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Four Professional Editing Techniques that Boost Post Value

Putting aside grammar, spell-checking, and similar post QA techniques, editors commonly rely on a suite of tactics to help boost the communications value of content. They’re easy to apply, and don’t take a whole lot of expertise or time. Perhaps you can (or do?) use them to hone your posts.

1. Moving the key point to the opening

My dictionary

Often, we can get carried away setting the scene for a post—so carried away, in fact, that we neglect to tell readers what it is that they’ll get if they keep reading.

If they don’t know where the post is heading, readers aren’t likely to put in the hard yards to complete the journey. Often, we’ll make that point further into the post, after we’ve set the scene. I usually find that moving that key point up so it’s part of the opening paragraph doesn’t harm the flow of the scene-setting in the least, yet it has big benefits in terms of setting reader expectations.

It’s a small change, but it can make a big difference, as it promises readers a real deliverable.

2. Making the content answer the title

If the post’s title is “Five Tips for Blog Productivity”, I’ll want the sub-headings to be numbered one through five. Similarly, if the post title mentions pros and cons, I’ll ensure that both pros and cons are clearly mentioned and identified within the body, and that they’re called pros and cons, not advantages and disadvantages.

Whatever your title, the content should answer it, clearly delivering what it promises. Even these seemingly prosaic alterations can help readers to feel satisfied that the post delivered on the promise in its title.

3. Adding sentences that tie the content back to the theme or point

Sometimes, we’ll start making a point under a subheading and, having made it, simply move on to the next subheading or section. But on reading—particularly if the article is long, makes many points, or presents complex information—the critical information you’re presenting in each section can be lost to the reader. After all, they’re trying to take a lot in at once!

Often, adding a concise summarizing sentence that reiterates the key point of the section, and explains how it relates to the overall theme of the post, clarifies meaning, aids comprehension, and reinforces to readers that you gave them what they expected.

4. Adding links, references, and supporting material

If the post mentions a book, website, or person, I’ll try to find links that interested readers can follow for more information. Again, this is about delivering on your promises, but external links are also a good way to build your credibility and your reputation as someone who knows what they’re talking about.

The more information you provide to readers, the more respect they’ll have for you as the go-to person in your niche. Links and supporting material matter.

I use these four editing techniques constantly to hone content. What tricks do you use to make a big difference, quickly, to your posts’ value?

Inspiration vs. Obligation: the Great Creativity Debate

Ali’s recent post discouraged us from forcing creativity. If you don’t feel it, she said, don’t write. Yet Gretchen recommends sitting down and writing every day, because you’ll get in a rhythm and stay connected to your material.

Well, which is it? Should you force yourself at your blogging, even when you don’t feel the inspiration, or wait patiently for the muse to visit, hopefully before you lose your readers through neglect? I’m curious to hear how you approach this question. After all, blogging is about content, right? If we can’t generate content on demand, what are our chances of being great bloggers?

As a professional writer, I’ve had plenty of time to consider the inspiration vs. obligation (or creativity vs. productivity) question, and I think the best answer revolves around self-awareness.

Starting out

When I began writing, I’d only write when I felt the urge. Fortunately for me, that was a fairly continuous state, but for many bloggers, it’s not. This is particularly true for the beginning blogger who’s striving to build an inventory of great content, but after an initial flush of inspiration, finds themselves scratching for ideas, and creatively burnt out.

As you’re beginning, and getting a feel for either blogging itself, or your topic in particular, you might do well to try to write multiple posts at those times when inspiration strikes. If you’re feeling psyched about your topic, don’t spend three hours honing one post: spend it drafting five posts. Then, on the days when you’re not feeling so creative, spend your time honing and publishing that store of articles, tiding your blog and your readers over with consistently great content until the muse returns.

This approach keeps you engaged with your blog and your topic—you’re working on new content every day—and can significantly boost your post quality, since you’re reviewing drafts with those fresh eyes that writers and editors are always talking about. It also keeps readers engaged, and returning.

If you can consciously tune in to your inspiration, you’ll come to know what it feels like, and understand the capabilities that come with different degrees of inspiration. Will you get three posts from today’s inspiration, or ten?

This approach really comes into its own as your blog becomes a longer term project.

