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Navigating the Middle of Your Post – Without Getting Lost

A Guest Post from Ali Hale from The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing.

You know how to hook the reader at the start of a post. You know how to end on an strong note. But somewhere between that gripping first sentence and that finish-with-a-bang last sentence comes … the middle.

I’ve just released an ebook, The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing, and while I found plenty of great advice about beginnings and endings of posts, I found surprisingly little about the middle. And yet, the middle of your post:

  • Is where most of the content lies – this isn’t an intriguing anecdote or a punchy call to action, it’s the meat of what you want to say.
  • Can easily lose the reader – have you ever started reading a post only to end up skimming within the first few paragraphs?
  • Often loses us as writers – have you ever begun writing only to get bogged down somewhere part way?

The middle of your blog post doesn’t need to be a hard slog through an uncertain wilderness. You – and your readers – can get from start to end without getting lost along the way. Here’s how.

1. Know Where You’re Going

Firstly, you need to know what journey you’re on. Although some bloggers can pull off a rambling, digressive style, most of us can’t. Having a clear title or topic in mind (even if you revise it later) helps. Be clear – in your own mind, and in your post’s introduction – what ground you’re going to cover.

Is your post going to be a step-by-step walkthrough of a particular topic?

Is it a quick tip about some aspect of your field?

Is it an update about your life, or about your blog?

This is also a good time to start thinking about your call to action. You don’t just have to bring this in at the end – you can hint at it throughout. For example, if your post is aimed at selling your product, you might want to make it clear during the post that this is an introduction to a topic which you’ve written more about.

2. Get Yourself a Map

Some people like to travel without a map and to let their mood take them where it will. I’m not one of them. The last time my fiancé and I went on a journey without a map, we ended up wandering around near Lake Windermere (in England’s Lake District) for five hours…

You don’t want that to happen with your post.

With a blog post, having a map means creating a structure. I write a lot of blog posts for various sites, and I always have a template structure in my head: whether it’s a how-to post, a list post, or just a generic one. With this post, for instance, I wrote out all the subheadings at the start, to form a very simple template.

Having some guidelines in place doesn’t mean that your journey is dull and uninteresting: you can still change your mind or take diversions. It does, though, mean you’re much more likely to finish!

When I showed a draft version of my ebook to some reviewers, Dave Rowley commented that the bonus pack of templates alone would have been worth the price for him, because they provided a structure for getting him through the long middle of a post to the finished product:

They clarified things for me and made the idea of writing blog posts a lot less daunting. I have a lot of half written blog posts, most of them are pretty good content, the difficulty I’ve been having is in organizing that content into readable posts that get the point across as clearly as possible.

Just going through the templates, I started to see where I could address some of those problems. I’ve already started using them to shape some drafts and can see solid content shaping up nicely with much less effort.

Having a map lets you know what type of journey you’re on. Are you writing a how-to post, a comprehensive guide to one area? Are you writing a list post, a whistle-stop tour of lots of points of interest? Or are you writing an essay-like post which helps the reader explore?

3. Put Up Big Signposts

When my fiancé and I got lost on our epic walk, we were very relieved to stumble out of the forest onto a road which had a sign pointing us to the nearest town!

Your post has signposts too, which help break up the journey and which tell readers what’s coming next. These are your subheaders, which split your post into convenient sections. In very long posts, readers might choose to bookmark the whole thing and read one section at a time.

Signposts also help you when you’re writing: if you list your subheaders before you start, you’ll know what you need to cover in each section – which helps ensure that you say enough and not too much.

To make your subheaders into effective signposts, you need to:

  • Ensure that they make sense to someone skimming
  • Make them Google-friendly – use keywords (this helps readers find your post in the first place)
  • Use a large enough font to make them stand out. Some bloggers use bold type for subheaders – make sure you’re using header tags instead. Depending on your blog set-up, you’ll either want Header 2 or Header 3 tags
  • Make sure your signposts really do what they say! If the material under your subheading wanders far off topic, readers will be even more confused than they would’ve been without a signpost.

4. Point Out Any Dangers

Sometimes, you will want to go off on a tangent in the middle of a post – or mention something that may lose your readers.

