There’s no shortage of bad writing on the internet.
Many writers don’t seem willing to put in the time necessary to work through the entire writing production process.
As such, they publish ignorant, messy, and ridiculous pieces of writing that make them and their overall brand look really bad.
This not only leads to sluggish movement up the ladder of success, it can also very literally cost a business money.
I saw a Facebook “Sponsored Post” for an international company in the personal development niche selling a course about ‘how to better yourself’.
This ad was FILLED with typos, grammatical errors, and half-baked thoughts that didn’t make sense.
There was even a quote with a typo. A quote had a typo… SMH!
Worse yet, the copywriter simply copied parts of the first ad and pasted them into another ad, typos and all.
Around half of the comments on both Facebook posts were about how unprofessional these ads looked and how no self-respecting person would take personal development tips from a company that doesn’t even proofread their own ad copy.
And here’s the craziest part:
Facebook is charging this company for each one of those comments!
Every time someone says “You guys need to proofread” and 25 people ‘like’ that comment, they’re paying huge chunks of money to Facebook for allowing them to accrue negative social proof.
Fun fact: As of this writing, that company is STILL running both of those two ads.
While this post is not about writing ad copy specifically, the same principles I’m about to lay out here apply to all kinds of writing.
Because had that company followed this 5-step process necessary for producing great writing, they would’ve avoided looking like amateurs on social media, they would’ve saved tons of money from people commenting about their unprofessionalism, and their enrollment for that course probably would’ve gone up dramatically.
Professional pieces of writing are not that hard to produce, though it does take practice to figure it all out.
It won’t be easy in the beginning as there are a lot of moving parts that need attention.
But if you commit yourself to learning the process, you can quickly find a rhythm that will let you produce the most unforgettable articles possible in a short amount of time.
As a guide, I’ve laid out the essential 5-step process that all writers need to work from when creating any piece of writing – from blog posts about tech trends to cryptocurrency white papers to Facebook ads for a personal development company.
Step 1. Brainstorm
Think about that word – Brainstorm.
It’s a storm inside the brain. A bunch of loud, crazy ideas clashing around creating all kinds of chaos.
This first step is an important step in the article creation process.
And it’s also the first step that many beginning writers miss.
A lot of novice writers hear about things like the Skyscraper technique and wrongly think, “Wow, that’s great! I can just copy someone else’s idea!”
That is a recipe for failure.
Apart from it being ethically questionable, simply rehashing someone else’s work is not going to get anyone interested in what you do.
People crave originality. They don’t want to see the same thing over and over again.
In order to capture and keep a reader’s interest, you need to come up with creative ideas that no one has ever seen or heard before.
Brainstorming is the most free-form, messy, and wildly disorganized part of the creative process. Because of that commotion, many people think of it as awkward and ill-informed.
They think that if they have a “bad idea”, then they aren’t worthy of the good ideas.
But here’s the truth:
- There’s no such thing as a bad idea.
Every idea has the potential to be refined, polished, and produced into a brilliant work of art. You just have to know how to take that dumb thought and make it shine.
That’s where practice comes in.
There are 3 types of novel ideas:
- Completely original ideas. This is when you are the only one to have come up with this idea and are offering the world things it has never seen before. Here is an example.
- Completely non-original ideas that have a unique twist. This is taking an old idea and either finding a creative way to approach the topic or just doing it better (e.g. the Skyscraper technique). Here is an example.
- Completely unique ideas that have a non-original twist. This is exploring an original idea with a typical literary trope or easy to understand way of giving out information. Here is an example.
It’s your job to find one of those three kinds of ideas so that you set yourself up with the best chance of churning out a highly engaging piece of content.
How To Brainstorm For An Article
There are a few ways to go about this.
First, make sure your mind is calm and collected. If it isn’t, do something else until you’re in a healthy mental state before proceeding. Take a walk, watch some TV, meditate, eat some food, sleep, or do whatever it is that helps you relax.
Second, take your niche and highlight some common pain points.
Finally, make a list of ways you can either explore or solve those pain points.
Check out this video for an explanation of interesting ways to brainstorm:
Here’s a tip: Keep a file on your computer with a list of topics that you come up with when doing each brainstorm session. This way, when you’re ready to write, you can simply pick one of those ideas to develop.
