Finding article ideas

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is where I get article ideas.  Sometimes I get article “ideas” from editors who call with specific article assignments.  Those are a bit easy in that I don’t have to do any work to develop the idea.  But, other times I am the one who has to come up with ideas and pitch them to editors.  I would like to say that I sit around and good ideas just spring into my head with little effort but that almost never happens.  Most ideas come from some of the following sources of inspiration.

My own experiences. Though 97 percent of my writing doesn’t include anything about me, I can draw from my own experiences to develop article ideas.  For example, if I’m going to be researching a topic for personal reasons, then I often try and find an article angle to pitch while I’m at it.

And sometimes I can throw in some personal experience.  I recently wrote an article for Discipleship Journal’s DJ Plus section that focused on how to reach out to those dealing with job loss.  That idea came directly from my own experience with my husband losing his job.  I briefly mentioned that in the short article to establish credibility.

Other media. I am most certainly NOT talking about plagiarizing here.  But many times newspaper articles, magazine articles and television reports can spark ideas.  So much so that I have a file folder in my office where I put articles of interest.  I might find a report on a study that gives me some jump-off ideas for a specific article.  I may find a profile in the local newspaper of a person who I think would fit well with a national magazine using a different angle.

The Internet. This includes everything online from e-mails to e-newsletters to random articles I come across.  The Internet is often my best source when researching an article, but it can also be a great source for coming up with ideas.  I subscribe to a few different e-newsletters that spark ideas for me.  Poynter.org has some great options, especially for journalists.  PewInternet.org is another favorite for studies based on technology that can spark ideas.

People around me. I listen to stories that people tell me.  They may come from my husband, my mom or complete strangers, but good stories are out there.  You just have to listen for them.  Sometimes you can even ask for them.  If I’m looking for a specific type of story, I tell people around me.  I’m often surprised at how I can find the best sources and ideas from unexpected sources. The more people who know what you do, the more likely you are to have people tell you things.

Another way this works is to sort of eavesdrop when waiting in line at places.  For example, if the people behind me in line at the grocery store are talking about the same topic the people in line behind me at the bank are, then that’s something to pay attention to.  Writers write for readers and have to be in touch with what readers care about.

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