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The Power of Being Specific

Don’t be afraid to be a little Bossy on Your Blog.

Over the weekend I was reminded that sometimes readers just like being told what to do.

In my post How to Launch a Blog and Have Fresh Content for Weeks I was asked by a reader for advice on how much content to write before launching a blog.

When I sat down to write that post I had two choices:

1. I could have written a post with fairly general advice filled with good principles. The main headings would have gone something like:

  • Have Some Posts Already Published on Your Blog
  • Have a Few Posts Saved as Drafts
  • Have a List of Topics/Titles that You can Write in Future

This post would have gone pretty well. The advice is sound and readers would have been able to take it and apply it to their own situation.

2. I could have written a post with specific instructions – telling readers what to do. In fact this is what I did – the main headings were:

  • 5 Posts Already Published
  • 5 Draft Posts
  • 20 Post Ideas

This post had the same ‘principles’ and teaching that the more general post would have had – but it also had specific instructions on how many posts I would advise starting a new blog with.

While I encouraged readers to take the numbers and adapt them to their own situations having the numbers of posts seemed to really connect with readers both in comments and the emails I received over the weekend. One email read:

“Thanks for your post on starting a blog. I am about to launch a blog and now have a blueprint for preparing my content. I no longer feel that I’m stumbling around in the dark.”

This sentiment was echoed in a number of emails. What struck me about it is that my first draft of the post was not specific at all. It followed option #1 above and was quite general.

My natural inclination is to write about general principles and let readers interpret them for their own situation – but I’m constantly reminded that many readers like to be told what to do and how to do it – they respond to specifics.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. JeremyOLED says:

    This counts for a lot of things really, people are usually just hesitant, especially when it comes to new things, and the little extra push of some specific instructions is sometimes exactly the kick in the butt they need. This counts for me too!

  2. Vygantas says:

    I usually just brain storm for a hour or so weekly (before sleep) and have like 2-5 new ideas.

  3. Brent Riggs says:

    I agree. On my site I give advice daily on several topics and I don’t act wishy washy. People come to me because I’m specific and direct and confident about the advice I give. It makes people mad sometimes, and I get “holier than thou” comments…. but people come back because they want someone who is truly convicted about the advice they give.

    Brent
    http://www.brentriggs.com

  4. I have noticed that people follow a true leader, its time to lead people!

  5. You are right on. Comparing your two versions makes it clear being specific is more powerful.

    Thanks for sharing your process, too. I think that’s probably more instructive. It’s good to hear great writers like you don’t dash out your posts in one draft–you actually think about it.

  6. Writer Dad says:

    It’s my nature to be overly poetic, perhaps even abstract. Writing for the web has taught me to be succinct in my message and thought. Readers really do want the nuts and bolts. It’s our job as authors to give it to them.

  7. Tech Thinker says:

    I think a lot of people are looking for specific “how-to” style information rather than getting generic ideas and solutions. When you are specific your readers will judge you to be an authority in your field. Anyone can give a generic answer based on common sense. But only the experts can provide specific solutions.

  8. Matthew says:

    As I’m starting my blog, I am struggling with this. I want to provide general information so that everyone can put it to use, but I don’t want to be so general that readers are left confused or not inspired.

    I have a compromise that I have come up with. I give general information with specific examples from my own life, so that readers can “See the advice in action”. At the end of the post, I include a call to action, to get the reader to actually follow through.

  9. AMEN. I hate how ambiguous most of the advice and tips are for starting a blog. At the outset, ambiguity can be be totally overwhelming. If someone in the know told me: “Spend X hours per week doing this, write Y number of articles per week about Z words long each,” I’d have licked their feet, whether the numbers were arbitrary or not. Guidance, man!

    For that matter, can SOMEBODY please be specific about metrics we should use to measure our progress early on??? I have all this analytics data at my fingertips, and get about 20 visits per day, but I have no idea if that’s respectable given my theme and the time I’ve invested.

    - Jim

    Who’s Your Writing Nemesis? Here’s Why James Michener Is Mine. Also: Guess My Old Nemesis and Win a Hilarious CD!

  10. Web20Critic says:

    I picked a niche and kept it current by keeping in touch with the direct sources of information o the type of posts I think would benefit or engage others.

