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Writing for a Marketplace publisher. Different publishers require different styles of writing and have different audiences. We have put together training materials and resources to help get you started. Step one is finding out what "article type" a publisher is looking for. Step two is asking yourself if you know how to write in this style. Whether the answer is "yes" or "no", check out our article type descriptions to hone your skills.
Instructional articles tell the reader how to do something. Subjects can range from the sublime (how to survive the rat race) to the mundane (how to make a ham sandwich), but the writing needs to be especially clear since these articles allow readers the opportunity to learn. Instructional articles should be written in a straightforward, informal style. Writers should avoid editorializing and focusing on overly personal accounts.
The fundamentals of instructional writing:
Know your subject thoroughly.
Know your audience and be able to put yourself in their place.
Be clear, concise and consistent in your word choices.
Use the active voice as often as possible.
Express steps to be performed as commands or requests: "Do this. Then do that."
Use appropriate formatting cues to aid in comprehension.
Limit the use of the word "I."
You are writing to inform, to teach and to instruct. Use clear, concise wording with short, simple statements. Be consistent in your word choices. If you need to use words that your reader might not be familiar with (such as technical jargon), make sure you define them on first usage to avoid confusion.
Writing the introduction
The introduction should be brief and should give an overview of what the article is about. Give any background needed to understand the instructions and the audience the article is intended for (if necessary). For example, if you are describing how to make a souffle, indicate in the introduction that this is not a culinary feat for beginners (or the faint of heart). Personal details relevant to your subject (e.g., "This key lime pie recipe has been in my family for generations") can spice up an otherwise dry listing of instructions. The introduction is the best place to add a little pep.
Writing the instructions
Your main focus should be on the clarity of your instructions.
Organize your article so that instructions follow a natural progression of steps. Directions that are out of order can frustrate readers and make your article less effective.
Break up the information by steps for easy comprehension.
Use formatting cues (such as double-spaced paragraph breaks) to clarify steps so they are visually distinct to the reader. Numbered lists are ideal for clearly conveying a sequence of actions to be performed in a precise order, such as a recipe or technical instructions.
For a recipe, list in the ingredients in the order in which they are used.
The Helium Guide to Reporting
News writing is a craft. It follows a simple but eloquent formula rooted in journalistic tradition with a universal set of basic guidelines.
Here is your guide to the fundamentals of news writing at Helium and beyond. Use these tips and resources to start thinking and writing like a journalist or to refresh your news-writing skills.
The five commandments of news writing:
Be concise, compelling and accurate.
Present your story in plain English. Avoid writing in abstract terms and don't use jargon. Don't write in cliches or use superlatives: The purpose of a news story is to inform your readers and make them understand the topic at hand.
Use the active voice as often as possible.
Remain objective. News writing is about presenting a fair and balanced story: Never use "I." And don't tell the readers what to think.
Write to readers. Write articles that your audience can relate to and understand. Learn how to be simple but not boring.
Writing a lead
Every news story starts with a lead, which should capture a reader's attention and present the news hook. Don't try to tell the entire story in your lead, but use it to capture your readers and make them want to read more.
A lead should be clear, concise and interesting. Don't bury the news in your article: Always decide what the major news is and state it up front in the lead. Save secondary details and background information for later in the piece. For example, don't use attributions in your lead. A good lead sets your story apart from the rest. A compelling lead can make your story stand out.
Make sure your presentation is impartial, as this will mark you as a professional.
Always set a good tone for your readers by paying attention to word choice. Short, familiar words are more inviting and accessible and are more likely to set a positive tone. Overly pedantic words can set a negative tone and frustrate readers.
A source is a person, publication or other record that provides you with information for your news story. A source can be a person whom you interview, a first-hand account of a situation, or a retelling of a situation through quotes, facts and attribution. In most cases, journalists use multiple sources to help tell a story.
Examples of common sources:
People involved in the news that you are reporting
Officials in government or business
Three must-know definitions when you are using sources in your reporting:
"Off the record": This means not for publication. Any information that you obtain "off the record" must be kept confidential.
