How to Write Articles People Will Read
June 30, 2020
Tips to take your articles from OK to OMG (the good kind of OMG).
Learning how to write articles people will read sounds a little daunting. We get it. But the alternative to writing articles people will read is writing articles people won't read, which sounds like a waste of time. We don't want to waste your time, which is why we created this guide. You can read everything here, on this page—OR, if you hate scrolling, you can click the links in the outline below, which will take you to individual article pages that are 100% dedicated to each of the following topics. Ready?
In this article, we'll cover:
- How to Define Your Audience: Best Article Topics for Students
- How to Write Headlines That Do Not Fail
- How to Write Strong Hooks (Introductions in Articles)
- How to Use H2s (Also: What Are H2s?)
- How to Use Hyperlinks: Best Practices for Finding and Formatting Sources in Articles
How to define your audience
"Find your niche and scratch it" is just one of the writing tips offered by Ryan Holiday, the media strategist and guerrilla marketer who helped turn American Apparel into a household name—one boundary-pushing billboard at a time. While we don't suggest anyone use Noodle to promote a rainbow of tee-shirts to thrifty millennials, we do advise all writers to take a literal page from Holiday's playbook, Perennial Seller, when it comes to defining your audience.
In this section, we'll cover:
- What does it mean to "define your audience"?
- Defining your audience by life stage
- Most common audience segments on Noodle
- What does your audience want to know?
What does it mean to "define your audience"?
Defining your audience means identifying the most likely readers of your article and why they need articles like yours… before you start writing. While it's true that there will always be a special place in our hearts for personal essays that, simply, need to be written, Noodle's mission is to make the process of searching for schools easier. In order to do that, we need to know who our readers are, what they want, and what we can offer them. In other words: How deep is your v-neck, and who's going to buy it?
There are infinite ways to identify your audience. In most cases, your audience will be a composite of multiple factors. Speaking strictly to articles about education, here are the best ways to define your audience.
Define your audience by life stage
Where your readers are in their educations/careers? Does your work primarily speak to high school students thinking about going to college (and perhaps also to the parents/guardians of K-12 students)? Maybe you're writing for adults who never finished—or started—their bachelor's degree (but still very much want to).
The difference between writing for 17-year-olds and writing for those over 25 is everything—from the application process to work-life-school (and work-life-family-school) balance. Define your readers by where they are in their lives.
Most common audience segments on Noodle
- Parents and guardians of K-12 and preschool students Readers in this life stage are often trying to choose the best schools for their children, learn how to support all stages of development, get advice on dealing with teachers and bullies (and sometimes even teachers who are bullies), and better understand things like nurturing soft skills, living with disabilities, and raising healthy kids.
- High school students thinking about college In the United States, the average student-to-counselor ratio is a mind-boggling 482-to-1. Think about that for a minute. Even if a guidance counselor is fully aware of all 7,000+ colleges and universities in the country, what are the odds—no matter how amazing they are at their jobs—that these counselors can help students decide which schools will best fit their needs? And that's assuming these students have already decided that going to college is right for them (it's not right for everyone, and that's okay). College-bound students need direct access to information that helps them understand their options for going to school (knowing online and part-time are available if they can't move across the country to get their degree or want to work part-time while doing so), ways to pay for schools, the real cost of loans and how long it will take to pay down their student debt, and more.
- Adults over 25 who want to complete their bachelor's degree Sometimes called "comebackers," this audience segment faces a unique set of challenges that might not apply to younger college students. Students over the age of 25 might have families to support, full-time jobs to consider, and transfer credits to deal with. Understanding the hard costs, the amount of time required, and their options for going back to school are critical to this audience. Comebackers need practical advice on things like which schools offer childcare, how to study for exams while working full-time and looking after their families, and which community colleges are feeder schools to four-year institutions.
- Mid-career professionals considering graduate school When it comes to deciding if, when, where, and how to go to grad school, the considerations are seemingly endless. This audience segment needs help in understanding the differences between degree types, how long it will take to earn their degree, how much it will cost (and their options for paying—like whether or not their employer offers tuition reimbursement), what they can do with their degree, and how much they'll earn when they're finished. Focusing on the career benefits are important—though it's critical to distinguish careers from earnings. Many people, like those pursuing a master's in social work, may choose to go to grad school even if their earning potential will not increase as dramatically as, say, it would with an MBA.
What does your audience want to know?
What questions does your reader need to be answered? Are they unsure how to pay for their degree? Do they want to know how long grad school will take, how much it will cost, and how much they'll earn when they're done? Maybe your article is for readers who want to know what they can do with a specific degree, and what the job markets will be like when they graduate. Identify the questions your reader is asking, and then let those questions guide your article.
