Even though blogs are great for business online, many people are intimidated by writing blog posts. There’s no reason to be intimidated. You can write like a pro. Most of the time it will take a little effort, but articles are the result of a time-tested process of development.
Most people seem to think that to write something you simply sit at a computer with a blank page and start writing. Sometimes that happens, but most of the time it doesn’t (in my experience).
Sometimes people begin with an outline and fill in the blanks with ideas and illustrations, but this can be troubling as well. In fact, if you want to be productive and increase your skills in writing, there are several steps you need to take before your outline is created. Once you know these basic steps, you are going to be able to dive into writing and conquer it!
Here are six steps to take before you even write an outline.
Create An Idea
You obviously need to start with an idea. It will likely change as you develop it, but it’s a starting place. (Once you start researching and thinking about your idea, more ideas will come from it. Write these down for use later.)
Be sure to try to think in terms of your audience, or potential audience. What do you think they need or want to read about? How can you help them?
A little research can help here, but it does not need to be extensive. If you are just starting out and don’t have an ideal customer, client, or audience, your first step is to determine who you want to read your materials. Who are you trying to help? Describe them in as much detail as possible. (Here are three ways to clarify your audience.)
Once your audience is defined, consider what they need to learn about or read. It doesn’t need to be extensive research. Here are some suggestions:
- What have you been asked about before? If one person asks, ten others probably wanted to but didn’t.
- What are they interested in? You can tell by what they talk about with you and others.
- Ask them what they need to know.
- Put yourself in their shoes as much as possible and ask yourself what you’d need or want.
- Look at your previous articles and see what is more popular and go from there. Provide related materials.
Once you decide upon an idea, it’s time to do some research.
When I think about research, libraries and hours of reading come to my mind. I’m still old-school that way, though I haven’t been in an actual library for years. The collection of data through articles and books is a great way to research, but it might not be necessary for your article.
You could ask some questions to friends or your ideal clients. Your research is simply gathering information. It could come from your experiences. Data is data. This is where your audience and goals are important. If you are writing a scientific article, you are obviously going to site a lot of sources and show that you know what you are talking about. But if you are writing about your fluffy cat and what it likes to eat, you obviously don’t need supporting data from other sources. Your “research” would be watching your cat for a few days.
Find data, then organize it. This is not about outlining your article. That will come. Organize your thoughts and the information you have so that it makes sense to you.
A good way to do that is to create groups of information. If you have note cards of data, for example, organize them based on what makes sense to you. Put them in stacks so you see different points or ideas being expressed.
When you finish organizing, discard what you don’t need. (Save it for later use.)
You need to decide whether to include all the data or break it into different articles. You will begin to define your purpose more clearly with this step. Chances are, you don’t need to include everything you have gathered.
I learned this by creating sermons for twenty years–and it applies to more than preachers. When you have 20-30 minutes to present an idea and work to help people grasp its implications and applications, you have to make tough decisions about content. That is actually a good thing because it makes the message more powerful.
You’re not editing your article, obviously, because you have not written it yet. But decide early what you are going to discard and what you are going to keep. Don’t worry. You’ll be able to add information back in if you find you need it later.
Create A Central Proposition
Your article should have ONE point. It might be a list of 20 items, but those items are there for a reason, and that reason is the point of your article. This is one of the most powerful parts of any good article because it helps you focus. It also helps your readers.
Your readers want the information you are providing or they would not be reading it. They may have a casual curiosity, but something drew them (unless they were tricked into reading it by click-bait). If you are not staying on point, they will not be getting the value you promised them and might also become confused. You’ve probably been there: “What did I just read?”
I like to break the point down into one simple sentence. First determine your subject. My subject for this article is “article”. Next answer this question: “What am I saying about this subject?” That’s your “CPA” (Central Proposition of the Article). For this article, my CPA is: “Articles are the result of a time-tested process of development.” It’s not pretty and would probably never make a good title, but I know where I’m going when I read it. That’s what matters.
Determine Your Purpose
Next you need to define your purpose for writing. What is your goal with this information you have? What do you want to see happen? Are you writing to provide information, or to encourage action? That’s up to you, but make that decision.
A great way to do this is to ask a simple question of the CPA: “So what?” Your article is about the different species of sheep you have bred. So what? Why does that matter to your audience? Clarify what you are saying and WHY you are saying it. You never want someone walking away from your article thinking, “He’s so proud of his sheep species, but who cares?” MAKE THEM CARE by showing WHY it matters. Whether it’s new information necessary for further research or an emotional attachment to the sheep, give your audience something to take away from their reading.
Remember that people want results, not just processes. They want to be able to use what you are giving them. If they don’t know its use, they will not understand its value.
For example: My purpose in this article is to show you the beginning of article creation so you can use it as a foundation for great articles. My goal is to encourage you to take these steps and see improvements in your efforts online.
Now that you have come this far, your article will just about write itself! All you need to do is outline it and start filling in the gaps of your outline with great ideas and then edit! What you’ll find is that where you likely used to begin (with an outline) is actually closer to the end of the process than the beginning. From here, writing goes very quickly.
I believe that the first steps of an article are the most important. These steps give you a strong foundation and the direction you need to be able to powerfully present an idea.
I admit that I don’t always do these things. Sometimes an idea just presses itself on me and I feel the need to write it without the preliminary steps. When inspiration strikes, run with it. But this is mainly for those times when inspiration does not “strike”.
If you follow these steps as a guide, you will be more productive and the writing process will be much easier for you.