Writing is one of those things that everyone can do but not everyone does well. It looks easy until you actually sit down in front of a keyboard. But while so many of us are working from home currently and finding new ways to communicate, it's also a great time to brush up on the old ways as well.
Although not everyone starts out as a good writer, like many other pursuits, writing is something that everyone can get better at through practice. As you spend more time working at written communications, you’ll find language flowing more smoothly and a growing confidence in your own abilities. With more practice, your writing is bound to improve, but good writing will never be easy. That’s why one of the most common author clichés is, “I hate writing, but love having written.”
In this post we’ll be talking about writing blog posts, but the principles apply to virtually all written communication.
1. Write Enough to Tell Your Story, Without Boring the Reader
The first thing many beginning bloggers want to know is, how long does my post have to be? There is no right answer, and to a large degree, the word count depends on your audience and the platform you’re using. You should aim for something that is long enough to tell your story and get your point across without boring your reader with unnecessary words or details.
Your post should certainly be at least 300 words in order to incorporate key words and get noticed by search engines, but aiming for between 500 and 800 words is probably a better goal. For a while it was thought that posts should be kept under 1000 words in order to keep the audience engaged, but recent research has shown that longer posts tend to be shared more frequently on Twitter and Facebook.
2. Make Sure You Have a Point of View
There’s really no point in writing if you don’t have anything to say. New writers are often uncertain about how strong of a stance they should take, or if it’s even advisable to take a pro- or con- position on an issue. There’s nothing wrong with taking a stand or even staking out a controversial position, just make sure you have facts to back up your argument. Controversy and contrarian viewpoints get clicks.
If you know what you want to write about but aren’t sure what to say, answer these questions:
- What stories or articles have you seen on this topic that are just dead wrong? What makes you nod your head in agreement?
- If the topic isn’t being covered by the press, why do you think that is? What don’t people understand or what makes it hard for journalists to care?
- How do you think about this topic? What informs this opinion? How did you get to this point?
3. Use Data to Strengthen Your Position
Data can be helpful, but it’s only a supporting character in your narrative. A post that’s all numbers and studies is likely to be boring and unread. Properly integrated into your narrative, data can provide context and help strengthen or prove your point of view.
Whenever you do incorporate data into your post, make sure it is relevant. The fact that you’ve found a study peripherally related to your topic, doesn’t mean your audience will be impressed or even care. Think about who you’re writing for and what’s important to them.
4. Write to Your Audience
Remember, no matter what you’re writing about, start by thinking about who you are trying to reach.
Make sure there’s payoff for the reader. If you identify a problem facing your audience, you also need to offer a potential solution.
Embrace metaphors, both in casual usage, (recipe for disaster, road map to success) and to tie the themes of your article together.
A blog post should be more than a cleverly disguised sales pitch for your company’s product or service. Ideally, the post should be used to show your subject matter expertise, not extol the virtues of your latest product. It’s like the free samples in a grocery store—potential customers get a taste and hopefully decide to buy some.
Use shorter sentences and paragraphs. Keep it snappy and to-the-point.
5. Finish Strong
When you’ve finished your first draft, ask if it would be worth someone’s time to read this article. Did you make the point you want them to take away from it? What are your parting words?
Don’t just fade to black. Too often, blogs end when the writer just runs out of steam or hits their word count target. Spend some time on it. After all, it’s what readers will remember.
Circle back to your opening paragraph and supporting points. Don’t repeat them verbatim, but relate your conclusion to what you stated at the beginning to bring the whole thing full circle.
6. Work on the Headline Last
It’s helpful to write a headline at the start, but that should really be just a placeholder. Headlines should give the reader an idea of what to expect in the article, and you won’t know what that is until after you’ve written.
After the rest of the article is finished, write at least 10 headlines and choose the one that most clearly gets across what the article is about. A headline with a clever pun may make a reader smile, but if it doesn’t tell them what you’re writing about, they won’t stop long enough to get the joke.
7. Proofread Carefully
The final step in writing a blog or any other content is proofreading. Running spellcheck is not proofreading. The program only tells you if a word is spelled incorrectly, not if it’s the wrong word (e.g. your instead of you’re, or there instead of their).
Read it through carefully and make sure that it says exactly what you intended, that it’s grammatically correct and everything is spelled properly.
Then ask someone else to proof it.
And before you finally press “publish,” make sure the post is really what you want to say. There are no take backs online.
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