I’ve spent a lot of time researching various approaches to writing over the years. I’ve also invested quite a bit of effort into optimising my approach to writing articles and blogposts so that they add more value to the people who read them.
Specifically, I’ve leaned towards copywriting as a kind of specialist area. If you’re wondering why, it’s because I think that it’s kind of a timeless skill, and one that’s very relevant in a world where increasingly – all of our content is digital and people have to be very selective about what they pay attention to.
No doubt you might have your own opinion about what good writing actually is, so to clarify things from my perspective – good [copy] writing checks the following boxes:
- It’s engaging.
- It’s easy to read.
- It’s focused.
- It’s persuasive and provokes the reader to take some kind of action.
Of course good writing isn’t just a matter of being persuasive and leading the reader towards a defined outcome. There’s a whole bunch of other considerations. In fact, some people would say the biggest part of good writing is actually good editing. And I’m coming around to agreeing with them.
As a result, I’m starting to follow a process for how I write. It’s early days still – but it works pretty well so far, and I figure it might be useful for others of you out there. So I thought I’d share it with you, below:
The good blogging or article writing guide
Start with the end in mind
The catalyst for any article or blogpost is some kind of an idea for what it is you want to communicate to the reader. Often I will have an idea for a blog post or an article (in fact I have a backlog of potential ideas which I curate and add to over time) – but before I start writing I need to take a step back and think about what the goal of the article is. I need to try to figure out:
- Who specifically the article is targeted at?
- What they’re going to take away from reading it?
Dig deeper by asking why?
This next step is just an extension of the first one really. I’m trying to get as clear as I possibly can about who I’m targeting, and what specifically they’re going to take away – by answering the question “why would they read this?” or “why do they care?”
It’s important to try to have an answer for this question because there’s such a huge volume of content out there on the interwebs that, unless your article or post is fulfilling a specific want or desire , it’s unlikely to get read. The more focused and specific you can get with your content, the more likely your audience is to read it, and get something good out of it.
What are the claims and how can you support them?
In the world of copywriting, where you’re trying to sell a specific product or service, you might have a bunch of claims or features that you’re trying to convey in a piece of writing. If you did, you would want to try to support those claims in some way by providing some customer testimonies or some data that backs up what it is you’re trying to say.
In a blogpost or article, you might do the same thing. But instead of claims you might have some opinions or thoughts, that you need to back up in some way. Either through your own experiences, or some examples, or some data, or by referring to somebody else’s work.
Personally I treat this step as an optional extra. It’s a useful prompt, to get me thinking about how I fit into the article or post that I’m writing, and to try to use examples where possible. But it’s not always necessary, depending on the type or style of article you’re writing.
In this step I’ll start to think about what format I’m going to write the post in. Often, the topic will dictate the format to some extent. But in case it doesn’t, I can use this bullet as a heuristic to make me think about it a little more.
Depending on how you like to write, you may want to wait until after you’ve put down a draft before worrying about the structure. Alternatively, you may start writing with a specific structure in mind. Where online content is concerned, people prefer to read content that:
- Can be scanned easily.
- Is focused.
- Is actionable.
For this reason, list posts and how-to’s tend to be very popular.
Write to the reader
You may have noticed that I’ve been doing this throughout the entire article so far. Yes – I’m talking to you! I know who you are (as a result of the earlier steps) and I’m speaking to you directly. 🙂
Sometimes this is down to good editing. When you’re drafting your post or article, it’s not unusual to switch between talking about yourself, or the person you’re writing at, or some other vague group of people (we). When you’re writing the first draft, it doesn’t matter, since you can always come back and make corrections later. But when you do come back to it, make sure your focus is upon the reader, and speak to them with your writing.
Get the first draft out!
This is the hardest bit for most people. That initial step of actually getting some words down on paper. Or in Word, or wherever it is you do your writing. (I’m using Evernote at the moment, but that changes every few months or so.)
The trick is to just start. There’s really no way around it. No matter how long you stare at the blank page, those words just aren’t going to appear without you starting to write. And once you have started, things begin to get a bit easier. But there’s some additional steps that I’ve found really helpful in getting my drafts on paper within a reasonably short space of time:
- Just start writing anything – literally anything. If I’m blocked, even just writing what’s going on inside my head at the time can be enough to get me started.
- Once the flow has started – don’t stop it. Don’t over think what you’re writing, or start editing your words as you go along. All of that can wait until later.
- Try to get the whole draft down in one go, if possible. It may not always be possible – but I personally always find it hard to pick up half-finished drafts again, and you may too. It’s not like the end of the world if you can’t finish in one sitting. But it’s better if you can.
