How To Develop an Idea for an Article

In an age of social media dominance, it’s easy to use some of our best ideas to fire off a quick tweet or Instagram post rather than saving them for longer-form writing. Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, an author and research professor of English, believes social media has its place in a writer’s toolkit, but our best ideas usually need time and space to develop. 

What do you do with an idea you believe deserves a more in-depth exploration? You can develop your idea further and write an article.

If you would like to write articles for other publications, Karen suggests the following four steps for developing your piece.

Read For Inspiration

As an English professor, Karen strongly encourages writers to begin by reading about their topic. This includes reading work specific to your topic, but it should also involve reading books and articles that tangentially touch on your idea. Ideas take shape when you read quality work that is broad in its scope. You risk underdeveloping an idea if you haven’t read about it broadly enough and explored both larger themes and smaller side issues. This is the stage where ideas grow, and you can begin to narrow down what you want to say.

Develop and Refine Your Idea

Once you’ve read for inspiration, you should expect to gain some clarity on your own thoughts. What aspects of your topic do you want to discuss? Which elements will you leave out? Reading well helps narrow down the essential idea you want to convey in your writing. Your unique point of view on the topic may become immediately apparent, or this stage may take some time. Once your article idea is specific enough, you can begin to consider the audience and publication that suits the piece. While it’s not time to pitch your article just yet, thinking through these details will help you develop and refine your idea. 



Research goes beyond the initial exploration of reading about the topic. It includes a deep dive into aspects of your idea that you may not have been aware of initially. Research requires note-taking and making critical connections between sources. Karen once generated 32 pages of notes for a 1000 word article. Not every idea necessitates this level of research, but it might require more than you think. Critical reading and thinking skills will serve every writer well in this stage. These skills help writers see how their idea fits into the larger body of work other writers have already developed. 


Develop Your Pitch

When developing a pitch, consider what you’ve already read and researched on the topic. What fresh take will you contribute to the conversation? What new ideas do you have that further the discussion? If there’s nothing new to say, then revisit the research and refine your idea further. When the idea is well developed and your audience clearly defined, the pitch will come together more effectively. If you’re struggling to write the pitch, then it’s likely the idea needs more development.

Each of these steps for developing an article idea requires time and planning. It’s easy to get stuck in one of these areas, either by reading too much and never moving forward with your ideas or by getting bogged down in the research phase. It’s important to set some loose guidelines and limits around each phase of development so you continue to make progress.


Do you struggle to stay on track when developing ideas and writing articles? The hope*writers Progress Planner is a resource that helps you take your someday writing goals and bring them into your reality today, one small step at a time. Click here to learn more about the Progress Planner and start making progress in your writing life.


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