Hello fellow perfectionists! Here’s the second part of my short series about writing blog posts we can be happy with. In the first article, I told you a bit about choosing a topic and the use of keywords. It’s time to move on—find out how to plan and research blog posts and start working on your first draft. There’s a lot more involved than letting your fingers dance on the keyboard and start typing so let’s go to it.
Season your meat with robust research
Most blog posts are based on certain assumptions or approaches you may have regarding the topic you write about. People may have different ways of looking at the same issue, which is what makes the world go around, but putting your thoughts out there in public means you have to be prepared for a discussion with readers of opposite views.
There are three steps to take in terms of content credibility. They work either when you cover a topic from your own experience or start exploring it from scratch.
1. Express your point of view in a clear and comprehensive way.
No matter if you want to stay neutral or present a controversial hypothesis, it’s essential that the readers know where you stand. If you’re a nifty writer, you may play with your readers and guide them through different perspectives, surprise them with conclusions, but this approach belongs to a different topic – out-of-the-box (yet risky) writing tips.
2. Support your point of view with legit external sources.
I’ll elaborate on this one in the next section because the topic is rather broad. I can’t stress enough how important it is to get your sources right.
Firstly, it makes your own text more credible, and secondly, you may stumble upon aspects of the topic that you would never discover otherwise. Without the willingness to expand your knowledge, you’ll have nothing to share with your readers.
3. Consider contradictory solutions and decide why you’re in favor of the one you chose.
I believe this part is the most valuable in the process of research and preparations. It exposes your knowledge gaps and weak points in argumentation.
When you’re a recognized author, you can skip this part if you want – there’s nothing better than buzzing supporters and opponents in the comment section, right? Your reach and engagement take care of themselves. Brilliant!
But when you look at the text alone, without a solid base it’s nothing more than a poorly justified blurb. I’m sorry to sound so harsh and I know this is a subjective opinion we can discuss in the comment section. I can’t prove it, it’s just how I feel about this point.
Research blog posts carefully
Depending on the topic and its scope, quality research may take less than an hour or a couple of days (with coffee and lunch breaks and some social media procrastination, of course).
The internet is full of resources about any topic you can imagine, but the value of information will vary from one source to another. Make sure to search for reputable sources such as industry magazines, portals, expert blogs or reports.
Sometimes you may find an interesting stat in an article you read while having breakfast (how cool is that!). When this happens, check whether the data gathered by the publisher or cited from a different source. In the second case, your job is to find the original source and verify its credibility as well as…
Do I need to explain how embarrassing it is when you quote your own competition?
First, you diminish the value of your own content, and second, the competitors gain visibility you obviously don’t want to give them. It may also happen that supposedly “safe” sources use the data provided by your competition, either as a quote or in a partnership.
Beware of such situations and always do a double-check. Always.
As an online marketer, I can only tell you how difficult it is to keep up to date with the latest data and trends in the industry. Our ecosystem changes so quickly that your content may become outdated just a couple of months after its publication. To provide your audience with the most valuable insights, make sure you use the latest data available (while considering the previous criteria) and refresh old content on a regular basis.
My personal goal for the Synerise blog is not to use resources from more than a year ago. From time to time, I make an exception and go as far as two years back, but honestly I feel terrible about it every single time.
Planning saves the day
Writers, both professional and amateur, need to deal with something that can be their worst enemy and best friend at the same time—inspiration.
You’ll never know when to expect it until it shows a little mercy and drops by for a cup of coffee or honors you with a candlelit dinner together. No matter how you imagine it, inspiration is this toxic friend that makes you vulnerable and dependable, wasting hours on waiting only to consume all your energy instead of distributing it in a reasonable way.
Don’t get me wrong – inspiration is not a bad thing. It helps you reach your highest potential and produce incredible stuff. However, we can’t rely only on the creative impulses of our brain.
When writing content, it’s good to follow a simple sequence of activities. Of course, your magic formula to deliver quality content may vary in terms of the stages or their order, but it’s essential to have one in place.
This is the one I stick to at Synerise:
- Plan. Just a few bullets are enough, but you shouldn’t start writing without a structure. Personally, I start from writing down crucial ideas behind the topic, the ones I thought of in the first place. Then, I try to find connections, complementary aspects of the topic – fill in the gaps, you could say. The final step is to put the information in the right order. I tend to play Tetris with article paragraphs or sentences, swap and mix or split them – sometimes it works better than rewriting parts of the text.
- 1st draft. Prepare your first version for further checks and edits. Don’t worry if it’s not New-York-Times-level writing. The thing is to get through “The Ugly First Draft”, as Ann Handley calls it. The Ugly First Draft will be an important step to overcome procrastination and overwhelming perfectionism, too. You have no idea how many times I changed this text before I put it in front of your eyes, and it would never happen without TUFD.
- Content check. Have a look into information structure, language, sources, images and other elements of your post. In an ideal world, you can leave the draft and get back to it after two days, with a fresh eye for mistakes. Draw particular attention to mental shortcuts. They tend to sneak into your ugly first draft and quietly disrupt the informative value of your content.
- Check on merits. This is the time when your trusted ones can add their feedback and input regarding the merits of the topic, open your mind to things you haven’t mentioned so far, confront you on issues that require further investigation – or conscious abandonment. At work, it’s a great idea to have your content checked by teammates first, not editors. They’ll pay attention to different issues than someone who focuses on the language and structure of the text.
- Final draft.implement the suggestions from your reviewers. You may take all of them into account, you may skip some, but no matter what you decide, be aware of the consequences. Once your text goes live, strangers will ask the same questions or express the same doubts and it’s up to you to explain why your article says what is says (and what it doesn’t).
- Editing and proofreading. It’s time to dig into the nuances of the language. I believe that correct grammar, spelling and syntax are a sign of respect for your reader. Having a professional editor at hand is an ideal situation, but since ideal situations don’t happen often in our lives it’s OK to ask some talented wordsmith on the team to review your work.
- Prep before publishing. Now that you poured your heart out into the article, let’s make sure it attracts the attention of the readers with its form. You have a variety of ways to make your text look and read well: headings, images, schemes, bullet points, lists, different text formats (bold, italic, underline, crossed, block quotes). Whatever you do, just don’t make it into one overwhelming block of text. It may be hard to accept sometimes, but in the era of information overload, the overall look and feel of written content is probably as important as the content itself.
Disclaimer: I don’t follow this structure every single time with all authors. I respect their own way of doing things, which doesn’t stop me from following my agenda when The (Not Always) Ugly First Draft arrives.
When I went back through all these paragraphs, I thought: “Who is ever gonna write anything after reading this? It sounds like riding a bull at a rodeo while making notes on its trajectory”. But I hope you won’t follow my skeptical attitude.
I sincerely hope you’ll feel the same thing that I felt when starting this short series — the urge to share what you’ve learned and make it useful to others. No matter if it’s a company blog or your independent space, the way writing lets you evolve and help others evolve is equally satisfying.
In the last part of my series, I'll show you how I polish texts before publication and make sure their language is reader-friendly yet not too plain.