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Magic 5-Step Plan To Writing a Post That Will Easily Win Pulitzer Prize

This is a guest contribution by Tim Soulo.

I bet the next sentence will totally blow your mind!

Ready?

Though… I think a bit of preparation wouldn’t hurt. No really, when I told this to my friend the other day he had a heart attack and I had to drive him to the hospital (he’s ok now btw).

But you just have to know that! This is probably the most important piece of advice in your whole career.

So read along…

1. The Power of The Post Opener

Ok. I was bluffing, I’m sorry. I don’t have a “sentence that will blow your mind”. But did you even notice how easily you got involved into reading this post and how intrigued you were to know what’s going to happen next?

If you look at the very first sentence of this post, it’s sole purpose is to make you read the next one. But the next one doesn’t answer the question I’ve planted in your head (“what will blow my mind?”), it just adds more drama to keep you intrigued and make you read even further.

This kind of “post opener” follows the well known AIDA formula: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

  • My first sentence got your Attention.
  • The story about a friend that got heart attack got you Interested.
  • The statement “you have to know that” played with your Desire.
  • And I invited you to take Action by offering to “read along”.

But what’s the point of going an extra mile to make your post opener intriguing and catchy? Actually there are quite enough reasons for that:

  • If a person opens your post, this doesn’t mean he will read it. Your post opener helps him to make the decision if he wants to read this post or not;
  • Generally people don’t want to read, they just want to consume some valuable information. If you fail to present it in an entertaining and engaging way someone else might win their attention;
  • We’re easily distracted: an email or tweet or maybe a phone call can easily steal our attention and make us forget about the post we were reading. So your opener should be good enough to make people ignore everything else until they finish it.

2. Who Needs An Opener When The Headline is Poor?

You have the best opener in the world, but what if noone will ever see it? Why?

Because your headline isn’t good enough!

My RSS reader pretty much illustrates the point:

Tim Soulo's google reader screen of headlines

Same thing with updates on Twitter or Facebook or search listings in Google ­ in every case the headline is what you see first.

Headline is the most important part of your post. Literally. So make sure it’s compelling enough to steal person’s attention.

There are plenty of good tips and techniques to writing powerful headlines, but I think if you master this single document ­ “Headline Hacks” ­ your headlines will rock!

3. Subheadings are Headline’s Best Friends

Subheadings are not only used to improve the structure of your post, but they actually improve the chances of the post to actually get read.

And here’s how.

Many of us (including myself) will always skim through the post quickly in order to determine how big it is, how much time it will take to read it and how valuable it is for us. In case your post is just a since chunk of text and there’s nothing that catches the eye and gives you an idea of what the post is about ­ most people won’t risk their time to read it.

By using interesting and compelling subheadings you’re drastically increasing the chances of your post to be read.

4. Your Post Structure And Styling May Cost You Readers Too

Let’s keep talking about the “phenomenon” of skimming the post before reading it. What else might catch the eye?

  • Pictures? ­Absolutely!
  • Numbered (or unnumbered) lists? ­Definitely!
  • Text in bold or italic? ­Pretty much.
  • Quotations? ­Yeah, why not.

Everything that’s different from the common paragraph of text might get person’s attention and make him quickly read this part. Don’t be afraid to use photos, graphics, videos or anything else along these lines.

Take a look at my post and see which of these things I’ve already used and if they fit naturally and really help you (as a reader) to consume information.

And by the way, make sure your paragraphs of text are not bigger than 3-­4 sentences, because most people have have some hidden psychological fear of huge chunks of text and they just won’t read them.

All in all, usage of all these things inevitably leads to improving the logical structure of your post. Subheadings alone mean that the article is not just a random flow of thought, but it’s actually structured into certain logical parts, which makes it a lot easier to comprehend it.

BONUS TIP: Try to always add captions for the images. Studies show that 80% of people who are skimming through the post will read the image captions.

5. All of The Above Is Useless Without Research

We love to think that we have enough knowledge in our heads to produce compelling content which others will find interesting and valuable. Yet quite often we’re awfully wrong.

To prove my point I invite you to google the hell out of the next topic that you’re going to write about and see yourself if there’s anything you didn’t know. And besides, if it so happens that there are tons of posts on the topic already listing the same thoughts and ideas you were about to write… ­ maybe the world doesn’t need yet another one?

But if you’re confident that you can do a much better post than any of those already there ­ go for it, my friend! And make sure you send me the link once it’s published for I want to read that!

One last thing I love about a thorough research ­ it makes your brain work! I don’t remember where I heard this advice first, yet it works for me so damn good:

When you need to generate some fresh ideas or uncanny solutions ­ go read all you can on the topic and then do something else and let your brain rest and slowly digest all the information you’ve just consumed. Sooner or later a great idea will strike you out of nowhere! Believe me, this really works!

