2018 was a year that I devoted most of my energy to video. This was necessary in order to establish the two YouTube channels I run, though I admittedly did enjoy spending more time recording videos after years of writing every day.
A break from writing was long overdue. I had been writing so long without a break that it became something I had to do, rather than something I wanted to do.
The interesting thing is that when I did return to writing, I found that I was enjoying it more.
Over the last few weeks I have been updating this blog frequently and have rekindled my passion for writing.
What I would like to do in this article is give some advice for fellow bloggers and explain how I plan out articles. I hope those of you who write regularly will find it useful.
Gaining Experience the Hard Way
I hate the word expert. In the internet marketing world it is used and abused by self-promoters who are usually looking to sell you something. So when someone starts referring to themselves as an “Expert”, my guard goes up as I am expecting to be misled.
When it comes to writing, I am not an expert. Nor do I profess to be the best. I am, however, experienced in this field.
My experience came from writing. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. I made many mistakes along the way, however the quality of my work improved significantly over time.
Across my own blogs and multiple other flagship blogs online, I have published over ten thousand blog posts; most of which were thousands of words long. I have also published books about blogging and helped large WordPress companies such as Elegant Themes establish themselves in the market through content marketing.
When I launched the blog Blogging Tips back in 2007 (later sold to blogging veteran Zac Johnson in 2010), I had been working online for seven or eight years. I had a good technical knowledge of developing websites and had published a huge amount of content online, but when it came to writing, I had a lot to learn.
Being brutally honest, my blog posts were poor. Basic grammatical errors were an easy fix, but one of the best qualities I have learned over time is to be organised.
I research as much as I can and I plan the structure of the article out before I have written anything.
Do Your Research
The research and preperation work you do for an article is, in my opinion, the most important part. It shapes the article. It defines it.
Blog readers only see the finished article; however the finished article would be worthless without research beforehand.
If you research and plan properly, writing the article is straight-forward.
For the majority of my articles, I would say that I spend around 50% to 75% of my time doing research and taking notes. The remaining 25% to 50% is spent writing the article and proofreading etc.
Of course, product reviews and techical articles will always require more research and planning than an opinion type piece (such as this one); however, the principles are the same.
Research can be a little boring as it involves a lot of reading. Depending on the article, you may also have to do testing, comparisons, emails to clarify issues, and more.
To combat boredom during this phase, I frequently listen to music or put a movie on in the background.
An Example of How I Research an Article
This week I did an update of an article for Brin Wilson of WinningWP.
I had published a list of the best social media WordPress plugins on his website around three years ago. Since it was published, the content had became outdated, due to many reasons, such as listed plugins being abandoned.
I was therefore tasked with rewriting the article and updating it for 2019.
The final article was around 2,200 to 2,300 words, but in order to complete the article I had to do a lot of research, testing, and planning, beforehand. The top ten plugins were not simply plucked out of thin air.
The main purpose of the article was to find the best social media plugins and then share what I learned with others.
- The Initial List – The first thing I did was create a long list of suitable social media WordPress plugins. The plugins from the original list, except from those that have been abandoned, were used as a starting point. I then scoured the internet for other solutions. By the end I had over 40 social media plugins listed.
- A Closer Look – At this point I had a long list of social media plugins, but I did not know which were suitable. I therefore had to delve deeper. For each plugin I checked features, looked at reviews, and I installed the plugins I was not familiar with to see whether they were any good. Consider this the “Elimination Stage” as I quickly reduced the list from 40 down to around 15.
- Speaking with the Client – I sent Brin an email of what I consider to be the top ten plugins. I also included another five or so plugins that I liked that could easily be included should he not agree 100% with my selections. These plugins were good enough to be included, but were perhaps too similar to other ones that were already listed. Several more were referenced as being listed in an “Honourable Mentions” section. These plugins were not good enough to be included in the top ten, but still offered value.
- Testing, Taking Notes & Screenshots – With my top ten list ready, I tested each plugin. I needed to get a better understanding of what I did and did not like and take notes of it for the article. I also took screenshots of each solution for the article.
- The Curated List – During the testing stage, one plugin which I had previously used and liked, was not working properly. It was therefore removed from the list and replaced it with one which had been in my reserve list. I finally had my top ten.
