How do you develop valuable, engaging community content without burning up your time running down research and obsessing over what to write?
We’ve all been there: you want to produce something useful and compelling for your members, but you don’t have 5 hours to spend on a single article.
As a content developer, academic researcher and writer, the best way I’ve found to crank out high-quality content without wasting time is to develop a method and stick with it.
Here are the 10 steps I regularly follow to create an 800-word blog post in less than two hours.
1. Pick Your Topic
If you’re working off a content calendar, as you really should, then choose a topic from there. Failing that, think about an interesting question that's been rattling around in your mind. If you can’t think of anything, take to Twitter and see what people in your industry are talking about. If you’re still not inspired, take a look at some recent questions your users have been asking your customer support and write about that.
Note: This is a good time to do a little keyword research.
2. Develop a Hypothesis
What do you want to say about the topic you’ve chosen? If your topic is a live question, then this is simple: your hypothesis is your initial answer to that question.
If you don’t know what you want to say, then take a guess anyway. You’ll come back and revise your hypothesis later. Put down your kneejerk answer now and continue moving.
3. Sketch a Basic Outline
With your hypothesis in mind, come up with a bare-bones outline. Begin with your topic/question and end with your hypothesis. For each of the main lines in between, fill in a major point that you think will support your hypothesis. Again, you’ll be able to revise this later.
4. Find Your Sources
With your basic topic, hypothesis and outline in place, scour the internet for relevant pieces.
Google is a great place to start. Even better are sites like Reddit (marketers: check out Inbound.org or Growth Hackers). These sites depend on the community to vote up or down quality content, which will help you quickly identify which sources are worth your time.
Choose one or two pieces for each of the main points in your outline and drop them in your outline.
Once you’ve amassed a pile of resources, it’s time to read them and take notes. There’s no one way to do this. I like to clip posts to Evernote, highlight lines, and make comments as appropriate. The benefit of using Evernote is that those pieces get tagged and held for use in future blog posts.
6. Convert Your Hypothesis to a Thesis
Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with your gathered literature, go back and examine your hypothesis. Has that research changed your mind in any significant way? Have you identified differing perspectives or new shades of nuance that should be taken into consideration?
Now that you’ve learned a little bit more, you can take your original hypothesis and shape it into something more definitive; a claim you can back up with research, data, and expertise.
7. Revise Your Outline
With a firm thesis in place and a head full of knowledge, it’s time to revise your outline to take into account what you’ve learned. Construct a more compelling argument in support of your thesis. For each major point, add supporting details as well as notes, links, images, etc.
8. Write a Draft
Now comes the easy part. The beauty of following a structured process is that, once it comes time to write, you merely need to translate your outline thoughts into semi-readable text.
Don’t worry about how your words flow in this first draft. Just tie the pieces together. You’ll come back later to polish your words and work on style.
9. Revise Your Draft
When I write, the first draft is usually a barely comprehensible mess. Once I’m done spitting out what needs to be said, I’ll walk away and leave the draft to sit for a day. During that time, I give my subconscious mind a chance to keep working on the piece as I move on to other things.
Ideally the next day—though earlier if I don’t have time—I’ll sit back down with the piece and rework it into something much prettier, adding in elements of style, jokes, stories, and whatever else it takes to make the piece flow into a more compelling and enjoyable read.
10. Proofread and Publish
Once the piece has been polished, set it down for another day or at least a few hours. Then come back for one final pass. Don’t make substantive edits this time. Simply proofread for spelling and grammar. Then, ship it off for publication.
Creating a process for writing may seem like a lot, but once you get into the swing of it, this system will become habitual. Better yet, it gets quicker with time.
The more you write, the better you get with words, and you build a solid research base in your particular field. Don't be surprised when, a couple of months down the line, you're writing posts in half the time it took when you started.
What does your blog writing process look like? I’d love to hear about it. Leave me a comment below.