To minimize the risk of a reader twisting a metaphorical ankle and dropping out altogether, signal any potential dangers before you reach them. Just as road signs warn about difficult stretches of road, you can alert readers to difficulties that they might be about to have.

This could mean:

  • Warning readers that the next bit of your post is quite specialized or technical, and that they can skip it. This reassures readers that the section after that is going to be comprehensible again!
  • Explaining that you’re about to go on a digression – this could mean putting a section in brackets or italics, or just saying something like “slight digression here” or “tangent coming up”
  • Pointing readers towards a blog post which explains something more fully – for example, if you’re touching on a topic you’ve covered extensively in the past, you might write, “To read more on this, check out my post…” or “If you’re not sure what RSS means, you can find out about it here.”

Here’s an example of making sure that a digression is clearly signaled and doesn’t confuse readers: the section in italics starts “Sidebar” and isn’t on the main topic of the post:

Proactive actions aren’t nearly this structured. Often times, we don’t know what it is we’re creating, let alone what effect it’ll have on the world. Nothing about being a creative is a sure bet except the consequences of not doing your thing. (Sidebar: I’ve worked with people who were physically, emotionally, and mentally sick because they weren’t doing the creative thing that would make them come alive; the fix wasn’t therapy, medication, exercise, or vacations – the fix was them doing their thing, and the rest started to fall in place.) (Charlie Gilkey, How to Lose An Hour’s Creative Mojo in Two Minutes, Productive Flourishing)

5. Make the Route Interesting

Would you last long on a walk which involved nothing but a long, grey, empty stretch of road? Probably not – unless you’re walking purely for exercise’s sake, you want some variation in the scenery.

Most of your readers are not reading your blog because they just want information. They want at least some level of entertainment and interest. Long, dreary blocks of grey text are offputting – however gripping your introduction is.

Making the route interesting means adding some visual elements to your post. This includes:
Formatting
You can do a lot to spice up a post without having to do more than press a few buttons in WordPress. Try using:

  • Lists, which are easier to take in than long sentences split with commas or semi-colons
  • Bold text to draw the reader’s eye to key points in your post
  • Blockquotes to offer interest in the form of a different voice (someone else’s words) and an inset piece of text
  • Italic text to emphasize a key word and suggest tone of voice
  • Subheadings, and nested subheadings where appropriate – just like I’ve done in this section with the smaller headings “Formatting” and “Images”

Images

A lot of bloggers just use images to catch attention at the start of a post. Getting graphical can vastly improve the middle of your post, too. Don’t use pictures just for the sake of it, but try:

  • Screenshots to enhance a technical how-to
  • Using images in keeping with the brand and voice of your blog
  • Graphics to visually show statistics or figures which you’re using in the post
  • Adding product images for a review post or a recommendation within a post

The middle of your post can easily form 80% of the content. However great your gripping introduction, readers will never reach that killer of an ending unless you get them safely through the middle first. Are your middles up to scratch – or are they losing readers?

Ali Hale has just launched “The Blogger’s Guide to Effective Writing” – normally priced at $29, ProBlogger readers can get a $5 discount by entering the code “ProBlogger”

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. Keith says:

    Usually, I get a topic in my head and I just start banging away on the keyboard until I get it all out.

    Later I will go back and format, maybe cut and paste a little, etc… to make the article readable….

  2. hokya says:

    usually, i still have the topic
    i wrote about 50words

    after that i feel out of idea but have to write more for that post
    and the result is, the words afterward are out of topic

  3. Greys says:

    20 years ago this was the work of journalists and now anyone can broadcast their opinions over the network. To create a good post you have to have a vocation as a journalist . Otherwise all your post will not attract the attention of your readers

  4. Thanks for the comments, Keith, hokya & Greys!

    Just to say I’m currently at SXSW so may not be able to answer comments/questions for a few days, but do go ahead and post one, I’ll look forward to reading them when I get the chance. :-)

  5. Adrienne says:

    I’m one of those that bolds. Is there a benefit to using header tags?

  6. James says:

    I tend to get lost in the middle of writing my own posts. Recently, I started using a mindmap to help keep me on track. I’m still trying to work out where the mindmap will end and the writing starts, but I think it will help me keep from getting lost as my posts tend to get very long.
    Thanks to Darren who recently mentioned using mindmaps!

