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Freelance Writer Guidelines

These are guidelines for staff journalists who are given assignments to write articles for Small Business Trends.

Article Length

These are suggestions, not hard and fast rules in every case. We’d rather you focus on conveying the information, and not pad an article to meet a certain word count:

  • News articles – 250 – 500 words
  • Product Lists – 750 -1,000 words
  • In-depth news articles – 750 -1,200 words
  • Product reviews – 750 -1,500 words

Article Style and Structure

  • Write in journalism style: Write like you’re writing more for the Wall Street Journal than “blog style”. Avoid use of the word “I” most of the time (it’s about the reader and topic – so speak directly to them instead).
  • Get to the point right away: State the point of the article in the first paragraph, preferably in the first sentence or two. In other words, the first paragraph should simply be a longer, more fleshed-out version of the article title, adding a couple of the most important details the reader will want to know up front. Additional less-important details can be added in later paragraphs.
  • Avoid fluff intros: Avoid starting news articles with obvious truisms such as “Small business owners are concerned about profit.” SMB owners don’t need Small Business Trends to tell them something they already know.  Instead — simply get to the point of the article.
  • Speak TO small business owners and entrepreneurs. Remember, our audience IS the business owner, not the employee or a member of the general public.
    • Do this: “In your business, you may need to give employees a policy.”
    • Not: “If your employer gives you a policy….”
  • Avoid hyperbole, exaggeration or sensationalism: We are going for credibility.
    • Use exclamation points sparingly.
    • A single exaggerated sentence may be used for effect, but make clear that it’s for effect.
    • If you make a statement that takes a firm stance or makes a firm conclusion, be sure it can be backed up.  (E.g., “Apple is going to fail without Steve Jobs.” That’s a statement of opinion that shouldn’t be made as if it’s a definite fact.)
  • Avoid unintentional exaggeration through broad sweeping statements:
    • Words such as all, most, every, many — or any statement that implies the same — should be examined carefully. For instance, if you are making a broad statement to apply to every single small business, ask yourself: could this really be true of every small business in the United States or the world?
    • Example: “Small businesses love [hate] Obamacare.” It’s impossible to say that all 28 million small business owners in the U.S. are 100% of the same mind and NO business owner disagrees. Therefore, that statement is not credible.
    • It’s OK to quote a third party making exaggerated or overly broad statements.  Just make sure it’s clear that it’s a quote.

Paragraph & Sentence Length

  • Keep paragraphs to 5 sentences or fewer, 3 or fewer if possible. Shorter paragraphs are easier to read on a computer screen.
  • Keep sentences short. Break up long sentences into two.
  • Bullet points make articles easy to scan. But use bullets in moderation, as too many bullets backfires.
  • Consider bolded subheadings for long articles. They break up large expanses of text.

Links in Articles

We like you to link out to relevant sources — because readers appreciate additional sources where they can get the answers they seek.  Generally, links to up to 3 different sources are good in a 400-word article. However, fewer or more can be acceptable. When deciding on links:

  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes: would you appreciate another source to read with more information? If so, link to it. Try not to link to Wikipedia, as it’s not an original source and Wikipedia articles change.
  • If you are reporting on something that you learned about elsewhere, give credit to that source and link to it. (E.g., “As reported by Techcrunch yesterday,”)
  • Please test all links to make sure they are correct.

Titles

(Usually it is the Editor’s job to create a title, but if you wish to develop one, here are ideas:)

Title Length: Cannot exceed 70 characters including spaces (or it gets cut off in our feed and search engines).

Use the Rule of 2’s: Whenever possible, avoid using more than two (or any combination thereof) of the following in a title:

  • names (of people or companies)
  • acronyms
  • numbers
  • anything in quote marks

Names, phrases, numbers and acronyms make it difficult to scan a title. If you start adding 3 or 4 of these elements in a single 70-character title, it’s too difficult to read. When in doubt, read the title aloud. If it’s awkward to say the words aloud, it will be even more awkward for the reader to take in.

Minimize Use of Short Words in Titles: Pronouns and prepositions, such as “of, the, his, a, she” etc. make titles wordy. Sometimes they are necessary for understanding – but see if you can still understand the title if you edit them out. When a title has multiple short 2- and 3-letter words in it, please reword it.

Use the Headline Generator to Develop Titles: https://smallbiztrends.com/tools/title-generator/

Images

Usually you will not need to worry about the image, except in a few circumstances:

  • When doing a product review or product article, and you need to include screenshots.
  • When the article involves a new product or service — sometimes the images are not yet publicly available and only provided to media outlets in a press release or by the publicist.
  • Human interest news articles may require a special approach, such as pulling images from the Facebook page of the subject of the article.  In those situations you may need to identify images for Staci that suit the tone of the article.
  • When assigned a “list article” such as “Best places to do yada yada.”  Here again, special images may need to be sourced and it’s best to coordinate with Staci up front, to avoid re-work later on.

In those cases you may need to help Staci source the images. Note: we get images directly from the company involved or its website or images it placed on its own social channels. We never grab images created by third-parties from other websites or from other media outlets, due to copyright issues.

Image requirements:  if you request an image or screenshot from a company (or if you prefer to load one yourself), ideally we need the following size:

  • 1000 x 560 is ideal size to load (and WordPress will automatically size downward — but we like the larger images in case we need them for the future)
  • 620 x 350 is also acceptable. (We prefer images that are rectangular-horizontal. Avoid tall or square images, as they take up too much screen space.)
  • Include image attribution in a small footnote, such as: Image credit: Samsung. (If an issue ever comes up, say 2 years from now, we’ll know where the image came from.)

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