"On the record": This refers to non-confidential information and can be attributed.
"Not for attribution": This means that you can use the information or material in your news story, but you cannot attribute it to your source.
To learn more about sourcing and attribution, visit the Poynter Ethics Journal Online to read the Washington Post's Policies on Sources, Quotations, Attributions, and Datelines.
Interviewing is a fundamental skill used in news writing. A good interview adds a human voice to your story and makes an immediate connection with your readers. A good interview can help you paint a visual picture.
Good interviewing skills also help keep you informed as a journalist. As you talk with people to fully understand the situation that you are writing about, you'll find that multiple sources will help you tell a fair and balanced story.
Like any skill, interviewing takes time, practice and research. Read the tips at News Lab to learn how to conduct a strong interview.
There is a variety of ways to use your interviews in your article. Direct quotes are an important element to any news story and can really make your piece come alive. Excellent note-taking (or recording) is essential here, since you must be sure you are quoting someone accurately. Explain beforehand that what the interviewee says may be used in your article. Be sure to use quotes that advance the story and accurately reflect the person's thoughts and point of view. Paraphrase carefully if you need to sum up what the person is saying (but don't use quotation marks unless it's a direct quote).
The Helium Guide to Editorial Writing
Everyone has an opinion. That's not to say that everyone can write effective editorials, however. An effective editorial, or opinion piece, utilizes the right amount of passion and persuasion and provides thoughtful discussion on important issues.
The following guidelines and resources will help you to write more convincing editorials.
The principles of editorial writing:
Apply all the attributes of good writing to editorial writing - clarity, rhythm, active sentence construction, interesting and accurate word choice, etc.
Focus on a central theme.
Choose one issue. More important, have an opinion about that issue.
We know it's your opinion, but you'll appear much more professional with limited use of "I" in your piece.
Provide well-researched information. Don't support your article with hearsay or gossip.
Research and understand opposing viewpoints.
Get your sources right. (To learn more about sourcing and attribution, visit the Poynter Ethics Journal Online, the Washington Post's Policies on Sources, Quotations, Attributions, and Datelines.
End with a call to action. Encourage the reader to get involved.
Choosing your thesis, or topic
First and foremost, know your subject. Don't be like the guy at the cocktail party who argues for the sake of arguing. You'll get what he gets: Eye rolling and walk-aways.
Write what you know. Readers can smell a rat - if your points are lackluster and artificial, they won't support your viewpoint. That is, after all, your ultimate goal: To persuade readers to agree with you.
Think about your topic and why you've chosen it. What elements of the issue do you feel passionate about? What about the issue makes you get involved? Keep these things in mind as you begin to write.
The Helium Guide to Writing Experience Articles
Experience articles allow readers to learn through the writer's perspective on a situation. These articles include personal testimonies, experiences and reflections. It can be an experience that happened to you or to someone close to you. Try to do more than just relate the incident - where appropriate, try to work in a larger theme or make the piece universally meaningful for readers.
Fundamentals of writing experience articles:
Share experiences that readers can relate to and learn from.
Focus on the topic at hand. Don't try to tell your life story in 1,500 words or less.
Engage the reader. Show, don't tell.
Leave out superfluous details not central to your theme.
Don't write a fictional (or fictionalized) account. Experience articles are about real life. Use the first person point of view ("I") - but try to be sparing with the pronoun.
Paragraphs of sentences that begin with "I" read like a diary, not an article.
Personal accounts work best when there is an overriding theme that helps readers connect with your experience as well as provides a focus to your article. For example, an article about gardening could have a theme of life and rebirth. What do you hope the reader comes away with after reading about your experience? That's what you write about.
The devil's in the details
Details in an experience article should focus on helping the reader engage in your experience. Do share details that can help the reader see the experience through your eyes. Don't go off on tangents or add superfluous elements that don't relate to your topic or theme - this can distract the reader. You may think that a detailed list of everything you ate for lunch the day you got your driver's license is relevant to your story. Unless your theme is boredom, it's not.
