Consider these two ideas: tennis and your lounge room. These ideas appear disparate. Tennis? My lounge room? So what? Put a Nintendo Wii into the picture. Now you have a frame—or context—for the two ideas. Within the frame provided by the Nintendo Wii, tennis in your lounge room makes sense.
A frame is a great way to communicate information. In journalism, it’s called a hook, or story angle. In marketing, the frame is provided by a product’s unique selling proposition. And a frame is something that bloggers can use to immediately draw users in and keep them reading.
A frame is what makes the difference between the headline “Three things bloggers should consider in writing a post” and a headline that reads, “Blood, Sweat and Tears: Writing Advice I Learned the Hard Way.”
A frame is what makes the difference between an unfocused collection of disparate thoughts about setting up a home gym, and a post whose clear structure takes the reader on a journey through your experience setting up your own home gym.
A frame is what gives readers a reason to read: it promises a deliverable or outcome that you can highlight in your headline, promise in your teaser or opening paragraph, and shape your entire piece around. It lets your readers know what they’re getting—and how they can fit that information into their existing knowledge bank—before they even click the link to the full blog post for the complete picture.
As you can see, context—a frame—is an incredibly valuable tool for the blogger.
How does it work?
How can you put a frame around a basic idea that you’ve had for a post? Different authors take different approaches, but here are a few of the most common that I know of.
Some authors choose to write a headline first, then use it to frame their content. They might know they have a content gap in their blog—say, on the basics of birthday cake decoration—and they might write a snappy headline first: “Dragons to Dragsters: Breathtaking Birthday Cake Ideas”, for example.
Then they’ll plan the article around that theme. Perhaps they’ll have a section on organic-shaped cakes, and one on cakes that look like man-made objects. Perhaps they’ll shape the post for different age brackets, starting with the dragon for young children’s birthdays, and working through different possibilities, arriving at the dragster cake last, for adults.
As you can see from this example, a headline can offer a number of possibilities for framing your article. It can provide a great starting point for a frame.
Sometimes, the topic itself will offer you a frame for the content. Writing a post on your favorite golf courses? Why not make your list contain either nine or 18 courses, to reflect the number of holes in a game?
Perhaps your post on mixing the perfect Martini could be structured to reflect the steps in the process: icing the glass, rinsing it with vermouth, preparing the garnish, and so on. Or perhaps you’ll shape it around quotes about Martinis from celebrities, books, or movies.
Clearly, the topic of your post can provide you with a plethora of hooks or angles. Don’t just go for the most obvious ones: though. Sometimes, it’s the least-common aspect of a topic that provides fresh ground, and a new perspective for writers. Instead of reviewing the latest sci-fi flick like every other film blogger, you might choose the aspect you felt was the best in the movie—perhaps the soundtrack, or the cast—and use that as the viewpoint from which to review the film.
This is usually the approach I use: I write the content, the process of which gives me a few ideas for angles. Then I select the one that I feel is the strongest, and reshape my post around it.
It may sound like double-handling, but the way I see it, I’ll have to edit the post anyway, so the review is no big deal. Also, the hook I choose is usually the one that’s been made clearest by the content I’ve written, so the post usually already leans in the direction in which I want to take it.
As I write this post, it’s now that I’m beginning to think, “Okay, I know what I’ve said here. What angles can I see?” I’ve got three options in this list, so I could use the number three in my title. I’ve also talked a lot about hooks and frames; I could pick up on that theme in my title, calling the piece something like “How an Article Frame Gives Readers a Clearer Picture”. That works well with the picture reference I used in the post’s opening. I’ve used the word “context” a lot, but it’d be easy to change those references to “frame” to fit this angle.
Alternatively, I could work with the hook angle, changing my opening to talk about grabbing readers’ attention, and reeling them in with the bobbing lure of a promised post deliverable. I could call the article something like “Land Readers Like a Pro Using Catchy Article Hooks”.
Again, this is a fairly open-ended approach—the options are many, but because you already have your content drafted, they’re not quite as unlimited as they may seem when you’re starting with a headline or a broad topic. I find this approach gives a bit more direction than the others. That said, it’s important to take care to work your context into the post very well, so that it’s seamlessly integrated, and cohesive with the rest of the content you’ve prepared.
Not just posts
A content frame doesn’t have applications in posts or articles. You can just as easily and effectively use it to create a strong selling point for other information products: ebooks, reports, tutorial series, email newsletters, and so on.
Examples? 31 Days to Build a Better Blog is a great one. This content could simply have been pitched to readers as a list of essential tips, or master-blogger’s secrets. But as concepts that clearly identify reader deliverables, those options are pretty hazy.
31 Days to Build a Better Blog, on the other hand, says what the reader will get. The content is structured accordingly. Readers know what to expect, and they receive it. That leads to customer satisfaction, and builds Darren’s reputation for honesty and integrity in the process.
See how beneficial a good frame can be for matching your content to your readers? How serious are you about framing your content? Do you do it often? What tips can you share?