- Walk away and let the text ferment a bit. Aim for at least a day. This is also hard. Once you’ve written your piece, you just want to get it out there and done, right? Trust me – I feel your pain. But hold out. Good things are coming.
Rewrite your article
After you’ve given it a day or so’s space, you’ll come back to your article with fresh eyes and more of a willingness to tighten it up some. When you re-read it, you’ll probably discover all kinds of issues that you either didn’t notice or chose to ignore while you were writing it. Now’s the time to tidy them up. Broadly speaking, you’ll have the following things to focus on:
- The big picture, or how the article reads overall. Does it need some restructuring? Does it flow? This is an opportunity for you to move things around a bit, if so. You might want to tidy up the introduction for example. Or the end. Or the middle. You get the idea.
- Unnecessary words or paragraphs. If your first draft is particularly ugly, you might find yourself cutting entire swathes of text from the article or post. And that’s ok, because this part is all about making the article easier for your target audience to read.
Give it an awesome title!
At some point, not necessarily here, you need to figure out what the title is for your article or blogpost. I tend to lean towards clickbait title structures which I know some people aren’t particularly keen on. But I don’t care, because the point of a title is that it stands out, interrupting the potential reader and provoking them to click on the article in their feed or on social media or wherever it is on the interwebs they are. And clickbaity titles are very good at achieving this. So I’ll just carry on using them.
Another thing you may want to do is design a featured image for your post or article, so that when it gets shared on Facebook etc – people see a nice picture along with some headline text. People like pictures, so why not give them what they want?
Edit the article
This is your final sweep of the article. Are there any typo’s or grammatical errors you may have missed the first time? Any other problems? At this point, if I haven’t already done so I’d be looking to make sure that the article scans well and has been broken down into sections with headers. I might also use this as an opportunity to tweak (or remove entirely) the start and finish of the article, and to make sure there’s at least one actionable takeaway.
Read and review
Normally this step is just me re-reading the article and making sure it flows. Reading it out loud is a good test for readability. You’ll find out very quickly whether the tone and structure of an article makes sense when you try to read it loud. Sometimes, depending on the nature of the article (i.e. if it’s testing related and likely to cause contention) or whether I’m expecting it to be published somewhere other than on my own blog – I’ll send it off to someone else for a review. Mike Talks has been very helpful in this regard over the years, along with John Stevenson and other members of the testing community.
Call to action
The idea of having a call to action may be new to you. It’s a fairly standard sales and copywriting technique that is simply geared towards making sure you’re funnelling the reader (or prospective buyer) towards your desired outcome.
It’s quite possible that for your article or blogpost, there isn’t a desired outcome – depending on the specifics of what it is you’re writing about. But most often, if you stop to think about it – you’ll discover that actually you do want the reader to do something after they’ve finished reading. You might want them to:
- Leave a comment with some further thoughts.
- Share the article with their friends or followers.
- Click through to some related content on your own or someone else site.
- Subscribe to your mailing list.
- Buy your product.
Or you might want your reader to do something else entirely. The point is that unless you’ve thought about it, you won’t necessarily know. So this step is a prompt for you to do exactly that. Get clear on what the action is your reader should take after having read your article. Most likely, this action will be strongly aligned with the original goal of your article.
Once you’ve figured out what the call to action is, don’t forget to ask the reader to take it.
And once I’ve done all of that, and made any resulting changes, and potentially sent it around for another cycle of reviews – it’s ready for publication. Phew!
Of course, finally getting it out of the door isn’t the end of the story. Once you’ve done that you need to tell people about it via the various social media channels, respond to any comments and generally keep the conversation going if there is one.
I’ve included a handy table below that you can use as part of your article drafts if you want to. It also includes examples of my thoughts while I was writing this article, so you get an idea of the process by way of some examples.
If you want to use it you can just copy it directly out of the article and use it as a checklist when writing your own pieces.
Oh and if you enjoyed this post, found it useful in any way – please do share it with your friends! (Call to action. 😉 )
|Start with the end in mind||They should have a clearly defined process for drafting, editing and publishing content - if they want to use it.|
|Dig deeper by asking why?||If you struggle to write blog posts, this article is for you - because it will give you an insight into the process I use for writing blog posts.
Why should I care how you write blog posts?
Because I publish a lot of content, so you'll learn how to write and get stuff published quickly and consistently using a clearly defined process.
|What are the claims and how can you support them?||Including the table as an example|
|Write to the reader||Person who wants a better way to blog.|
|Get the first draft out!|
|Rewrite your article||Approx 4 days actually.|
|Give it an awesome title!||Original = How to write a blog post
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Winner = write powerful blogposts with this simple template
|Edit the article|
|Read and review|
|Call to action|