Tips for Writing Popular Articles

Popular articles are found in magazines meant for the general public. I always think of TIME magazine, but National Geographic, Scientific American, and the New Yorker are other good examples. The defining feature of this genre is that it is informative writing meant for a nonspecialized audience. This means that writers may write about things they know a lot about, but they take pains to make it readable for a wider audience than just academics or those very familiar with the topic. As such, the writer usually stays away from super-specialized jargon and instead goes for clear, concise explanation—just enough information so that the reader can “get their feet wet” and learn something, not feel as if they are drowning in information or, worse, feel as if they can’t understand what the writer is talking about due to a lack of expertise or previous knowledge. This should be your goal too. Below are some tips to keep in mind when writing a popular article.

  • Try to avoid super-fancy jargon when an idea or concept can just as effectively be communicated without it. Using jargon can alienate readers who are unfamiliar with it—it “looks scary” and, many times, it only serves to confuse or disinterest the general reader
  • Be as clear and concise as possible
  • Assume that the reader is generally educated but that the reader has very little specific knowledge about the subject at hand (i.e. they are not professionals and scholars in the field)
  • Include only what you need to make your point and help readers understand; this isn’t the place to show off how much you know
  • Consider carefully the purpose of your article. Are you trying to incite activism? Or just inform? Are you trying to paint a picture for your audience? Use the tone of your piece and the organization of your article to help create your intended effect.
  • Citations (if you have sources to cite) should be done carefully, and many times the style used for popular articles is different from what you may use in a more formal paper (again, the goal being to not alienate or overload a general readership)–refer to the assignment for guidance/expectations in this regard