The best compliment I ever receive about my blog is that my posts are short, simple, and actionable. Any time I get that response, I feel that I’ve hit the mark. When I get a lot of comments about uncertainty or when people seek clarity, or when I find myself defending parts of the post that didn’t mean anything, or when I get comments about the analogy and not the meat of the post, that’s when I know that I rushed it, or that I blew it.
I’ve shared before about the writing practice, about how I get ideas for posts. This time, I’ll share about what I do to make my posts effective (or what I hope will be effective).
Start With a Useful Title
One thing we’ve seen in Third Tribe Marketing is that when people write a vague topic title for a forum post, it gets very little response. When people are very clear and distinct about what they want or what they’re talking about, they often get a lot of responses. The same is true with blogging. You’ve got precious few moments to grab someone’s attention. Lead with a useful and grabbing title.
Lead In With a Story and an Image
I use images to start your thought processes flowing, and I make the first paragraph a very small bit of personable information that will be relevant to the piece. When I do this well, the goal is twofold: get you thinking about what I’m going to tell you in the piece, and also get you thinking with both halves of your brain (logical and creative) as well as hopefully tickling your heart (at least sometimes).
The first paragraph is all most people will give you to convince them to read, so if you’re going to use the above-mentioned method, be sure that you show people what they’re going to get from the post in that same paragraph.
Here’s an example from a recent post of mine:
I had a strange dream last night, but oddly, it had a lesson in it. I dreamed that I went to a place to sell wool. There was one buyer. They decided whether my product was worth buying. Then, they turned it into yarn. They carded it, they dyed it, they put it on different spools and sold it to hundreds of people.
By starting with a description of a dream, I had you opening up your creative head. By telling you that it was a dream about business, I told you that the post was going to be about business. And hopefully, the effect was that it got you further into the story. The rest of the piece’s job was easy: reinforce and educate.
Go Into An Explanation of the Concept
After your story, extract out the important piece you’re hoping to talk about, and explain the concept. Use the simplest terms possible. Use simple sentences. Sometimes, we think that people want our most colorful and expressive writing. Most times, especially in nonfiction, they want well-crafted and useful sentences. If a chair’s pretty but you can’t sit on it, it’s not much of a chair, is it? (Oh artists, you may begin bristling now.)
Explain the concept, and then help people start to see how they can apply it to themselves. In a post about how to blog effectively, I’d explain that this formula, such as it is, helps people move towards actionable next steps, if you’re lucky enough to lay it out like that. Oh, and I’d point out that transitional sentences like this one help you move from the explanation into the actionable steps.
Make a Wire Frame and Try It Yourself
Try doing something like this:
- Pick a topic
- Come up with a title (it’s okay if you redo the title after the fact)
- Find a graphic to accompany the piece ( I use Flickr for this).
- Write a first paragraph that both explains the piece and/or tells us a story to do so. (This might take practice.)
- Write the first main point and explain it to us. Make the best one come first. Don’t build us up to it.
- Repeat if you have multiple points.
- Give us actionable takeaways or a call to action.
- Wrap up the piece however you want that call to action to go.
It Takes Practice
I’ve been writing in some form or another for over 35 years (if you count my beginnings at age 5). I started winning awards for writing in high school. But it wasn’t until some time after 9/11 that I started getting decent at writing, and it wasn’t until around 2005 or so that I started convincing other people that I had something that might be useful.
The above methodology has served me well for a very long time in blogging, and it might prove useful to your efforts. Once you’ve practiced it a while, you might tweak and modify it to meet your own needs. Heck, you might have an even better method you’d like to prescribe below in the comments. I’m all for it. But that which you see above is roughly how I do what I do. I hope it proves useful.
There’s Always More
One of the education projects I’m working on for Human Business Works is a professional writing community. We’re a short while off from launching it, but it will offer some great interviews, a writing course, some accountability, some workshopping of your pieces (not just blog posts, mind you), and other related information. I think that writing has become so much more important for most jobs than it’s ever been, so this is one way that I can help out.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’re working on, what you find challenging, and what would be useful in a course of that kind. And thanks.