- Cost. How much does this degree cost? What are the options for paying for school? Are there scholarships available? And, if so, how can you find them?
- Time. How long does it take to complete this degree? How does that change if you're going to school part-time? How long does it take to get the job of your dreams? What steps are required to get you there?
- Benefits. How do you evaluate the benefits of an alumni network? What are the benefits of earning your degree online? What are the perks of this career path or degree?
- Career advancement. What will you do when you graduate? What about five or 10 years after you graduate? Will this degree help you get a promotion? Does the job you want require this degree?
- Earning potential. How much will you earn with this degree? What kinds of side gigs can you get with this degree, for additional income? How does where you earn a degree impact how much you'll earn?
How to write good headlines
Good headlines make people want more. As a human on the internet, you should know this. Less obvious, however—and based simply on the pace of belligerent attempts to rabbit-hole our attention (keep trying, guys, really)—is how to write good headlines. Readers of the internet, we're sophisticated; even children know "fake news" isn't a compliment.
As sophisticated humans on the internet, we're appropriately conditioned to swiftly dodge all brands of peddlers stuffing flyers down our throats. Welcome to a shouty junkyard of opinions, lies, and burning money that the average American spends a stomach-churning 24 hours per week browsing. It's called "the web" for a reason.
Where were we? Right. How to make headlines. Honestly, Neil Patel has basically already written the definitive guide to writing headlines, but in case you don't like reading great things (his stuff, not ours) we've adapted that advice to the topics we do most: education and careers.
In this section, we'll cover:
- Why headlines matter
- Three (preventable) reasons most headlines fail
- How to write headlines that do not fail
Why headlines matter
Few people surf the internet with their eyes closed, and even those who do will, at some point, hear headlines before deciding to hear articles (read aloud by robots with British-lady accents, if you're lucky). In other words, anyone who decides to read your article (or listen to a medium-snooty robot speak your article) will do so because your headline doesn't stink. To write articles that will be read by humans and robots alike, it's helpful to know what makes headlines stink—so you can avoid doing those things.
Three (preventable) reasons most headlines fail
There are 100 reasons headlines fail. We respect your time, and also, we know this isn't the scrolling olympics. So, here are the three most common mistakes people make when writing headlines.
- The headline doesn't match the article. Imagine something you never want to experience—like headlice, or a broken heart. Now you know how people feel about clickbait. Nobody wants it, and most will go out of their way to avoid it. If your headline is "How Social Workers Can Make $10,000,000 in Less Than 10 Months" you'd better know how to deliver that promise (also, call me). If for no other reason than the fact that our editors will reject you, don't be the headlice of the internet.
- The headline is confusing. When's the last time you saw something that made zero sense and thought, "That looks like a good use of my time"? Never. If your headline doesn't make sense, readers won't click it. Human brains like logic and order, which is the opposite of whatever "7 Reasons Why Harvard" is doing. Or, trying to do. If you want people to read your article, make sure your headline is clear.
- The headline lacks intrigue. Ever heard the saying "why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" You keep doing you on Tinder, but don't give everything away in your headlines. If readers have no reason to click through to your article, they won't. This can be a difficult line to toe because, as mentioned, you don't want to be so mysterious or quirky that people don't "get it" (in real life and in headlines). Be simple. Know the incentive for readers to click-through, and be classy and subtle in revealing it.
How to write headlines that do not fail
Good headlines are specific, unique, easy to understand, and communicate, as NPR puts it, "the spirit" of the article. Here's how to do those things.
Put the most important keywords first. It doesn't matter how many times your mom's cousin shares your article on a networking site for people who went to colleges with cat mascots. If your headline is truncated, your message is lost. How, where, and when your headline appears when it is shared (or searched for) is beyond your control, so heavy up. Put the most important information at the front, so readers will see the keywords even if the rest of your headline is shortened or hidden.
- _"GMAT Math Prep: Every Math Skill You Need to Know (And Why)"_ is a good headline, because it front-loads the most important keywords.
Use numbers and data. Headlines with numbers tend to generate higher engagement, because our brains are attracted to logic and order. Odd numbers apparently outperform even ones and, while you're at it: use numerals ("5") instead of spelling numbers out ("Five").
- _"5 Feel-Good Health Policy Jobs That Pay Over $100K Per Year"_ is a good headline, because it uses numbers and data effectively.
Be unabashedly transactional. Tell readers what's in it for them. Why should they click your headline? Use words like tips, tricks, secrets, ideas, strategies, lessons, and mistakes. Be specific, so they know what to expect.