    I also use the new services that credible sites and individuals talk about, in order to help contribute with feedback on my blogs, in relation to my niche.

    Just the way you have http://twitip.com encircling the twitter action, I have http://google-freak.blogspot.com following the Google connections.

    Very well-written post Mr. Rowse!

  11. I have about 50 roughly written draft posts..and I find it easy when I am not having much time to write something from the scratch !

  12. Hilary says:

    Although my natural tendency is to write about more abstract self-improvement and weight-loss issues on my site, my most-visited (if not most-commented) posts thus far are the quickly dashed-off entries I wrote about a new version of a particular diet plan. I include lots of succinct specifics in these posts.

  13. Samar says:

    It all depends upon the reader. If they’re the ‘take advice and fly with it’ kind they’ll prefer option 1 for the freedom it gives them. But some people prefer to be told specific information if they’re just starting out or need a little more push than general advice.

    I’d have read option one, agreed that it was a good post with sound advice, but I would have been lost on where to start or stop.

    Option 2 gives me figures. It quantifies the effort I need to put into my blog. I see the finish line of the first phase of a blog launch. For me, that’s a lot more manageable and the process is all the more fun.

  14. I really like the tips about post management. Making few draft, making ready post ideas etc. Nice tips!

  15. Ian says:

    Darren,

    These are pretty good tips. I think becuase you are so sucessful people take your directness well, as someone who has been there and suceeded. Sometimes that direct answer gives fols the ability to flesh things out better.

  16. Kayla says:

    As my blogging has improved, I have gotten more detailed, and thus got better feedback. You’re very right about this–too many bloggers write general blog posts, and that’s not really interesting the reader.

    I do still have some work to do on my own writing style still, however. My problem is I’m not specific in my headings, but rather general and then specific in the paragraph beneath.

  17. Roz says:

    Thought provoking. Although I rarely follow advice to the letter, I like the specificity you’re referring to. It gives me a benchmark from which to adapt according to my situation, but at least it serves as a quick default kick-start.

    Reminds me of when I asked my mother how often to change the blade in my ladylike razor. “When it doesn’t work any more” was not a helpful response. After 1 use? 25 uses? Give me a ballpark, any ballpark.

  18. Just from op of my head, i think there may be a flaw in the 2nd approach. Many times you come with topics and ideas on the fly while doing other things. You want to blog about your idea the same day since it is fresh in your mind. If you already selected your next 10 or ideas have some draft posts ready, then you’re going to have to either squeeze your new blog post idea (it may be something completely different the drafts you have lined up) or wait until the next batch.

  19. I think it works well because people who read your blog want to be taught. I’m sure there’s a segment of the internet marketing audience who would rather fly by the seat of their pants, but they’re probably not reading any of our blogs.

    So I can see why the “be specific” approach works well.

  20. This is really good advice! It really does help when you’re told what works. Might sound bossy but tips from your blog are usually spot on :D

  21. Spencer says:

    Thanks for the post. Honestly is thought provoking

  22. Shirley says:

    Being specific is very important. It will help one article stand out among others. After all, it seems like most articles on the web today are pretty general, and thus don’t really offer any new helpful advice.

    Besides, being specific gives you more to talk about. When you are general, you can gloss over a whole lot of information. But when you are specific, you can break that information down into several posts. So it helps save information for later and you don’t run out of ideas.

  23. Jonathan says:

    I have found as well that when I am specific, I get a better return. Now, I don’t have a blog like yours, mine is based around theology and the Bible. However, when I make assertions specific to what I “Think” should be done, I get more feedback. This, I think, is also due to when I do this it can some times be controversy, and for some reason people are drawn to controversy.

    Thanks for the tips.

  24. Jonathan says:

    Also, it shows your confidence in the subject. Even if others disagree, they usually respect you for it.

  25. theoddbod says:

    it’s so hard to be specific when there is so much to talk about!

  26. Brad says:

    This is great advice! Being specific shows that you know your stuff and also gives the readers specific actions to take, which adds value to what they are reading.

    I’m gonna take your advice, Darren, and try to be more specific in my posts – especially when I give writing advice.

