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Apr 20 / Joel Cordes

Internship Insider: How to write the perfect article

I’m routinely approached by interns and program alumni with these interrelated questions:

“How can I write an article that will get front page placement on the site?”

“How can I write an article that goes viral for 50,000 or more reads?” (“I felt really good about this one and it got buried.”)

Of course, I’m thrilled to converse with such ambitious and conscientious writers, but my answer is usually more complex, truthful and disappointing than they hoped for.

Bleacher Report has hundreds of contributors, whose talent and ability ranges anywhere from “very good” to “freakishly awesome.”  Every person has to pass writing tests, then consistently deliver clean and engaging copy to increasingly stringent standards.

I also know our placement and programming folks work incredibly hard to showcase our writers’ best work brand-wide.

Placement of any kind (front page, team page, newsletter, mobile, etc.) depends on numerous factors: the writer’s past dependability and production, cleanness of that work’s copy, whether it utilized a desired format, if it had a unique voice compared to similar articles, whether the topic was trending or needed in a specific content area, and if it was already producing via search engines. (Meaning, did the article have a properly executed headline, lead and collection of full keywords to be found by readers in the first place?)

In short, it depends on a TON of different factors, some within your control, and others that aren’t.

As an NBA writer, I can corroborate what you already know: The article you pour every ounce of your soul into is the one that struggles to gain traction and/or reader approval.

Conversely, the piece you were unhappy with is the one that blows up, gaining big reads and consistent praise.

You’ll also see similar articles achieve high placement, even when you’re thoroughly convinced that yours is the better one.


You’ll drive yourself mad with that approach.

Wanting to write the “perfect article” is like the baseball player who asks, “How can I hit a home run? Every time?”

You can’t.

But you can improve your chances!

Clean your copy until it’s bullet-proof. Get on board with how online leads work. Bring something new to the argument with an engaging voice. Follow the insider advice you get from this blog every day.

Write to get better every day. Write a lot. Perfect your swing with every keystroke. Worry about getting on base.

When your article strikes out, get ready for the next at-bat.

When it’s miraculously knocked out of the park, you can tip your cap, knowing how awfully hard you worked to get into that thoroughly unpredictable moment … which was worth all the strikeouts.

* * *

Joel C. Cordes is Bleacher Report’s Sportswriting Internship Program Feedback Editor. Along with fellow editor Greg Pearl, he develops B/R interns by providing feedback and mentoring, the highlights of which are shared with the B/R Blog.

  • Mohamed Al-Hendy

    Glad someone was able to finally bring the good, hard truth out on the blog. This is very, very true; I remember one of my articles surprisingly jumping up to 70,000, and my first thought was “that wasn’t even one of my better articles!” (not that it was bad, it just wasn’t nearly my best work)

    Good post Cordes.

    • Joel Cordes

      Thanks Mohamed, I think it’s the sports writing corollary to “Murphy’s Law!”

  • Ryan Day

    Great post, Joel. I can’t tell you how many articles I thought were great completely bombed and vice versa…and that’s just eight months into B/R. Thanks for sharing, man.

    • Joel Cordes

      Thanks Ryan! One of the other parallels I thought of was the songwriter who is feverishly working to write “another hit.” Most hit songs are the ones the artist can’t stand. Their favorites are the ones that get cut from albums. So, you just write to get better. Worrying about it doesn’t increase your chances of a hit, just your chances of worrying!

  • Jesse Reed

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I have stopped asking the question, personally. I just keep my nose to the grindstone and continue polishing my craft, knowing that in the long run I’ll become successful with that strategy.

    • Joel Cordes

      Thanks for your thoughts. I agree wholeheartedly: I used to unnecessarily raise my blood pressure with every read count. That of course just leads to directed frustration at every part of the process. In the end, relaxing and enjoying the ride means you get to enjoy the scenery a little bit more.

  • Kstott60

    The perfect way of looking at this subject matter. Well said Joel.

    • Joel Cordes

      I appreciate the kind words! The scary truth is that I was highly unsure of this post when writing it. (Of course, it’s turning out to be very well-received… thus proving itself! :-)

  • Carl Stine

    Well said, I totally agree, and think you put it very well.

  • Anonymous

    This may be the best piece of advice I have received as a writer. Thank you for sharing, Joel.

  • Nick Kostora

    It almost feels like you wrote this post to answer the exact thoughts running through my mind. Great advice and a wonderful read Joel.