I should mention that two crucial aspects of brainstorming for content marketers are keyword research and SEO. I’m no expert in these topics but they should be taken into consideration when creating a content marketing strategy.
For more info on keyword research and SEO, check out:
- The Importance of Keywords in SEO: A Beginner’s Guide
- Best Keyword Research Tools For SEO
- How To Write Perfect SEO-Optimized Articles in WordPress
Step 2. Outline
Many online articles are hard to read. They’re sloppy, they’re ill-informed, and they’re incoherent.
It’s kind of like the writer just decided to write out their brainstorm session. While there may be a few good ideas in there somewhere, they’re organized in such a way that those good ideas never get to see the light of day.
And there’s an easy solution to this problem:
- Before you start writing, create an outline.
Some copywriters think they can overlook this crucial step and just jump to the writing part. But writing without an outline is like building a house without first laying out the foundation.
The outline serves as the backbone of the piece. It is the ground from which the entire piece comes. You can’t build a body without building a skeleton; likewise, you can’t build an effective article without building an outline.
An outline allows you to collect your random and crazy thoughts and put them into a coherent and meaningful arrangement.
Many pieces of writing suffer from something as simple as bad structuring.
This means that the author is making points in an illogical way.
Here’s an example:
5 Ways To Eat A Hotdog
- With Ketchup And Sauerkraut
- Hotdogs Are Not Real Dogs
- Read A Book About Hotdogs
- Cheese Doesn’t Belong There
Only one of those things is a “way to eat a hotdog”, and there are only 4 things in that list.
Here’s another example:
Street Food in Thailand
I was reading the latest edition of Travel + Leisure and decided to go to Bangkok. I looked around on all the popular websites for the best priced plane ticket. I found one for $400 but thought I could find one cheaper if I waited. So I waited for 2 weeks and found one for $350 but from an airline company I’d never heard of before. I decided to buy it and take a chance. Who knows? Maybe they’ll have good in-flight movies!
The body text is not referencing the heading. Nothing about that paragraph was about food, let alone street food in Thailand. The heading should’ve been something like “Buying a Plane Ticket to Thailand”.
Note: This is not an exaggeration. These things happen ALL THE TIME.
Once you’ve created the outline, look it over and make sure it makes sense.
Put it down for an hour, and then proofread it again.
If you can learn to create great outlines, writing will be the easiest thing in the world.
How To Create An Outline For An Article
The first step in creating an outline is to identify the parameters of your article.
You want to work from the most broad to the most specific.
So create a title (or a working title that identifies the main topic), define the sub headings, and fill in the main points that you want to address.
Here’s what this post’s outline looks like:
Title: 5 Steps For Creating An Article (main heading)
- Brainstorm (sub heading)
- Chaotic mess of ideas. Storm of the brain. (main point)
- Important step that many people miss. (main point)
- Allows for creative thought to flourish. Originality. (main point)
- No such thing as a bad idea. All ideas can become useful. (main point)
- Three kinds of useful ideas: (main point)
- Completely original. (sub point)
- Not original but unique angle. (sub point)
- Unique but not original angle. (sub point)
- How to brainstorm: (main point)
- Clear mind. (sub point)
- Identify pain points. (sub point)
- Solve or explore pain points. (sub point)
- Create Outline (sub heading)
- Lots of bad articles on internet. They don’t work from outlines and make bad pieces. (main point)
- Like building a house without the foundation. (main point)
- Collect thoughts into coherent structure. (main point)
- Give example of bad structure. (main point)
- Proofread the outline. (main point)
- How to create outline: (main point)
- Most broad to most specific. (main point)
- Title > Sub headings > Main points > Sub points. (sub point)
- Give example of outline. (main point)
This is how I typically lay out outlines, but your process may be different. There are a number of outline templates that you can find online. Here are several good ones.
Again, re-read your outline a few times to make sure that everything follows a logical progression.
If it doesn’t, fix it.
Once you have a solid outline in place, then – and only then – should you move to the writing part.
Step 3. Write
This is the part you’ve been waiting for…
This is where you expect to me tell you all the copywriter secrets which will increase your sales by 4000% in just 4 weeks!!!!
