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:
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”
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”