Table of contents
- Writing Basics
- The Ugly First Draft
- Choose The Right Title
- Use Images
- Provide the Context
- Use Headings and Paragraphs
- Highlight Your Message
- Try to Think With the Reader's Mind
- Provide Links for Readers to Further Deepen Their Knowledge
- Use Spell-Checking Software
- Do Not Repeat Yourself
- Be Personal
- Do Not Leave Your Article Unfinished
- Get Reviewers
- Give Time to Mature Your Article
- You Cannot Fail
- Ready to Go
In my previous article, I wrote about the reasons why you should start blogging. In this article, I explain what are the steps needed to write a great article according to my current experience. As I do not want to overwhelm you, I divided my advice into 3 articles: The basics, publication, and advanced tips. In this article, we will focus on the basics.
Choose a Topic in Which You Are Interested
I would never write an article about a topic that does not make me enthusiastic. I do not recommend it to you either. I am pretty sure you could do it, but writing should be fun, and in case you are not enjoying you won't be happy with the result. In order to engage your readers, you have to be engaged with the topic too.
I love writing articles (however that was not always the case), and that is why I have selected this topic.
Choose One Topic Only
You can also use the Single Responsibility Principle(SRP) for articles. It is important to narrow down your scope and not write about many different topics in one article (except in case your goal is exactly to introduce many topics as a starter for an article series). It often happens that many related ideas pop into my mind which cannot fit into the current topic, in that case, I just save the ideas for later.
Have Specific Goals on Your Mind
Now you have the topic. It is a great start, but let's go one step further. Having the goal to share your knowledge is a great thing in itself, but be more specific. I like to set SMART goals. SMART is the acronym for:
Time-bound I won't explain it in detail, as others have already done it many times. Check for example this article if you are interested. So let's examine my goal:
Specific: I would like to inspire others, to start writing articles, by providing all the necessary info to start this great journey of self-development. In addition, I would like to extend my audience.
- Measurable: In the case, that at least one person will write an article thanks to my post I will be happy. Measuring extending my audience is not that straightforward, but let's say get 10 more followers either on LinkedIn or on my blog.
- Achievable: I might be too optimistic, but I do believe I will achieve my goal.
- Relevant: I really enjoy writing articles and also reading good articles, so the more we have the better.
- Time-bound: My plan is to write at least one article every 2 weeks. So let's set a 2-week long timeframe to create my article. For reaching the goal it is harder because after reading my article somebody has to persuade him/herself to write one and they will also need at least 2 weeks. So I would say let's have one week after posting to have the 10 extra followers and 3 weeks more after that to have the first article. So in order to verify I achieved my goal, please let me know in case you write an article, I would really appreciate that. 😊
It is very useful to also have a higher-level goal, like publishing an article once a month. That will help you keep on track. My higher-level goal is to publish an article biweekly.
Find And Process Relevant Materials on The Topic
Even if you are familiar with the topic I recommend you to read/watch further to expand your knowledge on the subject, especially as you would like to give something valuable.
Instead of just getting the information try to analyze those materials using the points I will provide you in the next section. Are they following those ideas? Are they doing something better? What else can you take with you to help you write your own article?
To be honest, in this case, I did not use any extra material, I was building on my prior experience some of them are recent, and some of them are several years old.
The Ugly First Draft
The "ugly first draft" term comes from Ann Hadley. The hardest part is to start writing. No matter how many words you have you should write them on your computer (or notebook if you prefer that). Maybe just one thought, a sentence, a paragraph, or whatever it is on your mind.
If you have something you can iterate on it. Extending the words to sentences. Sentences to paragraphs and paragraphs to chapters and in the end, you will arrive at the point when you have a complete article.
I have another good reason why I create the ugly first draft. I cannot keep too much thought in my head, but if I write them done, then I can start thinking about the follow-up. This method is extremely effective for me.