The Helium Guide to Review Writing
The purpose of a review is to inform consumers about a product. Before they buy the book, see the movie or eat at the restaurant, consumers want to know if their money or time will be well spent. Reviews can include:
Movie and TV reviews
Use these tips and resources as a starting point for writing reviews.
Fundamentals of review writing:
It's not about you. It's about what you're reviewing. Focus on the product.
Speaking of the product: Know the product! (See the movie. Play the video game. Read the book.) Do not compile other people's opinions and call them your own.
Know your audience. What does the reader need to or want to know?
Avoid the first person ("I"). Even though the review is your assessment, avoiding the first person emphasizes that your evaluation is as objective as it can be, that it is based on evidence and that the work has been judged based on the standards it set for itself.
Points to consider when writing reviews:
What are the product's accomplishments and failures? (Abandon general terms such as good, awful, fantastic, etc. You sound unclear, and readers feel uninformed.)
Is it worth the time, money, etc., for readers to invest in the product?
How is the product unique?
Who would find the product most useful (chefs, teens, hard-core gamers)?
How does the product compare to others in its genre/field?
What personal experiences have you had relating to the subject/product?
If you are interested in learning more about great review writing, read great reviews. Here are some places to start:
The New York Times Book Review.
Wired.com's Gadget Reviews.
Rotten Tomatoes .
Helium's guide for writing effective reviews: For movies, books, products and more
The Helium Guide to Copywriting
Copywriting text promotes a person, product, business or idea and can be used in an advertisement or variety of other media. The main purpose of writing marketing copy, or promotional text, is to persuade or encourage the reader to act - in other words, to buy a product or subscribe to a particular viewpoint. At Helium, copywriting assignments appear only in Marketplace.
Copywriting can include:
Direct mail pieces
Email newsletter content
Tips for success at copywriting:
Know the product or service that you are writing about. Your job is to sell readers on what you are "selling" and persuade them to act. Step one is knowing the product or service that you're trying to sell. Do research, talk to product managers, study websites and know the competition. If it's a product you're selling, try it out firsthand. Make a list of the benefits and selling points, and then start writing.
Know your audience. What demographic, age group or lifestyle are you targeting? Knowing your audience will help you set the right tone and capture readers. Promoting women's shoes to a predominantly male audience will probably not prompt much action.
Go with what works. Do your homework and find copywriting materials that have proven to be successful. What print ads captured your attention? What email newsletter copy or website content persuaded you to act? The materials that stand out or prompt you to buy into a product or idea are examples of copywriting success. Decide what elements caught your attention and use a similar formula, style or words to create successful and unique copywriting text. The key is to draw inspiration, not plagiarize.
Give your copy a purpose. Use every element of your text to sell or persuade. For example, the goal of your headline or lead paragraph should be to capture the attention of your readers and entice them to read more. State the benefits up front.
Don't use humor. Simply put, humor doesn't work here.
If you are interested in learning more about copywriting, here are some helpful resources and tutorials:
Copywriting101: An introduction to copywriting.
Copywriting for the Web.
The Helium Guide to Creative Writing
Creative writing has many genres; each is a craft that people spend years working to master. To make things more difficult, many creative writing genres have different forms. On Helium, creative writing can take you in two directions: Writing for a Marketplace publisher or writing for yourself.
Creative writing for Marketplace publishers
If you're submitting creative writing for a Marketplace publisher, the criteria are usually very specific. We can't stress enough that following the guidelines is extremely important. If the publisher is asking for a mystery story with a main character whose name is Penelope, then your main character should be Penelope. If you don't follow the guidelines, you run the risk of not being selected for publication or, worse, deleted.
In the past, Helium publishers have looked for mystery stories and personal experience stories. Each publisher had a specific spin or set of criteria they were looking for. One publisher wanted writers to recount personal disasters while gardening. The publisher looking for mysteries was very exact about how and when to divulge certain clues and character information. In the future, publishers on Marketplace may be looking for short stories, satire, humor, essays, you name it! Again, following the Submission Guidelines will be the key to your Marketplace success in creative writing.