- _"Mistakes I Made My First Year of Teaching and the Lessons I Learned"_ is a good headline, because it promises very specific benefits ("lessons") to readers.
Deliver unexpected benefits.
Information is the foundation of any good article—but don't think for a second there's no shortage of information online. What makes your information better than the rest? Intrigue is what! Be unexpected, vulnerable, coy, and unafraid of personality. Inject all of these things when appropriate.
- _"Why I Turned Down My Dream School... And What Happened Next"_ is a good headline, because it hints that readers will learn something unexpected.
Set the clock. An article that teaches you how to do something is good, but an article that teaches you how to do something in a set period of time is better. Many readers—especially those reading about education and careers—are incentivized by timelines. If you can tell a reader how long it will take to become a cruise ship nurse, or how long it will take to earn a master's degree in yodeling (both of which are real things, by the way), do it.
- _"How to Earn Both Your Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Just 5 Years"_ is a good headline, because it motivates time-sensitive readers.
How to write strong introductions in articles
Most readers never scroll "below the fold," meaning that the first 200 words of body copy count more than anything (except—keep up!—the headline). Not to be excessively negative, but if your introduction flops, nothing else matters.
- Make every word count—especially the first 200. Use the first 200 words of your article to quickly explain the purpose of your article (why you're here), tease what's coming (things you'll detail later), and engage the reader (be a damn human). The body of your article will be rich with information, but the introduction is where you have the most leeway to take advantage of style and tone.
Bold the most important keywords. In the first 200 words of your introduction, bold the most important keywords so they stand out to users who may have searched for them. In the below article about teaching English as a second language, the author bolded exactly that phrase—which also happens to be a fairly common search term. With keywords in bolded, readers looking for information about ESL degrees and career paths will immediately recognize that they're in the right place (and, fingers crossed, they'll continue reading).
- Bold keywords like this: "More than just a job, _teaching English as a Second Language (ESL)_ is a calling."
Don't be shy. If you want readers to take your advice seriously, tell them why you're qualified to dish it up in the first place. Everyone has an opinion. What makes yours valuable? Did you graduate—or even drop out—from the college or university featured in your article? Maybe you work(ed) there and know what it takes to get in? Do you have years of related personal or professional experience? Maybe you just like writing and sharing your experiences (that's cool, too). Whatever your reason for writing an article, explain it in a way that is straightforward and relatable. Transparency—if only to say "take or leave my biased two cents"—builds trust and credibility. Also, do this in two sentences or less.
- This author introduces herself to the reader in an honest, clear, and vulnerable way in an article about switching careers to become a social worker: "When I decided to apply for a Masters in Social Work, I was worried that my lack of experience would make me a weak applicant. I’ve spent the past several years as a journalist, writing about everything from breast cancer to beer halls. I had never been a caseworker or counselor, and I was nervous I would seem too green to an admissions committee. But as I began to write my application essays, I realized that the opposite was true."
Leverage pop culture when relevant.
- _This article about getting an MBA in Business Analytics weaves a popular movie scene into the introduction:_ In the classic 1967 movie The Graduate, an older neighbor offers young protagonist Benjamin Braddock some brief but fervent advice on his upcoming career. “Just one word: plastics," the neighbor counsels, adding earnestly, “There’s a great future in plastics." What advice would a well-intentioned neighbor offer a young graduate today? “Just one word: data."
Paint an honest picture.
- _The introduction to this article about becoming a school principal is brutally honest... and it works:_ Good school principals are underrepresented in TV and movies (unless their name is Dumbledore). But, maybe you're into elementary school pranks, like a couple of kids—BUELLER!—calling you and pretending to be a grief-stricken parent. If you can keep your cool while handling inordinate amounts of nonsense and managing a whole staff of school employees, you might want to consider the career path to becoming a principal.
Highlight positive trends in the marketplace.
- _This article about states with the highest-paying nurse practitioner jobs puts the most important information first:_ The growing number of nurse practitioners (NPs)—there were 120,000 in the United States in 2007 according to the AANP, while today there are 234,000—indicates that more Americans are seeking care with NPs over physicians. As Knestrick explains, "NPs are quickly becoming the first choice as primary care providers for thousands of people across rural as well as urban America."
Transition with intention. Without transitions, sections can end too abruptly, which forces readers to connect the dots themselves. This move (which we won't file to "news"), can be a major turnoff. To avoid losing reader interest, make your articles as easy as possible to read. Transition with intention by wrapping things up, and speaking to the question the reader will ultimately have to ask herself. For example: Is it worth my while to pursue this graduate degree? A strong takeaway about the value of the degree and the characteristics shared by all good programs offering the degree will be useful to your reader and give your article a nice, pleasing symmetry.