But I’m not going to tell you what those secrets are.
Mostly because I don’t know what those secrets are.
But the reason I don’t know what those secrets are is because those secrets don’t exist.
Anyone that tries to make outrageous statements promising outrageous things is trying to sell you something.
Don’t believe the hype.
There’s no magic bullet for being an effective writer. There are only years of trial and error and even more years of consistent practice. That’s the path to the top. Anyone that tells you otherwise is being dishonest and just wants to take your money.
You have to learn what works, practice it, refine it, and persist. There’s no other way.
The writing is the exciting part of creating a great article.
And many beginning writers focus exclusively on this step without doing the other 4 steps. That’s wrong. That’s bad form. Don’t do that.
You need to make sure that everything is done correctly and with intention.
Don’t rush the process.
How To Write An Article
If your outline is really strong, this part is super quick and easy.
All you have to do here is create the “meat” of the post. You’re basically taking the outline and “filling it in” the same way you would take a coloring book and fill in the pictures with color.
Here’s where your style can flow in a natural way. You can be as formal or as informal as you want. You can write with humor or you can be serious. You can write long blocks of text or you can write short, one sentence paragraphs.
Each stylistic choice has its own positives and negatives, so it’s essential that you understand who you’re creating an article for.
If the piece is for millennials with short attention spans, you may want to use simple words and incorporate lots of white space.
If you’re writing for business executives who work at a dog food company, you may want to use lots of technical jargon and throw out lots of data.
The writing of an article should be as natural as thinking. When you write, you are essentially thinking onto a piece of paper (or computer).
If writing out your thoughts isn’t as easy as thinking your thoughts, you should probably learn a few writing practices to get you into a state where your ideas can “flow”.
You want your writing to be fluid as it fills in the subsections of your outline, like water filling in the bounds of a pool.
Here is where you let your natural expression come out in the most authentic way possible.
If you’re a professional writer, you can learn the “craft” of writing where you are able to take any topic and write an article about it regardless of personal interest or knowledge.
For example, I’ve written countless travel articles for places I’ve never been, reviews for products I’ve never used, and website copy for companies I know nothing about.
But as an entrepreneurial blogger or content marketer, if you’re not passionate about your niche, your writing will not be engaging, and no one will want to read your work.
So if you’re working in a niche you don’t love, change your niche.
Learn how to be authentic, exuberant, natural, and authoritative with your writings.
Take all of the things that need to be said and say them in the most effective, genuine, and passionate way possible.
Step 4. Edit
Editing is a completely necessary part of producing an article.
It’s also the number 1 thing that novice writers don’t do.
They think they can just write and the world will appreciate them for their brilliance.
But it doesn’t work that way.
No one will look past all of the problems to figure out what you’re trying to say. They’ll simply move onto another piece of writing that is more clear, more concise, and makes more sense.
I can understand why no one likes to edit.
Apart from it being time consuming, it also means needing to be completely honest with yourself about what your strengths and weaknesses are as a writer.
As you edit, you’re going to come across some really uncomfortable and awkward phrases, statements, and ideas that will make you look really bad.
But it’s better that you come across those things first before your audience does.
Editing is all about making sure everything that needs to be said is said completely, effectively, clearly, and efficiently.
You need to make sure that you’re putting yourself into an attractive light.
And that should be seen as a good thing.
Because here’s the truth that many people tend to forget:
- Editing is a luxury.
You have time before hitting the “Publish” button to guarantee that everything is perfect.
Consider yourself lucky that you have the good fortune of checking your work before it’s pushed out to the world.
How To Edit An Article
When editing an article, you need to become an objective observer.
You need to pretend that you’re reading someone else’s work. Pretend that your friend wrote the article, and then offer “them” some advice.
If possible, put the article down after it’s written and only edit it the next day. This will give you some time to let all the emotion of writing wear off before reviewing it.
Maintaining a distant perspective is crucial to the editing process. This is why it’s one of the hardest skills to master, but also the reason why it’s so important to do.
You’re putting yourself in the reader’s shoes and being 100% objective about the quality of the work.
Editing is an art form in itself, but there are some general things to do.
