Writing is a discipline- not an art or a talent only a lucky few have access to. A lot of us think that writing is a creative gift, bestowed upon only a handful of god’s favourite children.
If you’ve always thought that there are better writers out there, who just ‘have it in them to write’, and that ‘I can’t do it- it’s not for me!’, then you probably will benefit from reading this:
“The truth is this: writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn.” – Ann Handley
And I can’t emphasise that enough.
Writing well takes effort, but it doesn’t have to be ridiculously hard or painful. All you need to know is what you’re writing about, and you need to care about it. Think of a world where we all really cared about what we’re putting out into the universe. Wouldn’t the world be a better place? Well, okay. That might be a stretch. But the point I am trying to make is, we’re all writing. All the time. Whether it’s emails, blog posts, Facebook status updates, tweets, LinkedIn updates – we’re already writers, right? Suffice it to say, all of us could benefit from writing better.
If you’re a business that has its own blog page, or a blogger who has to post regularly, there are some simple rules that you could follow to generate ideas and write more effectively.
Let’s get into it.
#1 Build a good foundation with some solid research
This is the ‘discovery phase’, where you’re looking for new ideas on what to write about. Here, it is crucial to understand who you’re writing for. The starting point is to make a rough persona of your target audience using a tool called ‘empathy mapping’. Empathy mapping helps you dig deeper into the minds of your audience, and goes beyond just plain old demographics. I like to use a template by XPLANE, as it helps me with the broad framework. You could view my slideshare on empathy mapping here
Once you’ve got your persona down, it’s time to get into further research. You’ll have a fair idea of what challenges your buyer persona faces on a day-to-day basis, which should give you a head-start on what to write about- try to address those challenges.
For example, if you’re running a hair salon business, and you find a major pain-point for the persona is not having enough time to do her hair, you could use that information in a blog post about ‘5-minute DIY Hair Styles to Make You Look Fabulous’. Always think about what helps your customer. A blog post about your products may make sense to you as a business, but how does it help your customer? (By all means write about your products, but it is important to not get caught up in self-talk, instead, focus on providing a solution to a genuine problem)
Other tools that I generally use in the ‘discovery phase’ are Google Keyword Planner & Google Trends. I tend to use the planner only in the last few stages of the ‘discovery phase’. The first part generally begins with Google Trends, which is used to unearth category-specific data on searches and related searches over a period of time (I usually filter it to past 30 days). This is a great way to figure out what people are searching for, as it gives you a quick overview.
Returning to our hair salon example, you could enter ‘hair’ in the search bar. The prompt shows ‘hairstyles’ as an option. That looks like a potential winner – your buyer might be searching for that.
Filter the country settings as per your requirement. For practical purposes, I’ve chosen mine as ‘India’. You may like to see the search volume over the past 12 months for your search term, there’s enough options to choose from. You’ll get a graph that looks like the one below:
The statistic here is ‘interest over time’ – these numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100, is peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means the term is half as popular.
Scroll down below, and you’ll find related queries. These are queries that are related to your term, and this is generally where I find some good ideas for keywords and posts.
The google trends tool is useful for figuring out broad themes, but to get into specific ideas – you need the Keyword planner. Here’s a quick guide by QuickSprout on how to use the keyword planner.
Once you’ve got your keywords, chalking out ideas for your blog posts and write-ups should be a cakewalk. Now you’ve done the rigor of research. It’s time to begin writing.
#2 Chalk an ugly outline
Ann Handley, author of Everybody Writes describes this stage as TUFD – short for, The Ugly First Draft. Yes, this stage is all about writing down your ideas onto paper (or typing them, if you wish), and not caring about sentence structures, grammar, punctuation, flow etcetera. Leave all of that for the editing stage. Right now, it’s time to get your thoughts onto the document.
- Write a basic working headline for your post. It doesn’t have to be a stellar one. Just a basic one that captures the essence or main idea of your post will do.
- The next step is to figure out at least 2-3 main ideas that you want to communicate. Write them down, not necessarily in order.
- Write an introduction. Make it short, even 4 simple sentences that introduce the reader to your writing will do. Make sure that you give the reader something to look forward to, in a crisp and succinct way.
- Chalk out subheads. This is where you break your post or article up into several connected pieces, separating one point from the next. You could use bullet points, or numbered lists – whatever you prefer.
- Write a conclusion to sum up the main ideas in your post. Include a call-to-action if applicable. The reader shouldn’t be left wondering what to do next after reading through the post.
This is where you proofread your writing for potential mistakes like grammatical errors, typos, convoluted sentence structures, messy flow and so on. Get someone else to read it too, if you can, to get another perspective. Editing is usually not too hard, as most of the toil is already over in the writing stage. Clean up your first draft, and make it look pretty. Also, this is where you refine the headline. Don’t aim for a clickbait, if your content is good- you will get reads and shares.
There’s a couple of guidelines I like to follow for wordpress formatting specifically. Copyblogger wrote on wordpress formatting in one of their posts, and I found it helpful.
There’s a few basic things – from formatting the titles and sub-titles, to inserting and aligning images (make sure you wrap text around the graphics). Try formatting your post and previewing it before you publish to see how it looks. Play around with formatting a little bit, and see what works.
Well, see? That wasn’t too hard, was it? Of course, I should mention that this is not an exhaustive list of rules by itself, and everybody’s process can vary. But, it’s a good place to start. I hope you found this post useful. Write to me in the comments to let me know your thoughts and strategies for writing better posts. I’d love to hear from you!