The Topic Is Exhausted? Talk To Your Readers!

Don’t know about you, but I write articles with a sole purpose of communicating to people. And I love when the communication goes both ways for otherwise I might as well just bury the article on my hard drive once I’m done writing it.

I’m sure you guys have something to say about this very post. So speak out! I’ll be glad to continue the conversation in comments.

Tim Soulo is a blogging experimenter and conversion junkie. He is passionate about discovering new marketing ideas and sharing them with his readers. Why don’t you visit his personal blog at BloggerJet.com and take his free email course on boosting your traffic.

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Comments

  1. Andrew Grant says:

    Hi Tim

    Nice work. But I think you meant 3 to 4 sentences to a paragraph, not 34 :-)

    You’re right about titles and I love your example from the RSS feed – don’t all those titles look really boring? I wouldn’t have been tempted to read any of them. Whereas your offer of a Pulitzer prize was very enticing.

    Where do you advise to put subheadings? I know that sounds like a dumb question – under the headline, obviously. But actually sometimes you need to include the subhead into the headline, like:

    Top 10 Rat-catching Tips – How to double your catch rate in 2 days

    Do you agree?

    Thanks for a good post

    Andrew

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Andrew,

      Thanks for noticing lol.. It seems they’ve already fixed that :)

      I think when you put the subhead into the headline it’s still called a headline :)

      One little thing I can advice from my own preferences is that you should always have a bit of text between headings and subheadings. Otherwise it may look lame. Example:

      “…and now onto the list of productivity killers:

      PRODUCTIVITY KILLERS TO BE AWARE OF

      1. SOCIAL NETWORKS
      Facebook will easily kill your productivity… bla-bla-bla

      2. LACK OF SLEEP
      You should always sleep well.. bla-bla-bla”

      Now if you put some text between the heading and the subheading:

      “…and now onto the list of productivity killers:

      PRODUCTIVITY KILLERS TO BE AWARE OF

      I bet the items in the list are already familiar to you, but the ways to fight them? Let’s see:

      1. SOCIAL NETWORKS
      Facebook will easily kill your productivity… bla-bla-bla

      2. LACK OF SLEEP
      You should always sleep well.. bla-bla-bla”

      So yeah.. I guess this is a better formatting of a post when you aways have some text between your headings and subheadings :)

      Hope this makes sense :)

      Tim

  2. these are really interesting and informative articles. Much needed for any blogger!

  3. I figure if you can have long conversations and debates with your friends and family, the topic isn’t exhausted.

  4. Zack says:

    Yes! The opener has to be great! It has to capture the audience and make them read the article eager to get to the next line! I also agree that research is key. No one wants to read incorrect info!

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Zack,

      I’d actually say all elements are equally important :)

      The headline, the opener, the styling/structure, the research… and actually your own writing style is also important.. if you’re boring – no one will ever read that.

  5. I’ve found some success when articles start with something that might not necessarily be related to the topic, but are newsworthy and catchy. This goes along the lines of a great opener, but can be something that catches the reader off guard and draws interest, and can be something not even related to the theme of the article.

  6. Awesome tips, Tim! My writing is the one thing I am always trying to work on. Especially since I, by no means, am a journalist or grammar expert.

    A lot of people tell me I write like I am speaking to them. I feel like that is good, but I want them to be more engaged. Going to implement your tips and see how I do.

    Thanks!
    Cody

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Cody,

      Thanks for the feedback :)

      For myself it really helps to re-read my post 5-10 times… usually I start re-reading it before it’s even finished.. just to feel how it flows.

      So I would usually write a few paragraphs and go re-read them, before I write the next one. I think this is the way you make sure your copy is perfect :)

  7. Jon Rhodes says:

    Great post. The headline is the most important thing you can write, closely followed by the opening sentence. Us bloggers have to keep remembering and reminding ourselves of this. Thanks!

  8. Research is key especially if your niche is healthcare or fitness.

    Two big things about research though:

    1. Wikipedia is NOT research
    2. Just because you pick one study out of a peer reviewed journal doesn’t mean that there aren’t 25 others that contradict it. It’s good to spend time getting the whole picture.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      well.. about the point #2… with controversy you can get some nice traffic to your blog and some very nice battles in the comment section :)

  9. Funny opener.

    Didn’t know where you were going with it, but you made a great point Tim. Well done. I’m also obsessed with research, especially for blog posts. It’s the easiest way to add value and credibility to any post.

    Looking forward to your next post, this is one of the best ones I’ve read today. Long enough to add value, meaty + relevant. Cheers!

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Wow.. thanks for such an awesome feedback, Alexandra :)

      To be honest I’m not really happy with the post since the number of tweets & comments doesn’t impress me :(

      Will have to come up with something much better than that next time :)

      Cheers!