  7. nada says:

    To minimize the risk of a reader twisting a metaphorical ankle and dropping out altogether, signal any potential dangers before you reach them
    nice tips
    i should follow your tips

    thakns

  8. I usually use images at the beginning of my post… now I will trying to also include them in the middle.

    Thanks for the tips… great post.

  9. Kaushik says:

    @Keith: Agreed. I think most do the same.

  10. Ali – This was a very detailed and concise post…

    My exact steps in writing a blog post are this…

    I get an idea… Then think of a title and write it down… Then 2 or 3 sub headings… Then I bang it out accordingly.

    When it’s done, I go back in and edit.

    It works for me…

  11. Folks, I must say that Ali is a great source for writing advice and information. I look at her writing as a guide for how to do it best. The use of all kinds of variation, like bulleted sections or bolded sentences, or so on, makes her posts stand out.

    It can only help in presenting the concept you want to present when you have these methods at your disposal.

    This focus on the middle of post makes sense. The beginning and ending usually get the most concern from readers, and the middle is sometimes hopped through, so working on the middle will make for fully readable articles.

    Great information written as it is described.

  12. Good point Ali when you state…………………..

    “Most of your readers are not reading your blog because they just want information. They want at least some level of entertainment and interest.”

    If it becomes bland and obvious really what else is there to read, yeah you can get the information, but many sites most likely have you need, you just want the thrill of every corner you turn when reading.

  13. Julius says:

    Thanks for these tips! I often focus too much on the starting paragraphs and tend to just directly deliver the main content in the middle of the article. I realize that the middle part needs to provide a level of entertainment too.

    Also, I agree that instead of bold type, header tags should be used instead. Using header tags for headings and subheadings is very helpful for people who listen to your posts instead of reading them (users of assistive technology such as screen readers).

  14. This was one hell of useful post, thanks Ali. In my case, I find it very difficult to get that jump start on the post. Once that is done, rest of the post comes out easily. But you are very right about getting structure of the post clear in mind. It keeps post focused on the topic. Before writing any post, I create mind map of the post just like Darren explained in his earlier post and it works magic for me.

    I also found that using humorous style of writing can keep reader’s interest alive or a small relevant story can be useful, too. All in all great post about writing tips. Thanks for sharing, Ali.

  15. Dave Higgs says:

    Thanks Ali,

    While the lake district is not the easiest place to get lost – it does make a fine example. I think a “map”, as you suggest, is scalable from the post to the blog as a whole.

    Many of the advantages of having a map for your post apply to the blog as a whole.

    I enjoyed your style! Thanks and good luck with your ebook!

    Dave

  16. A lot of bloggers just use images to catch attention at the start of a post. Getting graphical can vastly improve the middle of your post, too. Don’t use pictures just for the sake of it, but try:

  17. Roezer says:

    I just Wrote about Putting Images in your Posts and find it sometimes way too Time consuming where you could be using that time to Improve the Article. I think Mapping your Blog post is Something that you learn like many other things only over time and Experience. I have often seen great Blog posts but the problem was that the Author never thought of using Paragraphs and was too Busy making the Article Look Pretty with a Picture that they did not think of Making some parts like the Important bit Bold or italic and it was just a Big clutter especially to People using Smaller Resolution Screens

  18. Alan says:

    Nice post. Great to see tips in action too. Nice to read. Thanks for that. Alan

  19. Brilliant! I actually posted an article about this (the body) and have a video.You are very right. Especially those people that have hot headlines and poor bodies.

  20. Madeleine says:

    Ali, Good suggestions. Another approach which I learned from years in Toastmasters is to write the middle of the speech first and the conclusion second. Then come up with an energetic, engaging, attention-grabbing introduction (and make sure you have graceful transitions between the three major parts of the speech.)

    In my opinion, TM tends to underemphasize the importance of speech titles. Probably picking an irresistible title should be the very first step for writing either a blog post or a speech.

  21. Deborah says:

    Hi Darren,

    What a great subject. Sometimes I feel like I’m back in my writing class. These posts are so helpful and cover subjects we need. I’m not a blogger, but you make me want to be!