When editing, you need to guarantee that:
- The points made are clear and understandable.
- All body text is directly referencing and expanding upon the heading.
- The information is laid out in a consistent way.
- There are no lapses in logic.
- Everything is said with maximum efficiency.
- The overall piece is well-written and compelling.
Again, when editing, remove yourself from the emotion of writing and become someone whose job is to highlight the overall effectiveness of the piece.
Don’t be afraid to cut sections that aren’t working or expand upon sections that aren’t clear enough.
Editing is like getting ready for a date. Give your article a bath, and put it in some nice clothes.
Step 5. Proofread
Continuing our date metaphor…
Now that our article is clean and dressed well, let’s comb its hair and give it some perfume.
The proofreading stage is the final polishing of a work before it’s sent out into the world.
It’s a subsection of the editing process, but it has a very refined purpose.
All of the major edits need to be done in the editing stage. Editing is where the work gets shaped.
The proofreading stage is where the piece gets polished.
And, as I’ve been saying with all the steps, proofreading is very important.
And, as I’ve been saying throughout this entire piece, most beginning writers think they don’t have to proofread.
This is wrong. Everyone absolutely needs to proofread.
If you don’t, you are guaranteed to produce a piece of writing that is not ready for public view.
It’s like if a musician spent hours writing and refining a song that was beautiful, heartfelt, and ground-breaking. The song was a perfect reflection of their soul and an amazing representation of their creative genius. But before they recorded the song, they didn’t bother to tune their instrument.
No one wants to listen to an out-of-tune song regardless of how well the song was written.
Likewise, no one will be able to see the brilliance of your writing if it isn’t fine-tuned and polished.
I’ll say it again just because it’s so important, and I’ll try to emphasize just how important it is:
- You. Absolutely. Need. To. Proofread.
And like the whole editing process, there are so many more reasons to proofread than there are to not proofread.
Proofreading is a privilege. You have the luxury of spending the time to grind away the roughest and most unattractive parts of your work.
Take this opportunity to ensure that everything is perfect.
Take this opportunity to highlight your creative brilliance.
Take this opportunity to showcase your work in the most beautiful light possible.
How To Proofread An Article
This is the final step of the article production.
It is the ultimate guarantee of quality assurance.
Here is where you:
- Double check that the edits previously made make sense and are free of mistakes.
- Make sure that there are no misspellings or grammatical errors anywhere.
- Check that the formatting is correct and there are no front-end issues in viewability.
- Ensure that the overall piece is perfect and free from any kind of error.
You should proofread until the piece is spotless. That means that if you read it once and you find an error, re-read it until you can’t find any more errors.
Ideally, you should proofread a day or so after you’ve made your final edits. This will put everything into a fresh perspective where the emotions of writing and editing are completely removed.
Always proofread at least twice. You should really proofread more than twice (until it’s perfect), but if you’re short on time, do it at least twice.
I often proofread once, find no errors, proofread again, and find several errors. Errors will pop out the more you read it.
After you’ve done your proofreads, you can be confident in knowing that the article you’ve produced is the best possible representation of your work.
Nothing else can make it better.
Your article is shiny, beautiful, and ready to be shared with the world.
The 5 Steps Of Writing An Article
I keep saying it, and I’ll say it again:
- Each one of these steps is important.
You can’t skip over or half-ass any of them.
Every single part of the writing production process is there to ensure that you are churning out the best and most effective pieces possible. If you ignore one of those parts, that assurance of quality becomes greatly diminished, and you will risk putting yourself in a really bad light.
That said, it is possible to go through this entire 5-step process and still make a bad article. It happens. Especially if you’re new to writing.
But with consistent practice and high-quality feedback, you will see massive amounts of improvement as you climb higher and higher up the ladder of technical proficiency.
And as you do, you’ll start receiving fans, accolades, and an increasing amount of opportunities to live your best life.
Your writing will start to showcase your natural expression, and you’ll become a voice for those that don’t yet know how to speak.
Little by little, you’ll start to build the momentum that will take you up to the highest heights of your niche, you’ll reach and then surpass all the goals laid out before you, and you’ll understand what it means to be fulfilled in life.
And it all starts by producing that first unforgettable article.