and uncompromising biases that you need to be aware of. Obviously you can’t know the exact opinion of everyone who is likely to read your article but you should have a target audience in mind. This, of course, is linked to your intentions but bear in mind future readers will judge you by what you’ve written so make sure you don’t weave your way into a position that you may have to backtrack on later.

Make it simple: know what you can accomplish

Showing complexity is fine, but it needs to be condensed and easy to understand. The reader will easily find another article if they can’t quickly get the gist. A key tool in the journalists arsenal is brevity: you need to condense as much information as possible into a few hundred words and you need to do it well. Failure to clearly articulate the situation/issue/debate will leave your readers confused and bored. You may have an informed and insightful opinion but if you cannot condense the essence of your augment in less than two sentences then you may have to rethink your topic.

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