    Keep up the good work!

  27. BLOGBOOZE says:

    When it comes to begin something people are bit hesitant how to kick off. I think this must have applied even to your self when you were a beginner.

    Even many people don’t like straight forward answers, when it comes to this straight forward one’s are what people are looking for..

  28. Jon says:

    There is power in being specific but sometimes, more-so in not being… case in point… it gave you a material to write another blog post ;-)

    Jon
    http://Buzvia.com – Where’s Your Traffic Going?

  29. Dev says:

    nice post Darren. Thank you for the good tip.

  30. J.D. Meier says:

    I agree – enjoyed the specifics.

    I’m a fan of AND though.

    I like to have both the generalized principles, patterns, and practices AND the specific examples.

  31. Thoughts+Specific Thoughts=Good Thoughts!

  32. i have been trying to do that… but it’s a bit hard for me -.-

  33. Hi Darren,this is Pierre from THEE QUEST.Here are the two statements that you made:I quote from you:
    1. I could have written a post with fairly general advice filled with good principles. The main headings would have gone something like
    2. I could have written a post with specific instructions – telling readers what to do. In fact this is what I did – the main headings were
    What you are teaching is what people want.You could of said:I could have written a post with specific instructions”FILLED WITH GOOD PRINCIPLES”,because this is what you do and in, my humble opinion,why we follow you.Keep up the great work or “help” as I call it.Pierre

  34. Jonathan says:

    I think an obvious balance between geekyness and simplicity is essential. The main idea behind a post should be clarified.

  35. Anna says:

    I agree and I think it applies to other things as well. eBooks, for example. I recently purchased an eBook which was a basic how-to guide, $15 and not very long. I was able to read the whole thing quickly and it laid out the basic steps and successful actions that I wanted to know about. Nothing complicated. It was great.

    I could have found the information myself but not so condensed and clearcut. And not with such specific instructions on the best way to go about this or that. That was what was great about it.

    Looks like the same goes for blog posts!

  36. RevTKS69 says:

    You’re right about specifics, they are very important. But, it’s not just about telling someone what to do, it’s sharing your knowledge about the subject in question. Generalities always lead to more questions. “some posts” = “how many is some?” As a new blogger, I’ve asked and received answers to quite a few questions. The answers that are specific have been the most helpful.

    To top it off, you have also created the ’5-5-20′ rule for new bloggers. So, now you have a shorthand way to refer back to that original concept.

  37. Courtney says:

    I definitely agree, and really liked the advice you gave in that article. As a new blogger, I like to know exactly, specifically what successful bloggers are doing that might give me hints as to what makes them successful. Specifics like that are very helpful for me.

    Thanks for all your great work!

  38. Yep! When you’re freaking out, or even just nervous, about a new venture – specific instructions are wonderful. So often in life, as adults, we crave those specific instructions we got all the time as kids. So sometimes actually getting them is a blessing! True, sometimes general instructions can set the wheels in your brain rolling, with some good brainstorming. But specific makes everything clean and nice when you’re needing some good direction!

  39. Ginger says:

    My sisters always told me I was bossy as a child growing up. I had a conversation today with my friend about how I don’t boss my readers around. I don’t tell them what to do or even ask them what to do especially in regards to clicking a link, doing an offer etc. most of the time.

    I am working on being a leader. I want everyone who visits my blog to enjoy themselves and find value added there

  40. When reading other blogs I like if the author of the blog gives specific instructions and not general. Then anyhow I will adapt those figures to my own liking and situation.

    So I feel that even if we give specific instructions to our blog readers, still they will make some minor adaptations here and there according to their requirements and situation.

    By the way I remember having enjoyed more success whenever I was specific in my blog posts or articles.

    Being very specific in our article has other advantages too – we can come up with a good title for the article which might not be possible if the article is too general in nature.

    And we can create multiple posts from our original article if its specific and caters to a particular audience only. Just keep the basic instructions same but now focus on an entirely different audience and viola you have another article!

    For example – weight loss for teens, weight loss for people over 50, weight loss for women, weight loss for pregnant women etc. can all have basically the same advice which is a little fine-tuned to their circumstances and you have created multiple articles from the same weight loss points.