When writing a historical article the main objective should always be accuracy. This means factual information which can be scrutinized and verified as being truthful and historically accurate. This simple goal of accuracy should be present throughout the entire course of research and compiling the information that will go into the article.
These are the top five rules that will help you create a great article. These are posted as helpful rules in the hope that many of you reading this will consider contributing to history by posting a story or two from your own corner of the world. These are the top 5 rules in how to compose a great article!
1. Write about something that is near and dear to your heart. You will find it easier, more enjoyable, and your readers will walk away feeling your connection and enthusiasm in what you have written.
2. Know what type of article you are writing and follow the standard premise of such articles. There are different types of historical articles and they usually fall under two categories, biographies and historical accounts. They are both basically the same but biographies tend to be of actual individuals whereas “historical accounts” are usually of historical events or companies.
3. Do the article justice! When writing any type of article, make sure to go all the way. Do not cut corners on research. By taking it slow and considering all options you will learn where and how to further research in order to compile great additional information that will only help your article further stand out.
4. Add as many images as possible! The readers will better connect to the information and walk away feeling as they were a part of it. The article will also be more enjoyable to read and the images will break the text up. There is nothing worse than a wall of text where there is no redeeming light at the end of the tunnel. If you don’t have historical images then include current images or other related images that accomplish the same task, just make sure they are related to the content of the article.
5. Make the article fun, add personal stories or touches that provide the readers an additional insight to the people or places they are reading about
Those basic five rules should be the foundation of your article.
Keep in mind that all “history” regardless if it’s a personal biography, a company history, or historical events all share one single common denominator which should be your starting point and that’s a time line of events.
By outlining your article in a time line you can start to gather and organize the information that you will use for the final draft. In a biography this time line would start at the person’s birth date and continue until their death or the current day when the article was written if the person is still alive.
In a company or historical event it would be the starting date and the final date of either the company or the event. If a company is still in business the end date will be the current date of the article and the article should indicate the company is still in business.
Gathering information in today’s digital age is much easier than it once was. Today we are just a click away from information that just a few years ago was all but out of reach.
To help better illustrate how to properly research an article we are going to use the Physicians’ Exchange article in the Kansas City Series as a way to help walk us through this process together. Read that article and familiarize yourself with its content and lay out. That article can be seen here
When beginning the research there was nothing regarding this company online, but then again at that time the internet was in its infancy. There were no images or anyone who could be found online that could offer any assistance. Therefore the best place to start was with the people directly associated with the company.
When writing an article the first place to start is with the family members associated with the topic. In this case it was a company history of a long closed company and the ability to know the names of the descendants can be difficult in such cases. Normally public record searches would be required to obtain any names but in this case the name of the last owner of the company was well known.
Doing a general internet search the owner of the ambulance service was located online. The next step was verifying the contact information and then picking up the phone and trying to call. It was discovered that at almost 90 years of age he was in fact still up and around. It was exciting to finally make contact with him, and the author was pleased to find that he was a wealth of information. He was also surprised that all these years later someone of a younger generation was interested in his old company which had closed almost 38 years ago. A wonderful conversation ensued but before the call there was an outlined a list of questions on a note pad and room left under each question to scribble down the answers. He was able to provide a great deal of history about his old Ambulance Service Company.
Here is a list of suggested research places that you can utilize that might provide you with helpful information on an article of your own,
• The family (relatives) of the person or company you are researching
• Past employees or their descendants
• Others in the same line of work or other business associates. This is how I obtained a great deal of cross over information.
• The public library archives. These usually contain images and documents and are now often times in a searchable data base.
• Public records including the tax assessor’s office
This image below is from the great city wide Tax assessment of 1940 (that’s why the guy is out front holding a sign with a number on it) but this archived image then provided the only image of the building that was used in 1940
• Business and incorporation filings archives
• Newspapers and other publications. Even if you don’t use them in the actual article they can provide a great deal of information (below is an example)
• Old phone directories on line, some cities have scanned and placed old phone books online which contain both information and advertisements that can greatly add in the research of a project. In the case of Physicians Exchange a time line was able to be established as to the addresses and locations of each location throughout their 60 year history. This example is in the form of screen shots which were converted and saved as images taken from the phone books online which helped us establish that the 3130 Main Street location was used for almost 10 years. Then the image above from the tax assessment showed us what the location at 3130 Main Street looked like as the family did not have any pictures of that location.
