Turning ideas into great blog posts

Some old Greek writingDo you ever find yourself starting a blog post and have no idea of what to write? You have a topic you want to write about, but you just can’t get the words out.

I’m going to share with you a useful workflow for going from concept to a great blog post in six steps. By following this flow, you’ll spend less time wondering how to craft your posts, and more time creating content people want to read.

Planning: From Concept to Blueprint

Before you actually start writing your blog post, you need to actually approach what you plan to write in it. This means establishing what aspects of your idea you want to write about, filling in any gaps you might have with regard to knowledge, and crafting the basic skeleton of your blog post. Without these three steps, you’re bound to get stuck when you begin writing.

Brainstorming the details
Mind map of the mind map guidelines.

Mind map of the mind map guidelines. (Image credit: Wikipedia)

The first step in moving from concept to a great blog post is brainstorming what points of your topic you’ll cover. Put simply, you need to take your original idea and figure out what about it you want to express in detail.

This stage is incredibly important! A lot of the time, people run into writer’s block because they don’t have a solid idea of what they need to describe in their posts. Confronted by the blank screen (or page), they freeze up because there’s nothing to guide them on what needs to be written.

There are various different approaches you can take for brainstorming, but I find that the most productive method is by creating a mind map. You might remember these from school — starting with a blank sheet of paper, draw a bubble in the middle and write down your original idea. Then from there, draw bubbles containing related ideas or topics, then connect those to the original bubble. Then continue from those new bubbles until the sheet is full or you think you have enough low-level topics for your post.

Once you’ve got the result of your brainstorming, it’s time to pare them down to an appropriate number. Great articles tend to follow the “rule of threes”: three main points, with approximately three sub-topics each. Figure out the most important high-level ideas or topics, and then the most important subtopics of each — this will be the basis of your blog post.

Researching what’s missing

Once you’ve worked out all the topic points for your post, the next step is filling the gaps.

There may be a particular point that you aren’t confident about explaining, or there may be some resources that you’ll need to include to support what you’ll describe; in any case, this is when you should gather those missing pieces together. It’s certainly important to focus on this part of your post preparation so that when you do start writing, you will have all the knowledge you need to fully explain to readers about your topic.

Even for subjects you know well, it’s not a bad idea to give yourself a brief refresher. It’ll help reinforce your existing knowledge, and get you updated on anything new. It also pays off when you need to explain things that your readers may not know much about.

Outlining your post

You turned your original concept into detailed topics. You filled in the gaps in knowledge and research. Now it’s time to structure things into something usable.

The final step before you put pen to paper (so to speak) is creating an outline for your post. This step helps you out by organizing everything you’ve already done, and providing a skeleton for the post. This organization makes it easier to actually write your post, and gives you something to look back on whenever you still find yourself facing writer’s block.

Depending on the depth of your subject and the length you want for your article, your outline might be two levels, three levels, or more. I’d suggest, though, if you find yourself with an outline four levels deep, that you split each top-level item into a blog post of its own — else, you might end up writing an entire website instead! The bottom level of the outline should be the actual points of information you’ll be explaining, while the higher-up levels will be sections and paragraphs of your resulting post.

The points in your outline should also be arranged in a logical order. If you are discussing a process or a past event, the points should be in chronological order. For a post about solving a problem, you’d want to start with explaining the problem before detailing the solution. Go with whatever seems most appropriate to not confuse your readers.

Don’t worry about including an introduction or conclusion in your outline, by the way! They can be assumed, and anything in those parts of your post should be covered in more detail in the body anyway.

Once your outline is done, you finally have the blueprint you need to write a great post.

Writing: From Blueprint to Blog Post

Funny as it may sound, there’s more to the writing stage than simply typing in words. Moving from the blueprint you assembled in the first three steps to the final version of your blog post requires you to not just write the post itself, but to also polish and proofread before you can be certain that what you publish will be worthy of attention. Let’s get writing!

Writing the content

Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After all that prep work, it’s finally time to put down some ink (figuratively speaking).

Remember that outline you put together? That provides you with the layout of your blog post. For short posts, each top-level item in your outline may be a paragraph or three. For a longer one, your outline can give you the names of sections and subsections within the post. If you do use sections for your blog post, though, it’s best to add all the sections from your outline first before writing the actual content of the article.

With the article’s structure in place from the outline, you can make life easier on yourself by writing each part of the article independently of the others. That means you don’t have to go from top to bottom, but instead write wherever you want in the article as things come to you. This is great for avoiding writer’s block — if you feel stuck in one part of the post, simply move to another part and come back to where you were stuck later on.

After you write the body of your post, you can finish things off by writing a paragraph (or two) each for the introduction and conclusion of your article. The introduction should be short, catchy, and briefly inform the reader what you’ll tell them in the body. The conclusion should also be short, and will summarize what you had already explained. This repetition helps the reader remember what your post is about after they’ve read it.

It’s best to save the introduction and conclusion until last when writing your blog post for a couple of reasons. First, since they serve as summaries of the post’s main content, writing them at the end avoids rewriting if you find the content of your post shifts during writing. Second, writing the intro first can lead again into writer’s block, even with an outline, since you are likely to try targeting the first part of your post’s body as a follow-up to the intro’s final sentence. By saving the introduction and conclusion to last, you can avoid these pitfalls.

Polishing your prose

The writing’s done, you’re ready to publish. Right? Wrong.

At this point in time, you should proofread your article and fix up any issues it may have. It’s also helpful to have someone else do the same, to ensure that what you wrote does a good job of covering your subject matter in a way that’s easy to follow.

You might find that the transitions between paragraphs or sections are rough or even abrupt; these should be rewritten so that a reader will be able to flow through the article like a leaf on water. You might also feel that the sections in your post should be rearranged to make it read better; this is the time where those kinds of editorial choices should be made.

It’s definitely worth having another person or two read through your article, especially if one of them isn’t as familiar with the subject matter. Additional proofreaders can determine if there are any points that need more explanation, or help you find places where you assumed a reader had knowledge that they wouldn’t necessarily have. This feedback will help you make changes that will enhance the experience of your blog’s readers.

Publishing the result

At last, it’s time to click that Publish button and present your blog post to the entire world. All done!

Wait, maybe not. After all, the effort you put in to create your post doesn’t mean much if nobody comes to read it, and wouldn’t it be nice to get feedback on what you wrote?

At this point, you should take a bit of time to share your post on social media. Tweeting about your post, sharing to Facebook or LinkedIn, or putting up a link on various other services can help bring in interested readers, if you target the right groups or tags. And if someone comments on your post, it’s good etiquette to respond to their comments. Perhaps there’s something they felt wasn’t explained in enough detail, or they’d like to run a related idea across you; maybe they just want to thank you for writing a great article! Make sure you address the points they raise and give them appreciation for their input.

After all, there’s more to blogs than just the posts, just as there’s more to a blog post than simply writing it.

Anything else?

Sure. While this is written towards blogging, the truth is that these steps are worthwhile for any writing project — or even verbal presentations. While the advice here doesn’t exactly map one-to-one for presentations, or even other forms of writing, the basic steps outlined above are all necessary to effectively communicate with others.

Hopefully your next blog post will be the best one yet; feel free to share with me the results of following my blog post workflow!

Also published on Ramblings and Writings