As you look to any Marketplace creative writing piece, think about the following items that many creative writing pieces may contain and see if they are addressed by the publisher:
Where does the publisher want my piece to take place?
How can I best describe the setting according to the publisher's needs?
Characters and how they are portrayed
Who are my characters- fictional or real?
What do they do? What are their goals?
What special quirks might they have?
What does the publisher want to take place?
Does it require any special twists?
If there's no direction called for, what will my story do to make it achieve the publisher's other goals?
Other special directions
What other special guidelines is the publisher asking for?
How does the rest of my submission fit these requirements?
Writer resources from other creative writing publications
The following sites give you an idea of the types of guidelines that other publications require. They offer guidance on technical specification as well as creative needs. Thinking about these when submitting to a Marketplace publisher will put you in the right frame of mind.
Writers' Guidelines from Nimrod, International Journal of Prose and Poetry.
Submission guidelines from the Pedestal Magazine.
Submitting Creative Writing to Helium
Creative writing on Helium is more easygoing than writing for a Marketplace publisher. In the truest sense of creative writing, we ask only that you follow standard form for the genre that you're submitting to and that your piece addresses the topic of the title.
At Helium, we give creative writers the opportunity to express themselves in 10 areas. Check out our guidelines and some resources below:
Drama is written expressly for stage or screen. Drama pieces include scene details, stage direction, action and riveting character dialogue; and on Helium, we request that you use the proper format. For dramatic submissions, format is very important. Open your scenes with descriptions of the scenery. Then move on to any stage or camera directions and be sure to label who is speaking. It's all important and it should all be in your dramatic piece.
Please keep in mind that the Drama channel is not a place for you to ramble on about how your friend Sue was a jerk for telling your other friend Mary how you did such and such at the bar last Friday night. Sure, it's a dramatic story, but it's not what the Drama channel is for.
Whether you're trying to be the next Henrik Ibsen or Larry David, make sure you read up on what makes a good dramatic piece for stage or screen before submitting to this channel.
Looking for more instruction? Check out these sites:
Check out these impressive dramatic pieces on Helium:
Drama: Loss of innocence
Think of essays on Helium as more refined and reserved types of reflection. The information and points for your academic or literary essays should be well researched and your sources mentioned within the piece in order to add some punch to the point you are making.
Think about the essays you wrote for high school and college. Like a good wine, essays are crafted with care, take time and appeal to a more discriminating audience. Follow in the footsteps of Annie Dillard or David Foster Wallace and craft an intellectually stimulating essay.
Looking for more guidance? Check out these sources:
Essay books on Amazon.com.
CUNY website on writing essays.
Also, read the Helium guide on editorial writing.
Muse over these great essays:
Essays: Literary suicide
Everyone likes jokes and you can find them everywhere. On Helium, however, we're looking for something that's more developed than a joke, something longer than one-liners, limericks or those annoying chain email jokes. Have a funny story to share? Write it here. Have you been working on a humorous treatise about the irony of airline food? Publish it on Helium. And be sure to write so that a general audience can enjoy it. Nothing is worse than reading an inside joke meant for a select few.
Write humor with particular flair and you're on your way to following in the footsteps of Art Buchwald, Ogden Nash or David Sedaris.
Check these online resources for tips on writing your next light-hearted yarn:
How to Write Humor, by Jim Foreman.
Seven Steps to Better Humor Writing, by Jan Hornung.
Read these wonderful humorous stories:
Humor: Drinking fountains
Humor: Writing while inebriated
Do you keep a diary or a journal? If so, you're on your way to becoming a recognized memoir writer on Helium. Our members share personal stories that will make you laugh one minute and cry the next. If you want to share your experiences, please write a compelling piece that will appeal to a general audience. Think "Memoirs of a Geisha" or "The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen."
Here are some memoir-writing sources:
William Zinsser, author of the classic guide "On Writing Well," talks about writing memoirs, on NPR.org.
The BBC on writing memoirs.
Also read our section on experience writing.
