Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Writing for the Trades

By Scott Warner
Scott Warner

The mantra frequently repeated to the hopeful writer is "write what you know." But what do you know? That's the burning question, but the answer is simple: more than you think. If you are a professional, writing for trade magazines may be a good place to start.

Trade magazines are those published for a particular profession. They offer industry advertising, classified listings, and informative articles. They may be published monthly or bimonthly, on the web or paper or both. They provide a perfect venue for professionals to share expertise, although they are unlikely to be read outside a given profession. Trade magazine editors may encourage professionals to contribute articles.

My experience is a case in point. I'm a hospital laboratory manager in Maine. In 1998, I helped to implement a computer system in a laboratory, and I found what I thought was a unique solution to a problem. Advance for Medical Laboratory Professionals is a bimonthly trade magazine with a circulation of 50,000. Would they be interested in an article about my solution? I wondered.

I looked at the magazine's masthead, called the telephone number for Merion Publications, and asked to speak to Betty Mooney, the editor of the magazine. I didn't think that I was being bold at the time. Rather, I reasoned that she would be interested in a unique perspective to solving a common problem. As a professional, I knew what I wanted to talk about, so my end of the conversation would not be tentative. But I didn't have any idea what I would encounter when and if I talked to an editor. I had an impression that editors are harried, gruff people with little time for chit-chat, probably because I'd watched too many episodes of Lou Grant.

I reached Betty and explained why and what I wanted to write about. To my delight, Betty was cordial and receptive to the idea. We talked for a half hour or so, and she clearly outlined how the article should be written. She was interested and helpful, and left the writing of the article to me with a deadline date. She even gave me the contact information of another writer working on a similar article.

I've since written for several trade magazines and found other editors to be just as eager to find good content. I offer the following tips that may apply to other professions.

  • Write in a conversational style. Do not write to impress.
  • Do your homework before writing the article. Give the reader unique information or a unique perspective. Content is more important than writing skill.
  • Include data if applicable, but don't reinvent the wheel if a better study has been done elsewhere.

Keep in mind, also, that as a member of a profession you're likely to know your audience. In fact, you're likely to be a typical member of your audience. There is no need to talk down to or try to impress people who you know. Write the article as though you are writing for you

Writing for trade magazines is a start, and so is writing what you know. Once begun, it's easy to write about what you know. But it's just that -- a beginning. Are there other trade publications in related professions? Are there other magazines with a wider audience that might accept similar ideas? Or, should you write next about what you don't know? Those are the next questions after this first step.