Monday, May 3, 2010

30 ways to slant an article

Yesterday I was cleaning out my office when I came across a 2005 issue of Writers Journal. I wasn’t freelancing back then so I hadn’t paid much attention to the articles that related to freelancers. But yesterday, I re-read the issue with new eyes. Some of the articles were already quaint: one article talked about email submissions as if it were a new-fangled thing, another talked about how to use Microsoft Word, frequently encouraging readers to save their work on a floppy disk. But there was one article that, I think, will forever be useful.

The piece was on article slanting. The author, Dennis Hensley, told of his friendship with a reporter for the Associated Press, who was a master at taking one general topic and churning out dozens of different articles about it. Hensley said that the reporter got these ideas by running every topic through a grid that provided twenty-four ways to spin the subject. He then provided a sample grid and idea to show how it worked.

I thought it was a great exercise and promptly forgot about my office-cleaning project to try it out. I picked a subject that I only know a little about (gardening) and applied it to the grid. It worked great. In fact, I got so enthusiastic about the project that I enlarged the grid to 30 angles. The grid and my results are below.

Give it a whirl, keeping in mind that you won’t always get 24 (or 30) viable articles from the exercise. The grid is only a point of departure – some ideas won’t pan out on closer inspection. But even if you only find 12 or 15 potentially saleable angles, that’s still pretty good, no? Just think of the variety of potential writing markets!

Concept: Gardening
Angle: Article Idea Title

1. Regionalism: An expat’s guide to developing a French garden.

2. Humor: 5 plants even you can't kill.

3. Looking back/recalibration: Experienced gardeners weigh-in on what they would have done differently when starting their gardens.

4. Gender Differences: Tips on how to resolve differences when you and your mate have different visions for your garden.

5.Generational Differences: What your grandchild can teach you about gardening.

6. Contemporary Application: 5 ways technology can improve your garden.

7. Defusing Fear: Declare war on your weeds with these 3 homemade solutions.

8. Prosperity: How to make money from your herb garden

9. Back to Basics The ABC’s of Composting

10. Confidence-Building: It's not too late to change the theme of your garden.

11. Religious/Spiritual: Creating a spiritual space in your garden

12. The arts (poetry, music, painting, cinema) A stroll through famous gardens in poetry.

13. Insider Scoops: Six Things a Landscape Artist would never say to your face about your garden.

14. New Perspective: Yes, you can have a vegetable garden on your balcony!

15. Personal Trauma: Creating a Memorial Garden.

16. Controlling Emotions: How to deal when you hate your next-door neighbor’s garden.

17. Checklists and Procedures: Get the right pH balance for your soil in 5 simple steps.

18. Variation on the Traditional: What you need to start a rock garden.

19. Saving Money: 3 things you think you need a landscape architect for…but don’t.

20. Saving Time: 6 Gardening Tools that can cut your weeding time in half.

21. Mental and Physical Perspective: Tone your abs while pulling weeds!

22. Altruism and Self-sacrifice: How to Start a Community Garden

23. In-Depth Analysis: Book author/award-winning gardener explains the importance of drawing up sun/shade patterns before designing your garden.

24. Using Momentum: Your lawn is finally under control…time to decide on a theme!

25. Historical Perspective: The historical development of the English Garden.

26. Kids: What having a butterfly garden can teach your child.

27. Cuisine: A round-up of edible flowers for your garden (with recipes!)

28. Health: Seven herbs you should have in your garden for better health.

29. Pets: How to stop Rover from eating your petunias.

30. Travel: Five must-see botanical gardens in the world.


  1. Wow, Barbara, that's so cool! I'll have to try it when I don't feel like my head will explode. lol Great post and thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Wow! That's amazing! Magic grid - thanks for the tip(s)!

  3. Heiddi & Sion - sorry I'm so late in responding- it's been a bit of a crazy week. Glad you found the post helpful! It's a fun way to brainstorm.

  4. This is a really cool tool! It looks like it'll help narrow down topics easily.

  5. What a great tip, thanks! I'll have to try that.


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