Society Pages

Contributing to Intercom

Tips for Putting Your Best Material Forward

When you submit articles to Intercom, the editorial team works hard to ensure that your final article is as good as it can be. For some articles that come in, all that is required is some straightfoward copyediting. For other articles, however, more extensive revisions are needed; sometimes, these revisions include significant content reduction so that an article will fit in its allocated space.

There are things that writers can do, though, to reduce the amount of rework and markup that has to occur after articles have been submitted. We’ve outlined some of them here:

Work Within the Word Count

The biggest help writers can provide for themselves and the magazine’s editors is to determine how long an article needs to be in order to properly cover the chosen topic. The feature articles within Intercom publish to the following word counts:

  • Two published pages = 1,400 words
  • Three published pages = 2,100 words
  • Four published pages = 2,800 words

These total word counts include all of the following: body text, headings, figure captions, table titles and content, and author bio paragraphs. It’s also important to remember that every graphic in your article (e.g., screenshots, line drawings, flowcharts, and photos) subtracts approximately 175 words from your total word count. So, if you’re sending in an article that you intended to be two published pages, and it includes two screenshots or photos, your total word count actually needs to be 1,100 words—not 1,400 words.

Author bios must be 50 words or less and need to include an email address. Within reason, you can include any information you want about your STC activities, your business, publishing credits, or the basis for your expertise. Leave information about your hobbies or “passions” for your Facebook page or blog profile. Increasingly, authors are including URLs to their websites, blogs, or LinkedIn profiles; doing so reduces the size of the bios in an article and promotes traffic to authors’ online ventures.

Use Graphics Judiciously

When you work with technical manuals all day, you’re used to using graphics however often you need to. When you’re writing for a fixed, allotted space in
Intercom, however, you need to exercise different judgment about which graphics you send to us. In tutorials in particular, you rarely can load as many graphics onto a magazine page as you can in a manual, an FAQ document, or a webpage—unless you want the final result to look like a poorly designed jigsaw puzzle.

Create a balance between your text and graphics, making sure that there’s enough text in the body of your article to support the visual weight of the graphics you want to use. If you’re using screenshots, pick the ones that display windows, tabs, and dialog boxes that are too complex to briefly describe in text. If a dialog box has, for example, a single drop-down field and OK and Cancel buttons, you likely can leave out the graphic and adequately handle your discussion of the dialog box solely with text.

Save all graphics into high-resolution graphics files, instead of embedding them in the body of a Word document; sooner or later, you will be asked for your original graphics files, so you save yourself extra steps by sending them to begin with. Put a highlighted placeholder in your article to indicate where each figure will need to go. Then name your graphics files with a naming convention like YourLastName_Figure1, YourLastName_ Figure2, and so on.

Avoid Spacehogs

When you work in manuals and online help all day, you view things like headings and bulleted lists differently. You use them appropriately, whenever and wherever you need, without much concern about space.

But in the tight quarters of a magazine page, three or four levels of headings, lots of bulleted lists, and overly chunky bullet list items decrease readability and chew up a lot of space, resulting in articles that overrun their allotted page count. Frequently, these are symptoms of writers who are trying to fit too much into one article. In these cases, we work with authors to substantially edit articles to remove third- and fourth-level headings, recast chunky bulleted lists into paragraphs with embedded subheads, modify other lists to reduce the page real estate they attempted to claim, and cut sections because they ultimately were outside the genuine scope of the article.

It’s understood by Intercom’s editors that for many of our members, writing for magazines is a new endeavor. They start from what they are familiar with, and try to figure out the rest as they go along. To that end, new writing guidelines have been posted to to help all
Intercom contributors navigate their forays into magazine writing. We believe that not only will these guidelines help produce articles that the magazine will be proud to publish and the authors will be proud to include in their portfolios, but that they also will help you start developing a whole new set of marketable skills.