I know, it's extra work. But in reviewing back copies, you’ll see how an author handles a subject. You'll discover the writing style—whether the tone is serious or playful. You'll see if the author writes the piece in first, second, or third person. (Writing in second person is challenging, but fun.) You'll get a feel if quotes are needed. Reading published articles will show you how the author handled the hook and closed the piece. Lastly, you'll be able to compare your work to the published pieces and see if your article will be a good fit for the magazine.
Once, I received a strange nonfiction article for Stories for Children Magazine. This piece was only a list of words in alphabetical order of collective nouns. In contrast, a nonfiction article has a beginning with a hook, a middle and an ending that usually ties in to the beginning. It’s been well-researched and has a bibliography. A list is not a nonfiction article.
I think the author desperately wanted to teach children about collective nouns. Had she read a few back issues, she would have noticed that the editors publish more substantial pieces. She would have also learned that her “article” fell short of the word count.
Though this author’s first attempt was rejected, she should not give up. She should consider revising her work so that it reads more like nonfiction. She should hunt for a suitable publication because her subject might make an interesting article. But before submitting again, she ought to review a few back issues first.