  10. James Parker says:

    Some finest and valuable tips for content writers to generate maximum numbers of readers. I would like to appreciate the entire team of problogger on providing the new bloggers a chance to come and learn from here. Thanks a lot!

  11. Providing a good opener will definitely make your reader crave for more and read along the post you have made. I call this technique in writing.

    This is important but don’t make it in every article you have made for it will make you monotonous.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      exactly! but there are tons of techniques for punchy openers :) telling stories, asking questions, sharing news bites, intriguing with the further content.. just mix them :)

  12. It is all about the headline. And then that sentence or two after. That is when it is all about the decider if the reader will continue or not. Great post

  13. I think that the first point is the most important and a great example used in the post. It did grab my attention! Although the title is important to get people to click on it in the first place if you have regular readers then it is most important to get them to read through your posts.

  14. Brian Rich says:

    Great writing advice, I completely agree that nobody will read your posts if it does not have a good headline. That is by far the most important aspect, nobody will know if your writing is good or bad if they are not interested in reading, which means you need a good headline.

  15. I’ve followed problogger for months. Just this week I jumped into the blog waters on my own. This has been another helpful article. I’ve got so much to learn! Thanks!

  16. I agree with these tips, but you forgot to mention short lines/paragraphs, and the fact that more white space is better. This ties in with the short attention spans most busy people seem to have nowadays.

  17. Vizzi says:

    Great post! When we visit a site we are like frightened deer. We need something to grab our attention and resonate with us right away, or we scamper. Catch your readers attention early and guide them through posts with broken up paragraphs, simple sentences, and visuals!

  18. Great blog! I think the title and first few sentences are always the most important parts of the blog! I always make sure those 2 components are perfect before I post the new article on my blog. If you don’t, it might be what drives traffic away. It will either make or break the article.

  19. Danil Rudoy says:

    Hi Tim, great post and bla bla bla. I have a question about pictures: I have always struggled to find good placements and alignments for them, trying pretty much every possibility. Do you have any ideas on that subject? Does it make sense, say, to start a post with a large captivating photo that leaves little text space? My thinking has always been that most people love pictures more than texts anyway because they require less effort, but whenever I tried this approach it didn’t seem to work them way I wanted it to.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Danil..

      well.. what can I say.. thanks for an amazing idea for a blog post :)

      I would love to give you some brief advice on this.. but it really seems to me that this topic is really worth a separate article.. quite a big one actually :)

  20. Great post.

    It’s far more easier to write posts if you already have an idea of what your readers are looking for.

    You could easily make a list and go through each to create stunning articles that not only help others but get them excited about the possibilities at the same time.

    Also it is great to have a following behind you too that are looking forward to your next post(s).

    Thanks again and all the best
    Gavin

  21. Azalea Pena says:

    I agree with this post a lot. The headlines, the post opener, the paragraph structure, writing and the subheadings should really capture the attention of the reader. These things can’t be reiterated enough. However, based on experience, my best writing is done when I really like what I’m writing about. The fun of writing easily translates to the fun of reading for my audience, it’s just automatic. I’ve noticed that when I write a topic I’m not really interested in, it is difficult to convince others that what you’re writing about it interesting enough too. Well, if you really want to win a Pulitzer prize for writing, do all these and make sure you love your topic, just saying!

    • Tim Soulo says:

      absolutely agree.. I think we (writers) should avoid writing about things we don’t enjoy.. simply because this doesn’t help us grow..

  22. Osman Hameed says:

    Hi Tim. That was an awesome opener! This post really helps put things in perspective especially when your grinding it out and writing everyday

    Thanks for the great tips!

    Osman

  23. nathan says:

    You must take part in a competition for one of the finest blogs on the web. I will recommend this site!

  24. Reticula says:

    If you hadn’t asked for comments, I probably would have just closed the tab on this article and forgotten about it within two minutes. Since you did, I’m going to be honest. I saw so many punctuation, capitalization and grammar errors, I couldn’t take it seriously. My standards vary when it comes to those issues, but an article on writing had better be nearly perfect or the author loses credibility with me.

    Obviously you provided valuable insights for some of your readers, so it’s not an issue for everybody. I’m bringing this up though in case I’m not the only writer who was put off by the mistakes. Most of them are rules that are easy to learn, but I would add a sixth rule to your list that says you should employ an editor if you want to win any prizes with your writing.

    • Tim Soulo says:

      Hey Reticula,

      Wow.. thanks for outing all the mistakes and stuff.

      I’m constantly trying to learn, but English is not my native language.. so I guess there’s a very long road to flawless writing ahead of me.

      But one little thing.. before being this harsh, please think of how good and fluent you are in any language that’s not your native.. maybe that will make you more tolerant.

      Nevertheless I absolutely agree that every big blog should have a full-time editor, who will go through every submission and polish it to perfection :)