There’s no secret formula for great writing.
However, there’s plenty you can do to streamline your process and boost your productivity.
Let’s review six strategies that can help you consistently craft coherent content:
Step 1: Define your objective.
Before typing anything, spend at least 10 minutes thinking about the topic you want to cover—and what you hope to accomplish through blogging. Also, consider what you hope your reader gets from the article.
Do you want to amuse, provoke or persuade them, or provide your readers with a thought-provoking takeaway? Are you trying to sell something?
Defining your goal helps frame the task ahead. Crystallizing your objective helps you avoid getting halfway through the article and thinking, “Is anybody going to care about this?”
Step 2: Create the article outline.
Once you’ve selected a topic and defined your specific objective, start jotting down headline ideas and writing quick bullet points of key ideas you want to cover.
Creating an outline helps structure your content—and it’s an easy way to get ideas flowing quickly. Don’t worry about clean copy or complete thoughts at this point.
When creating an article outline, I usually go through the following steps:
- Do a quick search about the topic you want to cover.
- Scan through the most interesting articles you find on a related topic.
- Review how other publications structure their related content (I use a Chrome extension, HeadingsMap, for this task).
- Jot down relevant data, studies, statistics or related links that you want to reference.
Don’t spend more than an hour crafting your outline. Once you’ve got a rough structure in place, it’s time to start writing.
Step 3: Write your bad first draft.
Don’t expect to write a perfect article from the get-go. Your first draft will be—and should be—a mess.
Your goal is to get words, thoughts and key points onto the page. Don’t worry about eloquence or erudition at this point, and don’t edit as you go. Fight against perfectionism and procrastination.
Embrace the crude beauty of cranking out a horrible first draft.
Step 4: Ruthlessly edit that first draft.
Your messy first draft contains the seeds of a great article. Now it’s time to ruthlessly edit your copy and make that prose shine.
Remove clunky chunks of text. Delete irrelevant sentences. Less is more.
If you start to waffle, wander or wax poetic, your reader will quickly get bored and click away. Make every word count.
If you don’t have access to a human editor, use tools to check for typos, run-on sentences and other blunders.
As you edit, use these six tips to make your content scannable and easy to read:
- Write short paragraphs.
- Vary sentence length to create an engaging reading rhythm and cadence for readers.
- Use italics or bold to emphasize important points.
- Tighten up long sentences, and avoid loads of commas.
- Sprinkle in (appropriate) bits of humor.
- Use illustrations or visuals to crystallize data or stats.
Step 5: Revisit and revamp your headline.
Your headline is probably the most important element of your article. David Ogilvy famously said, “Five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy.”
Coming up with a scintillating headline, unfortunately, can be a real pain.
However, there are certain headline formulas that work quite well. Here are a few examples:
- Finally! How to get [DESIRED RESULT] without [THING THEY FEAR MOST] in [SPECIFIC TIME] – guaranteed
- [PROBLEM]? Get my [SOLUTION] and [RESULT]
- [NUMBER] ways to [ACHIEVE SOLUTION/ SOLVE PROBLEM]
- You need [COMMON BELIEF], right? WRONG!
- Have you been doing [ACTION/ ACTIVITY] wrong? (And does it really matter?)
These are the sorts of headlines you’d see on the front page of magazines at the supermarket. They grab your attention and pull you into the article.
If you need a creativity boost, there are plenty of good headline generators to choose from.
Step 6: Let it sit before making a final review.
If deadlines allow, leave your copy alone for a day—or at least a few hours. Do a final read-through with fresh eyes and a rested mind.
Your final article should be well structured, concise and free of grammatical or spelling mistakes. It should also flow nicely and be easy to understand.
It won’t be perfect—which is just fine. There’s no such thing as a perfect piece—nor flawless writers—just people who are willing to diligently practice their craft.