Get ahead of your next blog post with these practical steps to help you keep the focus on the reader, flesh out what’s important, and knock your next post out of the park.
1. START WITH A GOAL, NOT A TOPIC
There are too many ways to get off-topic when you start broad. Instead, decide up front what it is you want to accomplish with your post and write it in big fat text at the top of the page like you would a title. Keep it there until you’ve finished your final draft, referring to it periodically so that you don’t drift into stream-of-consciousness writing and forget what the heck you were writing about (a habit sometimes mistaken for being “in the zone”).
Example: “I want to teach our clients how to give designers more productive and actionable feedback.”
If you read something you’ve just written and it doesn’t move you toward that top-of-the-page goal, consider hitting delete.
2. ASK WHY IT MATTERS
This is huge, because if there’s no benefit to the reader, then why write it? It’s a blog, not a diary. Identifying why your message matters to the reader and how it might change or affect outcomes helps you to map out the logic in your post. If this—than that. Here’s what that looks like using the goal from # 1.
Why would it be good for someone to know how to give designers productive feedback? Because it helps the client get what they want; saves them from the embarrassment of saying something benign like “it just feels off”, which in turn, saves on revisions, keeping the project on track, on time, and on-budget. What client doesn’t want to save time and money?
3. WRITE TO ONE PERSON
Unless you’re a speechwriter or a playwright, in which case, you probably don’t do a lot of blogging, the chances are pretty good that your words will be read by one person at a time. So doesn’t it just make sense that you would want to write as if you’re talking to one person at a time? Even though you’re writing on behalf of an organization, it’s good to remember that organizations don’t read blog posts—people do. To connect best with the reader, use you and yours, instead of I, we, they, or my personal thorn, “some people”. See the difference below? Which sounds more helpful?
“I” focused: When we struggle with topics for our blog, we sometimes turn to twitter to see what topics are trending.
“You” focused: If you’re running out of ideas for this week’s blog, take a break from the empty page and check out what’s trending on Twitter. You may be surprised at what will inspire you!
4. LAND THE PLANE
How many times have you read a blog post that spent the first six paragraphs describing the problem, and the last paragraph solving it? It’s as common as an O’Hare flight delay and nearly as soul-sucking for those who are taxiing on the runway of your fourth paragraph. As soon as you can, get to the point, start solving, and get out. Check yourself by reading your first and second paragraphs, then ask yourself if deleting them would change anything. Delete accordingly.
5. ANTICIPATE QUESTIONS
If your subject is interesting and you’ve presented it in a way that people can relate to, it will likely provoke curiosity. To leave the reader satisfied, try to anticipate and answer a few questions as you go along.
For example, the reader might start reading your post and wonder, “What if I don’t like what the designer did, but I like the designer. I don’t want to insult them.”
This could prompt you to write—If you’re worried about hurting the designer’s feelings, don’t be. The designer’s goal is to meet the project objectives, not win a popularity contest. An experienced designer has acquired a thick skin, understanding that subjectivity comes with the territory. However, there are good ways to give bad news…
6. CALL FOR BACK-UP
Always back up your words with statistics, studies, quotes, or even the words of others. The internet is full of research studies begging for you to sample their findings. Take full advantage of google to find ways to make your case or provide supplemental information. When you find that evidentiary nugget, make sure you cite the source and give credit where credit is due. One of the easiest ways to do that is to link back to the original source.
Example: Still not sure how to frame your feedback? Here’s a great list of questions you might ask yourself or the designer, provided in a blog post by from Jason Fried, author and designer of Basecamp.
7. SLEEP ON IT
Before you hand your post over to be proofed and published, I suggest you walk away from it, preferably over-night. Put some distance between you and your words, read what you’ve written with fresh eyes, and make sure you feel good about it before it hits the streets, because once it’s out there—it’s not coming back. (Think Jerry McGuire)
I offer my own cautionary tale as proof that we can sometimes lose ourselves in the space between the first ugly draft and the finish line.
Not long ago, during a late night rewrite, in an extreme case of stream-of-consciousness writing, I turned a pretty decent first draft on Content Collaboration into a cheesy medieval fable complete with thee’s and thous and topped off with the laughable title, “A Fable of Contents”. I swear, I’m not making this up.
After emailing the final draft to our proofreaders around 2 am, I went to bed and cleared my head. The next day I found the proofed piece on my desk in a folder with little more than a few red marks for typos and dangling participles. Reading it “one last time”, it was clear that I had straight-up lost my mind the night before, getting lost in a fairytale land of wordplay that would have made Tolkien cringe. I am eternally grateful for the self-control of a discreet proofreader who never said a word as I tore up the fable, locked myself in my office and started over. After which, I fell into a deep sleep, did one last rewrite in the morning, published, and lived happily ever after.