I see piles of content every day. 80% of what I read leaves me thinking, “What was the point of that?” Most people seem to write and post content with no purpose whatsoever beyond the internet equivalent of enjoying the sound of their own voices, or trying to fill some b.s. post quota or word count that they’ve convinced themselves they need in order to be successful. In contrast, my goal is to always post with a purpose. I want my readers to always be clear on the takeaway when they get to the end of a post. I aim to add value by saying something of value
, not just by saying anything at all. With that in mind, here are a couple tools I use to formulate and structure posts to ensure I’m sticking to the point.
Tool #1: The Blog Post Brief
If I can’t answer all the questions here, I shouldn’t be writing the post:
Why are we writing this?
- What do we hope our audience is going to gain by reading this post? What information are we trying to impart to them?
- Take my recent post as an example: The intention was to:
- build readers self-awareness around how they might be giving undue sway to outliers
- lay out a cost-benefit analysis of designing processes around outliers
- show how to deal with outliers effectively without undercutting functional processes
What is success?
- What would have to happen for you to consider this post a success? (10 shares on social media, 5 reader comments, a certain number of emails collected, readers coming back for your next post, etc. etc.)
Who are we writing this for?
- You should have an idea of your primary and secondary audiences.
- For my outliers post, the primary audience was the leadership team of growing companies mid-size companies (these size companies are big enough to have processes in place rather than treating each instance of a particular issue as unique cases, and are just having to negotiate how outliers should influence those processes).
- My secondary audience is anyone in a leadership role in a company that’s at least a year old.
- Audiences can be as broad or as narrow as you need them to be, but you should be very clear on who you’re writing to. If you’re struggling to determine who your audience is, start thinking about who it’s not: once you start narrowing down that you’re not writing to schoolteachers or astronauts or the president, you’ll have an easier time articulating who you are trying to reach.
What is the overarching theme?
- This is similar to the objective, but gets more clear on the broader purpose of your post.
- In the outliers post, the overarching theme is that failing to acknowledge the big picture is hurting your business. I want readers to be left with the thought, “Huh. I hadn’t considered that,” and come back to look at more of my content to see what other shifts in perspective they may have missed.
What is the one thing we want them to remember?
- This is the singular takeaway you want your audience to be left with, even if they forget everything else that was in the post.
- In the outliers case it was this: “Spending time creating organizational processes based on the actions of the outlier is a waste of your time and energy.”
- The takeaway should appear in some sense near both the beginning and end of your post.
Tool #2 Blog Outline
This outline can be varied a thousand different ways depending on the actual content and length of your post. Ultimately, the nature of your content should dictate how long the post is (not the other way around, which is what I see all the time). In other words, this outline form won’t work in exactly the same way for every post, but keeping it in the back of your mind will help you avoid making wild digressions.
- Introduction: What is this post about? Why does the reader care? Leading with some kind of anecdote or story is a common tactic here: it draws the reader in, presents a relatable story, and/or raises a question that the reader wants answered.
- Content: This is the meat of your post. What are you actually trying to say? Don’t get sidetracked with unnecessary extra anecdotes or digressions here. Get to the point. Look back at your message and objective from the Blog Post Brief: everything in this section should directly relate back to those two elements. If it’s a longer post, introduce sub-headings to keep things organized.
- Takeaway: Hit the end hard by presenting your takeaway. Go back to the one thing you want your readers to remember. Don’t try to spin off into some broad-minded sentiment about how this is the one thing that’s going to solve every problem your reader has ever had and create world peace. Don’t awkwardly break off right at the end of the content. Stick with the one meaningful, actionable piece of information that summarizes the point of the post in total.
If you really want to add value and drop the ego trip of thinking everything you say is automatically a golden nugget of wisdom, plan your posts with self-awareness. Let the content drive the post, stay focused, and be clear who you’re writing to and why.