COM 307: How-to articles

Your third writing assignment is to write a how-to story. The assignment is due Nov. 2. Elements of a how-to story, guidelines and tips are below.
You may write your how-to story about any topic you wish, well, almost any topic. Please do not write stories telling people how to do things that are illegal. There is already plenty of that on the Web.
So please do not promote anything that is illegal or offensive. Try to think of a how-to story that will help – and even entertain – your readers.
Be original. Come up with a story that is creative and unusual. That will help your piece stand out from the tens of thousands of how-to stories that are already on the Web.
One of the most popular websites for how-to stories is called Lifehacker. It features such stories as:

Two how-to stories won first- and second-place in Coquina magazine’s writing contest in the spring of 2010. The winning story – based on number of hits – was a story telling readers how to convince a reluctance boyfriend to propose marriage. In second place was a story telling women how to secretly sabotage their boyfriend’s PlayStation so he’ll spend more time with you.

A New York publication – Metroland Online – published how-to stories that readers submitted. The stories included:

  • How to Save the Earth from a Killer Asteroid
  • How to Get your Bike Home from Paris
  • How to Live with your Kitty in a Pet-free Apartment
  • How to Sell your Junk on eBay

A website called eHow features a wide variety of how-to stories. If you publish your story in eHow, I’ll give you extra credit.

Elements of a how-to story include:

  • An interesting lead. Hook the reader right away, then quickly get to your advice for readers.
  • Tips. Be as specific as you can. Don’t tell readers, for instance, that tipping is encouraged. Tell them exactly how much they should tip.
  • Bullet points, rankings or lists. Example: Top 10 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Cyberbullying. These make your how-to easier to read.
  • Credible sources. Interview and quote experts who help tell your story. This is a key element, yet student journalists often overlook it.
  • Attribution. Cite sources of key information in your story.
  • Quality writing. Take extra care to make your writing fresh, colorful, interesting, concise and informative.


  • Google your story topic to see what else, if anything, has been written. Your goal should be to add to the conversation or debate about your topic, not rehash what’s already been covered.
  • Don’t leave unanswered questions in your story.


  • Please type your story, print it out and give me a copy of it by the start of class on Nov. 2.
  • Do not post your story to your blog yet. Wait until I grade it and give it back to you.
  • You are not allowed to interview friends, relatives or family members.
  • Your topic should be of interest to Florida readers.
  • You may conduct interviews in person or by phone or by email.
  • You must shoot or obtain a photograph to illustrate your story.
  • Make sure your interview subjects know that the story will appear online for the world to see.
  • Your story must include interview subject’s first and last name, job title or occupation, age and town of residence.
  • You must talk to and quote at least two human sources who are knowledgeable about your subject.
  • Your story should contain at least 400 words. Include the word count at the bottom of your story, please.
  • Include your email address at the bottom of your story so that readers can contact you.

The assignment is worth 10 points. Be aware of these point deductions:

  • 1 point off if you don’t cite at least two human sources
  • 1 point off if you misspell the name of a person, company or organization
  • 1 point off if you have five or more AP style errors
  • 1 point off if you don’t meet the 400-word minimum

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