Relish these Helium memoirs:
Memoirs: Halloween memories
Memoirs: The girl next door
Wouldn't it be great to see how your novel will do with a general audience before you publish it? Unfortunately, Helium does not have the infrastructure for you to submit and publish an entire book, but you can submit excerpts under appropriate titles. If you're working on chapters and sections, this is a great way to see how you'll fare in a competitive book market. Each piece must be modified to fit and address the title, and we cannot accept serial pieces (Part 1, 2 . . . ).
If you're working on the next great American novel, check out some of these resources:
National Novel Writing Month website.
How to write a novel on WikiHow.
Read through these excerpts before you buy the book!
Novel excerpts: Siblings
Novel excerpts: Running away
Poetry is one of the most popular channels on Helium. From Shakespearean sonnets to Lyn Lifshin-esque contemporary poems, there's a little bit of everything represented in Helium's poetry channel. All we ask is that you write to the topic of the title and follow our Writing Standards and User Agreement guidelines. Please, no limericks.
Here are some helpful online poetry sites to check out:
How to write a poem, on WikiHow.
Be sure to check out these inspiring poems on Helium:
Poetry: The front porch
Poetry: Poverty (A great use of colloquial language too!)
Poetry: The animal inside me
Do you have thoughts to share on a particular topic, but you've not done the extensive research or analysis required for an essay? "Reflections" is the channel to pen your ideas and point of view on a myriad of topics.
However, we ask that you don't get too personal or fixed in your opinions. This is not the place for personal columns, blog posts, opinionated editorials and the like. Instead, we ask that you share a more thought-out deliberation on a certain topic. Approach reflections as if your professor just asked you what you think about a subject.
Chew on this online reflection writing resource:
Reflection primer, from Elmhurst College.
Read some of our great reflections:
Satire is an interesting animal. Part humor, part reflection, part short story - it uses humor, irony, exaggeration or ridicule to expose or criticize a person, organization or place. It's especially popular when addressing timely issues of the day.
If you're familiar with Sinclair Lewis's "Babbitt," Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" or even Stephen Colbert's program "The Colbert Report," which pokes fun at many of today's self-righteous and opinionated TV commentators, you know what makes good satire.
We ask that you don't use satire to address other Helium members - that's bad form. It's also not a place for jokes or personal tirades.
For more guidance on quality satire, peruse these resources:
An interesting satire primer, on Nottheonion.com.
Seven Golden Rules of Writing Satire, from Rumandmonkey.com.
Have a laugh at these satirical pieces:
Satire: National security
Satire: Why I despise soccer
Short stories are one of Helium's other most popular genres. If you find story writing inspiration from the likes of Anton Chekhov, Isaac Babel, Sarah Orne Jewett, John Cheever or Joyce Carol Oates, then we'd love to get your addition to what can arguably be said is one of the richest forms of creative writing.
Short stories should be purely fictional, between 500 and 2,000 words, and can cover all topics. We've had a number of questions about flash fiction on the site, but at this time, don't have a place for it. Please stick to a more formal form of short story.
Like a good story, you'll need a beginning, a middle and an end. Colorful descriptions, rich characters and pointed dialogue will most certainly boost your story to another level. And solid ratings on Helium should follow.
Read these sites for more information:
How to write a short story, on WikiHow.
An interesting article on writing a short story, from Time magazine.
Story-writing instruction, from the BBC.
Digest these great short stories:
Short stories: Artists
Short stories: Life lessons
The songs subchannel was requested by many Heliumites back in early 2007, and for all our songwriters we created this channel as a place to post your original song lyrics. We do not want song lyrics from other artists - that's plagiarism. We also don't want articles about songs. Just your original and, we all hope, award-winning song lyrics.
Check out these resources if you're working on your next top 40 hit, Indie-rock smash or country classic:
How to write a song, on WikiHow.
Tips on writing song lyrics, from Sound on Sound magazine.
Hum a tune to some of these great lyrics on Helium:
Songs: Home towns
If you submit a well-written and correctly formatted piece to any of the above genres, you're on your way to success through creative writing on Helium. And remember, poetry has a 15-word minimum, songs have a 200-word minimum and everything else requires at least 400 words.