    DR

  22. Dave Rowley says:

    Hi Ali,

    I have a rambling mind that goes off on tangents way too easily, I’m coming to love the idea of thinking more about how I organise and structure my writing.

    I also get a lot out of your thoughts on using images in a purposeful way. I create my own images for each blog post, but I’ve always placed them at the top of each post. Some of my longer posts could really do with an image in the middle section to break up that sea of text.

    Thanks for the great post.

  23. its good to have a seperate section with a different colour and in the middle to attract the readers…also colourful pictures in middle helps a lot

  24. Thanks. It need more exercise to have writing skill. It is not an easy thing. But there are a will.

  25. Robby G says:

    Umm, I gotta say, you lost me somewhere in the middle…
    No, joking, that’s a nice post!

  26. Imogen says:

    Nice post.

    Sometimes the schizoid split between blogging-for-fun and blogging-for-a-living needs a post like this to keep the line clear.

    Rambling in a personal blog is fine, but long sentences in a swamped online business space? Not so cool

  27. Adrienne – header tags are better for SEO (the words in header tags get weighted more strongly). They’re also better for readers, in my opinion: header tags tend to be a bit bigger. Plus you can then use bold text within your post to highlight sentences.

    Armen, thanks for the glowing recommendation there! :-)

    Harsh, really glad it was useful. When I was doing my ebook (see the byline if you’re interested), I couldn’t find much advice on the middle of posts — loads on the beginning and end, but very little that addressed getting the in-between stuff right! So I figured I’d write something to fill that gap. :-)

    Dave, I can get lost anywhere… I think I’m geographically challenged!

    Madeleine, I like that tip from Toastmasters, thanks for adding it!

    And everyone, thanks so much for the comments, I’m glad you found the post useful and it’s great to have you adding extra tips and thoughts. Cheers!

  28. jay says:

    I do not really clever writing and in accordance with generally I will write not follow step by step and I write according to what I know from my reading of books and magazines, but thanks, your post is very useful

  29. Hi Guys,

    This was a very informative blog. Because entertaining your readers is very important. You don’t want to bore them. Because you want them to come back and read your other blogs.

    Kind regards,

    Sam
    X

  30. Some people may disagree with me (including you), but images really help for the ‘middle’. The things I’ve used which readers seem to really, really like include:

    - Instead of using bulleted lists, use your own image bullet points (sometimes I’ll use small, colored arrows). If you want to save on space, try using character symbols instead.

    - Icons, icons, icons! You can stick a small icon next to an important paragraph to draw attention to it — I prefer it instead of bolding.

    - If your blog is set up where the blockquote feature changes the background color of the quoted text, it can also be a great way to make it easier for people to read.

    - Changing the color of paragraphs also helps break up the middle more and make it easier to read.

    Here’s an article where I applied most of these tips. This particular article was over 1000 words long, so I needed to find a way to make the middle more reader-friendly…so I included customized bullet points, the blockquote feature, several icons and bolded text where necessary.

    Cheers! Problogger is my BFF :)

  31. Interesting BPO and IT Outsourcing site I found. I posted a project there a few weeks ago and it worked out real well.

  32. Some people may disagree with me (including you), but images really help for the ‘middle’. The things I’ve used which readers seem to really, really like include:

    - Instead of using bulleted lists, use your own image bullet points (sometimes I’ll use small, colored arrows). If you want to save on space, try using character symbols instead.

    - Icons, icons, icons! You can stick a small icon next to an important paragraph to draw attention to it — I prefer it instead of bolding.

  33. Ali Hale says:

    Ann, I think images can be used very fruitfully and helpfully (the link to your post didn’t work for me, by the way, but I’m sure it was a great example!)

    Sometimes I see people just using images for the sake of it, though, which can end up being a distraction.

    I’ve occasionally written posts where I used one image for each step or point – it’s a great way to make the post feel very polished, and to engage the reader.

  34. Aglolink says:

    What makes me smile when I read this topic “Make the Route Interesting”.
    This is an idea in the post body, like the ‘flavor’ of fresh food.

  35. Ryan SMoot says:

    This is a very imformative article. I agree with this article and I feel that the points you mentioned are crucial to building and keeping a good relationship with your readers or fans

  36. A very informative post!! The points mentioned are really crucial and should be kept in mind to attract reader’s attention.