Long-term creativity

If you’ve monetized your blog, or established a strong following, you may well find that you have more of an investment in it—and in producing great content for it. Without content, your income will drop, and your audience will be disappointed. Suddenly, writing when the mood takes you won’t seem like such a viable proposition any more. And with that thought comes a new kind of pressure.

Many bloggers struggle at this point, because posting becomes a monetized task—it becomes work, and an obligation—and the sense of creative fun that writing used to hold suddenly seems to disappear. But if you’ve taken the beginners’ approach I outlined above, you’ll have a strong chance of getting through this phase, to reach a point where you can produce a reliable stream of quality content on demand.

You’ve spent your first months or years of blogging learning what the creative urge feels like, and what it makes you capable of. You’ve also been developing your creative muscle and learning the techniques and skills that make your writing great.

So you have a rich store of experience, knowledge, and inspiration to fall back on. You also know what you’re capable of, creatively speaking.

When you sit down at your desk to write, you’ll know if you’ve got zero articles in you, or twenty. You’ll be able to manage the ebbs and flows of your creativity. Most importantly, though, you’ll be able to rely on your knowledge and skill—rather than heaven-sent inspiration alone—to produce excellent content.

You’ll know that all you need is that 1% inspiration to kick you off. After that, the work of writing the post is all perspiration: technique, concept, and skill.

Do I write my best work when I’m inspired? Who knows? Over time, the idea of “creative inspiration” has become immaterial. I just write. I know when I have a wild rush of ideas, and I know when my mind seems more suited to the more predictable work of editing and polishing my content. But through the process I outlined here, the magical, mystical quality of “inspiration” has been replaced by the more sustaining notion of reliable output—output being, by its very nature, creative.

How do you manage the balance between inspiration and obligation when it comes to creating content for your blog?

How Article Frames Show Readers a Clearer Content Picture

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.

Image by stock.xchng user pale

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.

Headline first

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.

Topic first

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.

Content first

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?

The Blog Is Dead: Long Live the Blog

Image by @lox

How do you define what a “blog” is? Back in the day, a blog was a weblog—an online journal. This definition had connotations of timeliness, of narrative, and of a personal focus.

But these days, blogging has expanded. Bloggers may be hobbyists or corporate CEOs. Blogs may be personal or professional. Even the tools that bloggers consider decidedly blog-focused, like WordPress, are used increasingly on news and other content sites.

So what is a blog? Where are the boundaries around blogging? Do they even exist any more?

Blogging is about content and community

This may be true, but it’s also true for much of the web. To say bloggers are content creators is a bit irrelevant: journalists are content creators, and so is your next-door neighbor who uploaded a video of his cat to YouTube.

If we break the web into the categories functionality-based sites (like online banking and ecommerce stores) and content-based sites, we see that there’s often not a whole lot of difference between “blogs” and other sites in the content category.

Whether we’re blogging with words, videos, audio files or images, regular updates to a site—even one like microblog Twitter—are generally regarded as “blogging”.

There are a few delineations, though. Wikis can be updated frequently, but they’re usually updated by users of the wiki itself, and they’re most commonly used as references. That said, many blogs seek to act as references of points of authority on their topic, as do wikis. Wikis may also provide a narrative if they’re used to store progress information—details about the evolution of, or updates to, a project, for example, or meeting minutes. This also reflects one of the common goals of blogging.

Forums, which can also be considered within the content site category, tend to be more conversational, and less get-the-facts-to-you focused. And the information they communicate tends to be less time-relevant than that on blogs or news sites. However, they, too, share some similarities with blogs: they aim to create community, and individual threads generally have a sense of narrative — a forum thread usually tells the story of a discussion.

Blogging is about publishing

A blog is a regular publication, and it’s true that there isn’t a huge variety of site types in the “regular online publication” category. There are ezines and electronic newsletters, and there are news sites. Other than that, the only regular publication site type is probably the blog (if you have others, add them in the comments!).

What unites these communication types is that they present content from a position of authority. In the publishing model, the publisher is the  brand and the authority, and any authors they present have the backing of the publisher. They usually publish on a specific topic for a specific audience, and they do so regularly. Their publication is effectively a product, which sets these site types apart from information repositories like wikis, forums and work folios.