- _Before this author dives into tips for teachers to avoid burnout, he transitions the introduction in a personal, articulate way:_ When I ask my fellow professors and teachers how they beat burnout, I get a variety of answers, ranging from "bourbon" to "therapy" to "retirement." One former student told me "You don't. Some survive it and eventually find a balance, but we all go through it to some degree." But instructors are hardly powerless against the forces of being worn down. There are several steps they can take to battle burnout.
How to use H2s
For articles that break out multiple components of earning a degree or pursuing a career type—or, really, any "guide" that walks readers through steps or common questions—at the end of your introduction, give readers a preview of what's to come. Use bullet points, and make them as straightforward and specific as possible. These bullets will also become your H2s, which are the subheadings that break up your article.
H2s are used to outline your article for the reader. For example, because this article is all about H2s, a good outline might look like this:
In this section, we'll cover
- What are H2s?
- Why are H2s important?
- What are the best H2s?
- Resources for writing H2s
What are H2s? (Hint: You're reading one.)
H2s are the subheadings that break your article into chunks of relevant information:
- H2s help readers find information quickly. Most people scan an article before they read it. H2s make articles easy to scan.
- H2s tell search engines we're writing good stuff. Search engines use H2s to identify the structure and content of your article—and if those search engines (let's be honest: Google) deem the structure and content of your article to be high quality, they'll deliver your article to readers in search results. Think about the last time you Googled something. Did you click to the second page of the search results? Probably not. So, we use H2s to get on the first page of search results—ideally, in the top position.
What are the best H2s?
Usually, the best H2s are the questions your article will answer. Even if you're writing a personal essay, questions still make great H2s (example: "Why did I drop out of college?").
- To figure out the best H2s for your article, start by making a list of questions you think readers want to be answered. Now, use those questions to (H2s) to guide your writing. Review those questions again when you have finished writing to make sure you have addressed them all (some may be redundant or irrelevant, in which case it is fine not to address them).
- When it comes to writing H2s, above all, be straightforward. H2s don't always need to be questions, but they do always need to be clear. Subheadings (H2s) that are too quirky will likely confuse readers. So, please don't waste time writing New York Post-quality headers—there are other places to get creative.
Resources for writing H2s
Pro Tip: Use bullet points and numbers to make information easy to read
Like H2s, bullet points and numbers also make articles easy to skim. Without forcing it, use bullets and numbers whenever possible.
Common ways to use bullets and numbers in articles include:
- Step-by-step guides
- Listing skills, requirements, considerations
- Comparing careers, schools, degrees
- Breaking down the pros and cons
- Sharing recommended resources
How to use hyperlinks: best practices for finding and formatting sources in articles
No matter what you're writing—whether it's a deeply personal essay or a deeply rearched guide to getting your master's in yodeling (you do you)—knowing how to use hyperlinks in articles is critical.
Types of links: When and why to use them
External links take readers to other websites. When used to cite reliable sources (which, ideally, are the only kinds of sources you'll use), external links "confer topical authority" (although not universally; read on for more detail).
- As a general rule: mainstream news sources (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education), college and university websites, and government websites are always good, while sites shilling a product or service are not.
Internal links Internal links promote more traffic to Noodle.com pages, which is a good thing, because that increases readers' loyalty to Noodle as an information source. These is something encourage.
- School profiles, topic pages, and great articles are examples of internal links.
Best practices for formatting hyperlinks
- Choose your anchor text wisely. Anchor text—the highlighted, clickable words that link to another page—is important. Whenever possible, your anchor text should describe the content. For example, in the sentence "Social workers' average salary is $52,000, according to Payscale" the anchor text should be "Social workers' average salary," not "$52,000" or "Payscale." As a general rule, the shorter the better with anchor text.
- Link to Noodle profiles, please. In the first mention of a college or university, hyperlink to the school's Noodle profile page. After that, link to the school website.
- Cite sources. Good, original sources. Hyperlink any data you include in your article, any direct quotes, and any fact or opinion that is disputable or controversial enough to require substantiation. Unless you're writing about someone's very unique takeaway on data, do not link to an article that is reporting about data. Instead, find the original source of data—the website that collected and first published the data. Why? Because we don't want to take anyone's word for what data means. People misinterpret data all of the time. So, let's not report on misinterpreted data.