The above process can be a little repetitive, but it is not difficult. More importantly, it is an essential part of building the article.
By the point I have finished the research stages above I was familiar with each plugin, what they could do, and what they could not do. This allowed me to speak with authority as to why each plugin was a good solution.
Research Can Be Outsourced (Sometimes)
A big part of being an effective blogger is managing your time correctly.
You aim should be to as productive as possible; so eliminate social media and other distractions when working.
There is still no getting around the fact that writing is time-consuming.
Every blogger reaches a plateau in their career because of time. There is only one “You” and there are so many hours each week you can work. So you will reach a point where you cannot increase your income further.
To address this, many successful bloggers hire other writers to help them increase the number of articles they produce; with them taking a backseat and focusing more on editing and proofreading.
Not every blogger wants to go down this route, but everyone should consider outsourcing some aspects of their blogging routine.
If I take on a lot of writing gigs, or plan out a lot of articles for my own blogs, I can greatly reduce the time it takes to complete the articles by outsourcing the boring stuff.
For example, when I produced many list type articles in the past I would hire someone to prepare the lists. After reviewing the list I would ask them to take screenshots for each list item. This helped me publish many long list posts with relative ease.
Outsourcing is not the solution to everything and certain types of articles are still better handled myself (e.g. the one I prepared for WinningWP). If you have a full blogging schedule, however, you should definitely looking at hiring someone to help you prepare articles.
An alternative to hiring someone directly is to use a writing service.
There has been an increase in writing services over the last few years. There are some good ones out there, though many get a bad reputation for producing low quality content. Essay writing services in particular have got a lot of bad press as students use them to cheat at university.
They can help you be more productive if you use them in the right way.
A writing service may not always produce an article that is good enough for publication, but you can use the article as a starting point for something better.
They're not too expensive either. Custom Writings, for example, lets you hire writers from as little as $10 per page. With that type of service you request exactly what type of article you need, however there are alternative solutions that sell pre-written unique articles.
Structuring Your Articles
Before I start writing an article, I structure it.
I break down the article into sections to help me plan it out.
List posts write themselves. You start with an introduction, you list each item, then you have a conclusion at the end.
The structure of an article is a little different for a review.
For example, if I review a product, I may structure the article like this:
- Information about the company
- Product features
- Product tests
I normally outline an article during the research stage.
I'll add potential section headers and add notes under each section. I make a point of adding a note about anything which I need to reference in the review.
Any websites and content that help me research the article are listed as notes under the appropriate section. This helps me in two ways. Firstly, it ensures that I can references later. Secondly, it ensures that I link to the resources in the article.
When it comes to taking notes and structuring your article, don't overthink it. If it seems like it could be useful later, include it in your article for future reference. Any notes or links which are not relevant can easily be removed later.
Completing the First Draft
Now it is time to write.
At this point you will have a general outline of how your article will flow and you should have a great understanding of the subject matter.
I do not like to have any distractions when writing. No music, no television, no social media. I like to be able to think clearly.
This part of the process is not something you should over analyse though.
Do not worry about spelling mistakes or errors. These can be corrected later.
The key focus at this stage is to spew your thoughts onto the page.
Remember, you cannot edit an article that is not there. Therefore, a bad first draft is always going to be better than a blank page.
Your first draft is just that; a first draft. Sometimes your first draft will be close to the finished article, other times it will need to be refined in a second and third draft.
Completing the Article
I like to take a break after I complete the first draft.
Ideally, you should complete the first draft and revisit it the next day; though at the very least you should get away from the computer for an hour or so and relax.
When you come back to your first draft you will need to read over it. Go through the whole article and tidy it up. Fix spelling mistakes and errors, add some more images, and if necessary, move some things around.
Once you have made your changes, go back and re-read everything again and then, if required, make more edits.
Sometimes an article is ready after a few drafts. Other times an article has to go through multiple drafts before it can be published.
You always get there in the end.
I hope you have enjoyed my insight into how I plan my articles out.
Every blogger has their own preferred routine so my process may not work well for you; but hopefully I have given you some food for thought.