Choose The Right Title
I do not have to elaborate on how important the title is. In case you cannot catch the reader's attention, then they will simply scroll to the next article. You don't have to come up with the best title at the beginning. It is okay if you have a good enough one. I am pretty sure you will have great new ideas while you are writing the article.
I have chosen "How to write an article just about almost anything". It is quite generic, but I hope is still able to raise curiosity (even if some might will come with a negative attitude to see how miserably will I fail here).
"One picture worth a thousand words." - it is even more true in today's information-overloaded world. Actually, this point should have come first, as it is more important than the title. Our brain processes visual information way faster than written text. By the time you read the title your brain most probably decided whether the info is relevant to you or not.
As the outcome of the above, I suggest always using a cover image. Ok, but what type of image should you use? As always, it depends. It depends on your audience. I do not recommend filling the article with pictures of half-naked women for example. It would surely draw lots of attention, but you have to catch the audience relevant for you.
The best is to use your own pictures, but in case that is not an option, I recommend using stock photos/graphics. Freepik is a great site where you can have unlimited image download for a few dollars a month, which can be more than enough for a couple of articles in case you think in advance. In order to cut, edit, and combine images, you can use the poor man's Photoshop Gimp. Joking apart, It is an awesome tool with more than enough features than you need.
You should use images inside your article too. Of course, you should not overdo it, and you should use images only relevant to your article. It happens very often that you need a diagram or chart. For that purpose, I use draw.io which is an awesome tool with lots of possibilities. You can save directly to GitHub, GitLab, Dropbox, and more.
For a cover image, I have chosen one of my favorite water droplet photos taken by myself a few years ago. It is personal, and colorful and hopefully, it also makes you think: What the heck is it? Is it a bottle in the water? Is it only water? Is it a real photo at all? It is a real photo indeed, no Photoshop was used except for what I needed to process the RAW image. In case you like the image you can find more on my Facebook page.
I also used 3 stock photos to represent each section.
Provide the Context
Tell the readers what you will write about, so they can decide whether they are really interested or not.
My title speaks for itself, so not much extra info is needed. And also it is a follow-up to a previous article on the topic.
Use Headings and Paragraphs
In order to make navigation easier, and make your article more understandable, you should use headings and instead of writing everything in one paragraph, you should separate your text logically. One thing is important. Do not use an H1 heading in your article as Hashnode uses H1 for the title and search engines do not like articles with multiple H1 headings.
As you can see this article is structured, having many headings and paragraphs.
Highlight Your Message
Personally, I prefer longer articles, but before reading them, I like to skim through to see if there is really something useful for me. Time is money, providing the important information easily available makes your reader's life easier. Cause of this I usually write the main takeaways in bold.
In case you read this article, you can get all the info in a few seconds. In case you are interested in the whys, then you will surely read the article, in case not, then why should we waste each others' time.
Try to Think With the Reader's Mind
Of course, everyone is different and has their own personal background but there is one common in them. They are interested in the topic you are writing about. Try to predict what questions will arise in their mind, and provide the answers to those questions. Or at least follow the next advice.
Provide Links for Readers to Further Deepen Their Knowledge
Of course, everyone can use google. A quite harsh joke about it is LMGTFY(Let Me Google That For You). In case you already researched the subject and have the best links then why should you not share it with your readers? It would be a waste of time not to do that.
However I did not use any study material for this article I still linked many tools, and pages that can be useful for you.
Use Spell-Checking Software
There is nothing more annoying than reading a text and bumping into spelling mistakes all the time. It gives a quite negative impression of you. I am not a native English speaker, so I have to be really careful not to make big mistakes.
I use Grammarly, which is available as a browser plugin and automatically offers corrections for most of my mistakes.
Do Not Repeat Yourself
It is not a good experience to read the same words and phrases all the time again, so try to not repeat yourself. Use synonyms, and different phrases to refer to the same thing. I highly recommend thesaurus.com to find synonyms and Grammarly can suggest alternatives right in your browser during writing. I still have to make myself use it more often. However it is an advanced topic, but even search engines prefer not to have the same phrase appearing again and again.