- Confused? Say you're writing an article about earning a master's degree in special education. In your research, you may stumble upon this article, about special education jobs, salaries, and masters programs. This article states that "the median annual income for special education teachers was $59,780" in 2018, which is helpful—but it's also just a starting point. Instead of linking to this article and calling it a day, click through to the source of the data (the Bureau of Labor Statistics), and check it out for yourself. If you decide to include that data in your article, link to the original source (BLS.gov).
Where to find the best external hyperlinks (AKA "research")
Unless you're writing an essay based on personal experience, you'll need research to back up your article.
Best sources for articles about education
When researching specific degrees or educational pathways, good sources include websites for:
- Colleges and universities, which—fair warning—are notoriously difficult to navigate. If you do end up using college and university websites as sources, we recommend linking broadly to things like "application requirements and deadlines can be found here", rather than citing specific dates, costs, etc. (because they're subject to change each semester).
- Accreditation organizations are helpful sources to understand which institutions are accredited and why that's important.
- Professional associations offer networking services with other professionals, which can be helpful for aspiring students to gather a more complete picture of what life will be like with a certain degree and/or career.
- Major media (e.g. US News and World Report, The Chronicle of Higher Education), so long as you're clear on what's news versus what's opinion—and can recognize anything too political that might not be 100% straight with the facts.
- White papers, but only if you keep in mind that many white papers are sponsored.
P.S. We do not recommend or write about for-profit universities and colleges, so do not recommend including them in your discussions of schools offering a particular degree or certification.
Best sources for articles about careers
When researching job and earning data, reliable sources include:
- _The Bureau of Labor Statistics_ is the most accurate and trustworthy source for information about job market outlooks (how many positions will be created, where, and when), median annual wages, and earnings by specialization, location, education level, and more.
- _Glassdoor_ is a great tool to compare salaries by location, years of experience, and industry. The site also publishes original reports and rankings, like the 50 Best Jobs in America, an annual list using original data pulled from the millions of company pages and employee reviews on Glassdoor.
- _Salary.com_ and _Payscale_ both have a number of tools that allow you to compare job descriptions, job openings, and average salaries of a variety of careers. Payscale, similar to Glassdoor, also publishes original reports on subjects like the state of the gender pay gap in 2019.
- _Indeed_ makes it easy to see how many jobs are currently open in specific cities, and also to filter those jobs by compensation, level of experience, and full-time versus part-time status. For example, at the time of this search, there were 159 openings for full-time writers in New York City that paid more than $80,000 per year.
- _LinkedIn_ is a starting point for researching specific companies, including employment information like the number of employees, current job openings, where employees studied, what employees studied, notable alumni, and more. If you're writing an article about how to get a job at Warby Parker, LinkedIn can help you better understand the degrees, skills, and experiences that Warby Parker favors when hiring.
- For information about benefits, values, and culture, the best sources are usually company career pages. Bumble's hiring process is explained in great detail on the careers section of their website.
What to remember when citing data about jobs
- Note when the data was pulled. For example, the most up-to-date data on BLS is usually 1-2 years old—so mention that in your article, with a quick preface like "according to the most recent BLS job market data, gathered in 2018" (otherwise, readers may wonder why you're citing old stuff).
- Be specific with your words. Earnings data is often reported as "median annual income", which is not the same as "average annual salary" (many workers are hourly, which is one reason why this matters). Be specific with your words. If you're citing a median annual income, don't call it an average annual salary; the terms are not interchangeable.
- Compare sources. While Payscale might report that the average annual earnings for yodeling instructors is $78,000, Indeed may indicate a totally different number. It's totally fine to include both numbers, as long as you acknowledge and clearly explain why there's such a range.
How to find internal links on Noodle
To source the best Noodle links for your articles, our landing pages allow you to browse articles by level, topic, degree type, and more. If you're writing about a broad topic, like college applications, consider linking to that landing page. If you're writing about something more specific, do your best to find an article that fits the bill.
Browse articles by education level
Browse grad school articles by subject
Browse grad school articles by topic
- Grad school applications
- Career paths
- Grad school degree types
- Grad school financial aid
- Grad school programs
- Earning your master's degree online
Browse articles about college
- College applications
- Campus life
- Career planning
- Choosing a school
- Financial aid
- Study abroad
Browse K-12 articles
- Activities, programs and camps
- Choose a school
- College prep
- Expert tips
- Learning disabilities
- Reading and writing
- Soft skills
Browse articles about preschool
Other resources for writing articles
- Every College and University in the U.S. in Alphabetical Order
- Step-by-Step Article Templates to Beat Writer's Block
- Noodle Articles FAQ
- The Official Noodle Tone Guide
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org