4 Smart Tips For Studying A Magazine

When it comes to writing for print you will often hear people say “study the magazine” before you submit.

So what exactly does that mean?

This is a big issue for many new writers, and I know that I did it totally wrong when I first began freelancing. Let me help you avoid some of the pitfalls, by pointing out how to use your time efficiently when reviewing a magazine…

Tip 1

Skim, don’t read.

I thought that “studying” meant reading every article in the publication a few times—and very carefully.

Don’t do that.

Instead, skim articles and look for things such as:

  • Do they use expert quotes?
  • What is the tone? Is it formal? Casual?
  • Do they use a lot of factual information in sidebar boxes or is it primarily narrative?
  • How long are the pieces?

Tip 2

Examine the cover.

The cover of a magazine will tell you a lot about what types of articles they tend to publish. Read the titles carefully. Do they use a lot of “Top 10” pieces? Do you see any “how to” articles? Are they emphasizing any topics, such as budgeting, fitness or childcare? If you can get a few issues of the magazine and study the titles on the front, you’ll get a feel for what the editors tend to gravitate toward in terms of content.

Tip 3

Look at the ads.

This may well be the key to breaking into a magazine in my opinion.

The ads tell you about the reader. Since this is who the publication is speaking to overall, it will really help you get an idea of who the people are that actually buy the magazine. Do you see a lot of ads for diamonds and guard dogs? Chances are the readers have some money. Notice a lot of kids in the advertisements? The publication may cater to parents. Take some time to review the ads and you will be on your way to developing a good query because you will understand the audience.

Tip 4

Keep an eye out for “shorts”.

At least that is what I call them. Some writers refer to them as “fillers”. These are short pieces that can offer you the possibility of breaking in without sending a query. Better yet, they offer new writers a way to get a foot in the door without having to present publication credits. These short pieces can show an editor that you have the chops to get the job done. Not all magazines have them, but when they do, they offer a good point of entry.

The bottom line here is you need to try and train yourself to look at magazines differently than when you are just a reader. When you study them, you need to put on your “writer” hat and think about what the packaging says to you in terms of crafting a query. If you can master this one step, you’ll be a lot closer to a published clip than writers who skim the guidelines and fire off an idea.

And once you get in the habit of studying magazines this way, you’ll never quite look at them the same way again.

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Catherine L. Tully has over nine years of experience writing for magazines such as American Style, AAA Living and Boys' Life. She is the editor for an award-winning blog on freelance writing and also owns and edits a blog for dance professionals.

10 thoughts on “4 Smart Tips For Studying A Magazine”

  1. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is one of the single most valuable posts I’ve read in a long time. Way to not rehash all the information already out there Cath! It’s funny, because the tips are so simple and obvious once you read them–I think that’s really the key though–simplicity.

  2. Great tips. There really is a difference with writing for print. I have found more than once I had to advise a client against using a web writing style that didn’t fit the style of the print magazine.

    I enjoy writing for print publications but most of my experience has been with my niche industry magazines. For variety, I would love to go outside those. I appreciate the perspective of the Print Pro. 🙂

  3. Just want to echo what Yo said first, Catherine.

    When I read blog posts, I tend to quickly read through them and go back to bits that sound interesting. This post, however, I read all the way through. Twice.

    Magazine writing is something I really want to get in to and this will hopefully help a lot.

  4. I can’t tell you all how much I appreciate the feedback. I really do sit down and try to think about putting something up that is more than fluff. There’s enough of that out there already…

    I’m trying to give some real “nuts and bolts” info….tune in next month for more! 🙂

  5. Like the others, I loved this post. 🙂 The ad tip is especially useful. It’s easy to forget that it’s not about writing for a publication — it’s about writing for their target market. You have to have a firm grasp of who that market includes (and that’s true whether you’re writing for print, the Web, or corporate clients).

  6. I realize that it’s about the target audience, thanks for the reminder. I’m getting the hang of writing query letters and was complimented on the one I just submitted. I hope to submit more query letters and begin writing for magazines.


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