Ouch. You got me. I just wrote the word "again" twice (and now this is the third). Of course, that was a phrase that is completely okay to use. Apart from that, I tried to avoid repeating it.
I know some will disagree with me on this point, especially in case we are talking about technical stuff. But developers are also humans. They are not just technical people, they have feelings, humor, empathy, ...
Share some background information about yourself, an old story, or whatever you like. Show your humor. I am pretty sure not everyone will love it, but the good news is that it is completely fine. But whoever likes it will be much more engaged with you. They won't only read your articles because they are interested in the topic, but they will read them because they are written by you. It is the perfect opportunity to draw your audience's attention to different topics which might be relevant to them.
Nobody is perfect, everybody makes mistakes. I do not like the word "mistake", I prefer Robin Sharma's words:
There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. There is no such thing as a negative experience, only opportunities to grow, learn and advance along the road of self-mastery. From struggle comes strength. Even pain can be a wonderful teacher. Show you are not perfect and you are one of us humans. Tell the readers about your learned lessons. I am pretty sure it will be useful for many of them.
Of course, you should not overdo this, you should not post a picture of your dog or child in each article. Less is more in this case also.
I brought a personal image here, and also shared ways how I like working. I also put in some jokes that you might or might not notice. 😊
Do Not Leave Your Article Unfinished
You should close your article with either a summary or a conclusion. Without that, your reader will feel something is missing.
I did close my article with some encouraging words.
However I am not doing it at the moment, but in the past, I always asked for feedback from multiple people.
Whom should you ask for feedback? Again, it depends. It depends on your subject. In case you are writing about something non-technical as I do in this article, you can get almost anyone's opinion. But be careful as your family and friends will be biased towards you, despite this they can still provide valuable feedback. Ask them to point out parts that they especially loved, and also parts that were not that good, instead of asking "How do you like my article". For more specific topics it is best to have someone who has the domain knowledge, so asking your colleagues or other experts in the field would be the best option.
Whenever I wrote this article my plan was to ask my wife and some of my colleagues and friends to read this article and provide feedback before I post it, but months passed since I wrote the article and I decided to not ask for feedback about this article.
Give Time to Mature Your Article
It is often worth waiting a couple of days before you post your article. You can have new ideas, and you can get even more feedback. But do not wait too much. Release it, get feedback, learn from it and then write again and then repeat this cycle frequently. You will be surprised how much you improved in case you read one of your articles from several months ago. Developers have a saying for this: In case you look at your code after a few months, and you still think it is great, it only means you did not improve anything during those months. 😊
Well, I wrote this article around 3 months ago so I left way too much time to mature my article. I did this because I found more joy in writing other articles. But now I feel the time to publish this article.
You Cannot Fail
This is the last, but maybe the most important topic. I remember the time when I was learning Lindy Hop and I was afraid to go to a party to use my learnings in real life. Every miracle starts with the first step, which might be hard, but believe me, in case you want to improve, you have to USE what you have.
You might get negative comments, and feedback (however in case you are choosing the right reviewers or readers, they won't let you down, but suggest improvements), but use them for your own gain, consider them, and use what is useful and simply ignore the others.
Ready to Go
And that's all for now. I believe it is enough to jumpstart you on writing your first article. I am pretty sure there are a lot of other important factors which are relevant for you, but you can only find out them in case you start on this fun and valuable journey. I am sure you won't embarrass anybody (including yourself) in case you write your first article now.
As you can get used to it by now, I won't leave you here without any questions.
In case you are writing your first article: Which point from above gives you the biggest headache? I am happy to help in case you have stuck anywhere. Just post a comment or drop me a private message.
In case you are an experienced writer: What is your number one advice for newbies which is not listed here?
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