Image from Flickr by orangeacid.
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
Some people like to write in a “stream-of-consciousness” way, putting down whatever comes into their head. That can make for an effective writing exercise, or a strong journaling routine … but it’s not a great way to producing a piece of writing that’s going to be read by other people.
By planning your blog post before you start writing it, you make your life easier – and you’re much more likely to end up with a post that gets read.
A good plan means:
- You can write faster and more effectively – instead of scratching your head and wondering what should come next
- You save time editing, as your post will already have the right sections, in the right order
- Your post will have a logical structure, with a gripping introduction, several key points, and a strong conclusion and call to action
The best thing about planning is that it doesn’t need to take long – you might find that you can plan out a blog post in just five or ten minutes.
A great place to start is with a mindmap:
Use a mindmap to generate ideas
You’ve probably come across mindmapping before – maybe at school, or in a workshop setting. To create a mindmap, you simply write down your post title or core idea in the centre of a page, then add sub-ideas around the edges.
The great thing about mindmapping is that it not only lets you capture the ideas you already have, it helps you generate new ones. As you write and link your ideas, you’ll find more coming to you.
When you create your mindmap:
- Put down everything – even if you later decide that a particular point isn’t going to fit into this post, you can use it elsewhere in the future.
- Try to establish a hierarchy of ideas. You might have key points near the centre, then sub-points leading off from these.
- Use colour, shapes, and/or symbols: feel free to be as creative as you want. Mindmapping is a great way to tap into the right side of your brain.
Use the classic structure: beginning, middle, end
Your blog post needs an introduction, a main body, and a conclusion. In fact, the same goes for any piece of writing: whether you’re writing a play or a poem or a story – or a piece of web content – you need a beginning, a middle, and an end.
This classic structure dates back to Aristotle, in 335 BC. It’s one that we’re all used to, in everything we read. To make it work for your blog posts:
- Plan a compelling introduction that poses a question, makes a provocative statement, or promises the reader a benefit.
- Structure the main body of your post carefully. You might like to add numbers to the key points on your mindmap, so you can decide what order to tackle them in. See “Organising Your Ideas”, below, for help on this.
- Include a conclusion (or call to action). With a short blog post, you might not need to sum up – but you do need to prompt the reader to take some action, like buying your product, or signing up for your newsletter.
Organise your ideas
Your introduction will probably be quite short – perhaps 100 words in a 700 word post – and your conclusion will often be shorter still. This means that the bulk of your planning time needs to be spent on the main body of your post.
There are often several different possibilities for ordering your ideas. For instance, if your post title is “7 Ways to Generate More Business Today,” you could try:
- Using a “do” and “don’t” structure, alternating between the two.
- Starting with the easier ideas and working up to the harder ones.
- Ordering the post chronologically, with different ideas for different times of day.
It’s up to you what structure you use, but what’s crucial is that you have a structure for your post. Don’t just tackle your key points in the order in which they came to you – make sure you’ve put some thought into what will work best for the reader.
Get formatting and structure to work together
The formatting of your post – your use of subheadings, bold, bullet points, and so on – needs to fit in with the structure of your post – the ordering of different sections, paragraphs, and sentences.
If you have four key points to make, those key points will almost certainly each have a subheading, so that they form four sections of your post. (You can see the key points in this post at a glance.)
You could also:
- Use bold text consistently: perhaps to highlight one key sentence at the start or in the middle of each section, or for an exercise or quick tip at the end of each section.
- Use bullet points consistently, perhaps with one short list in every section of your post (as I’ve done here).
- Add pictures, graphics, or screenshots where appropriate. In a how-to post, for instance, you might put an image for each step.
Whether you’re new to blogging or an old hand, careful planning will help you improve your posts, write faster and more effectively, and take your blog further. If you’ve got any tips to share, then let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.