Here are the screen shots from the directories
(above) was the address in 1929 KCMO directory
(above) was the address in 1932 KCMO directory
(above) was the address in 1940 KCMO directory
(above) was the address in 1945 KCMO directory
(above) was the address in 1949 KCMO directory
(above) was the new address at 2826 main Street in the 1950 KCMO directory. This indicated the first year at their new building which coincides with the dates I was given.
• Genealogy or “Find-a-grave” type websites can also be a great source of information. They can also yield valuable information and images. This was in fact where images of several of the people pivotal in Physicians Exchange were obtained and with the permission of the family I was able to repost the images in the article which goes back to rule number #4 in adding as many images as possible.
Here are a few additional suggestions that might also help you. Before contacting any family members for your research always have a note pad ready with a pen to write down answers. You should have a list of simple questions prepared so you stay on focus and know what information you need. Exchange contact information at the beginning of the conversation so if you are unexpectedly cut off all parties have a way of contacting each other again.
Don’t be afraid to conduct your follow up interviews via email by asking if that option would be possible but be prepared to go the old fashion route if that’s not an option. I’m my case I had to make many long distance phone calls as several of the key people in my articles were over the age of 65 and they simply don’t use email or computers as much. I discovered many of the younger people were very open to using email and that was truly helpful, especially if they live in another state or country.
Ask for additional leads or anyone else that might have additional information or images. With the Physician’s Exchange article it wasn’t until after it was posted and went viral that another key player was put in touch with us who then provided such sufficient additional information and images that we actually re-wrote the article to include those items and images and then re-posted the article.
You will be surprised at who might have images or information. There are several articles awaiting final draft and last minute information before they get posted just for this very reason. (This means check back to read more great articles that are soon to be posted)
Also be prepared to spend money on getting never before seen pictures digitalized. Several times there were images that were either in slide format or old prints but had never been digitalized. Most of the time the family members already have these images in some form of digital media, they have just never had a reason or place to post them on line outside of a family album. Professionalcar.org does offer a free digitalization service that you can read about here.
Also when obtaining images from individuals make sure all the images they are providing are actually their images and be sure to get written permission to use all of the images you plan to include in your article. At Professionalcar.org, image piracy and fair use are things we take very seriously, so please make sure you are the owner of the images you are sending or have written permission available to include with your article for any images you are using in your article.
Expect to spend some money on long distant phone calls or getting images copied and digitalized. This goes back to rule #3 in not cutting corners. If you are not able to spend the time, effort and money on phone bills then wait to post the article until you can do it proper justice. Often times the family will foot the small bill in getting you the images if they see you are devoted to the article and are spending time and money on phone calls and other research.
Post your article where it will be seen by as many people as possible, this also goes back to rule #3 in doing the article justice! There is no better way to disrespect those hard working men and women of the past who helped forge history than by posting their contributions to history in a place where very few people will ever see that content. To do the article justice means getting the historical information out so its available and visible to as many people as possible. You want to get your hard work to the largest audience you possible can. And the easiest way to do that is to make sure the information is available on a site that is free, and make sure that the articles are frequently indexed by the major search engines. Membership sites or pay sites are generally not fully indexed by search engines, so articles posted in the “Members only sections” will never show up in an internet search, and that limits the potential audience that will see all of your hard work.
Finally have fun while working on your project. The joy comes with the research and posting such articles. There is just a sense of inner pride knowing you have contributed to history in your own unique way as a writer of such articles that share a part of the past history. Your pride and interest in the subject matter should come across in your article, and a well written article will share that pride and interest with the readers and spark their interest in the topic at hand.
We hope to see your articles here soon and feel free to contact us here and ask for help as we will be more than glad to assist you any way that we can.
Professional Car Writing Staff