Blogging is about meeting a need for information

Again, meeting a need for information isn’t something that’s unique to blogging. Even sites that offer pure functionality, like Delicious or Google, can fit this description. Forums, wikis, classified sites, and news sites are all focused on meeting a need for information. So are many emails, newsletters, RSS feeds, and so on.

So what’s unique about blogging? What defines blogging from any other kind of online content creation? Is it that blogging is a unique combination of factors—content, community, temporally-relevant publishing—or is there something else at play? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Scribe SEO Deal Closes November 5

Scribe SEO‘s special Step Up deal is about to close. If you haven’t taken advantage of it yet, time is running out.

According to Scribe, “SEO is not rocket science … You know you have to create valuable, reader-focused content, and also:

  1. You’ve got to do keyword research.
  2. You’ve got to optimize your reader-focused content.
  3. You’ve got to build links to your site.”

While it can’t create valuable, reader-focused content on your behalf, Scribe (a great Plugin for WordPress, Joomla and Drupal) can help you with the other three tasks in this list.

Until Friday 5 November, you can get better value on Scribe for less: “step up” your number of monthly Scribe content evaluations and keyword searches without paying the higher price for the next-level plan.

That means you get a higher value Scribe plan for the price of the plan below it. A good deal? We think so. Have a look for yourself. The promotion code you’ll need to get the special offer is STEPUP.

Has Scribe helped you attract search traffic to your blog?

Review: Successful Blogging in 12 Simple Steps

For the beginning blogger who has limited experience, but lots of enthusiasm, Successful Blogging in 12 Simple Steps makes an ideal primer.

Written by Annabel Candy, from Get In the Hot Spot, this twelve-chapter ebook (lucky thirteen, if you count the bonus chapter) touches on all the basics, from choosing a blog topic to using social media to support your blog.

I found the structure of the chapters very clear: each chapter starts with a goal — this explains in a single sentence what you’ll learn from the chapter. It’s followed by a discussion of the relevant information, and a series of action points — practical tasks for readers to complete. The checklist that ends each chapter ties together the goal, learnings and actions so you can easily identify what you’ve learned, and anything you need to research further.

Annabel’s skills in web design and copywriting give this ebook a richness that others lack. She discusses issues like branding, website design and layout, and the basics of WordPresss. She also offers three chapters on writing: writing your blog’s static content, writing blog posts (which pays special attention to the all-important headline), and writing for the web.

The author covers all the key blog-promotion techniques in chapters on social media, online networking, search engine optimization and guest posting. Importantly, she stresses the value of understanding your blog’s statistics, and using these to help direct your blogging and promotion efforts.

This isn’t a detailed how-to guide for those with some blogging experience under their belts: Annabel keeps things fairly general and approachable. Her writing is, of course, great, and the ebook has a friendly tone that makes her advice seem eminently doable. If you’re squaring up to the challenge of running your own blog — for fun or financial gain — this ebook is a sound place to start. For more information, visit Successful Blogging in 12 Simple Steps.

Google Feedburner Delivers Real-time Traffic Stats

This week, Google unveiled an upgraded Feedburner stats package that provides real-time data on clicks, views, and podcast downloads.

For the social media fanatics, the Feedburner team add that, “if you use the FeedBurner Socialize service, and your platform uses PubSubHubbub or you ping us when you post, you can for the first time get stats on how much traffic your feed items are receiving from Twitter, as well as feed reading platforms like Google Reader in one place.”

Looks like those Refresh buttons are set to get a workout… Have you tried the new stats? What are your thoughts?

The 7 Harsh Realities of Blogging for Bucks

At this year’s Blog World Expo, Darren joined with Brian and Sonia from Copyblogger for the keynote presentation, entitled The 7 Harsh Realities of Blogging for Bucks.

As Sonia explained, these seven “crying babies” of blog monetization are worth noting and understanding. But as the keynote speakers address each of these, they discuss the blogger’s alternative options: what you can do instead of making these mistakes. They also discuss the many great things about blogging.

The keynote presentation begins in the 33rd minute of this video. Let us know your reactions and thoughts below!

3 Critical Steps for Blogging Success

While he was at Blog World, Darren met with Abbey Prince Johnson from WebProNews.

In this interview, Darren explores what he believes are the three critical steps to blogging success. You’ve got a blog, but where do you go from there…?