Creating helpful content is something that is near and dear to my heart. Be it a post of a book I have read or a place I’ve traveled to, even if it is a Tripadvisor review, I follow a similar process. It’s something that I’ve learnt from Pat Flynn from www.smartpassiveincome.com but also one that I’m constantly learning about and tweaking with each post.
In this post, you will take a behind the scenes look into my writing process and it all begins with…
Begin with the end-user in mind
Yes. You. Readers of sgbooksandtravel.com.
The reason I do this along with so many other bloggers I look up to is that it begins a process that has the end-user in mind. That’s important because with the end-user, as an author of the material, you’ll want an end product that is practical and relevant to them.
If I were to write about a particular book, I don’t want to just write the summary of the book. I want to write the summary of the book and then show readers how I’ve used the principles like in What I learnt from StrengthsFinder 2.0.
It’s not something that I knew at the start but gradually refined as I posted more and learnt what readers resonated with.On hindsight, this makes perfect sense for my niche. So for bloggers just beginning, just keep posting and experimenting and see what works. You’ll see this in terms of page views or comments.
With that mindset clearly defined, it is now time to drill down into the nuts and bolts of what makes up the blog post.
Introduction and Read More
In the process of writing I like to start out with the opening paragraph first, like in this post which lays out exactly what they’ll get in the post. I do that so that readers don’t waste time. I also like to insert a “read more tag” after those paragraphs so that when displayed with other posts in my website, readers can still see what the post is about.
A side-benefit is that when subscribers get my emails notifying them of a new post, they only see the paragraphs before the “read more tag” and then a link to the original post.If it’s not something that they are interested in, they can delete the email . It’s fine when readers just focus on the stuff they are interested in !
I would hate to send a very vague sounding email notification to you, send you to my site only for you to realise that the content is not for you. I’ve been on the end of that funnel before and the feeling is not the best
The next step is to set up the Feature Image of that post. The rule is quite simple, posts that have feature images get people more interested in the content and after all the work in putting out the post, it’s worth devoting some time to get right.
Sometimes, this step comes right at the end because my preference is for the chosen image to be not found in the actual post itself.What happens then is that I’ll write out the entire content of the post and then choose a Featured Image that is not part of the post.
In that process, I use some tools that I’ld love to share with you today.
The first of these is PicMonkey. This is an online application that lets users edit and crop photos easily. All the photos on my website that have been edited, are edited using PicMonkey. The reason I do this is because:
- I do not have Photoshop installed on my computer
- Some pictures need some basic editing like making sure the horizon is horizontal
PicMonkey also allows for basic design work to be done. For example all the text on the Feature Image are added using PicMonkey. Because the ratio of the image for the featured image are slightly different from that of the other pictures, I will also crop to 4X6 using PicMonkey. Pictures in the post itself are usually not cropped.
These basic edits may also be done by your PC’s or Mac’s native apps but I’ve found PicMonkey to be my go-to application even for the simple edits just because I’ve grown quite familiar with it.
Another interesting tidbit that you may not know is that the Favicon – the small icon found on the left of the URL – that’s also designed using PicMonkey.
PicMonckey has as free-to-use version and has a very gentle learning curve.
On the conclusion
One of my teachers said : “Begin with the end in mind.” Sometimes this can manifest itself as a conclusion paragraph with all the supporting points written in. In other posts, this involves having a vague idea of how you want the post to end. It takes writing the entire post out to finally arrive at the conclusion after the process of writing.
In my view, both are legitimate ways to get you where you want to be. In the latter though, more work has to be done to tighten up the post at the end to ensure that the points are being made a succinctly as possible.
In my university days, I took a class called “Critical Thinking and Writing”. In it, the tutor introduced to us the idea of a key argument of a piece and the supporting points in favour of it. Writing the content of a blog post is something like writing the supporting points to a key argument and in my view, perhaps the most important part of the process.
You define the key argument of a piece or what your blog post aims to bring to your audience in the intro and the content are the supporting points. I like to list out these supporting points (the sub-titles of the post) and then expound upon them as the post progresses.
This post has several subtitles:
- Introduction and Read More
- Featured Image
- On the Conclusion
- A word about pictures
- Other media
A neat trick I’ve learnt is to ensure that within each sub-title, paragraphs that do not exceed 3-4 lines of text. I found that this helps immensely with the reading experience compared with a wall of text.
I also try to include 1-2 pictures within a particular sub-title to make the reading experience more palatable. This is particularly important when you describe about a location you’ll traveled to. Nothing speaks more than a picture of the location.
A word about pictures
Sometimes, however, when we are taking a picture , we do not do the best of jobs. These I’ld throw them into the PicMonkey software to edit. Here are my top 2 problems.
1.Horizon not horizontal
This is a big one and it’s something have a hard rule on.
Horizons are meant to be perfectly horizontal – no exceptions (unless you’re a pro-photographer). For us non professionals, a slated horizon makes it look like the item is going to fall out of the picture on one side. If you have photos like this, I’ll suggest getting it into a photo editing software to edit.
2.Distracting items in the photo
Sometimes this is a dog that has strayed in the frame and in others, it’s my fault for not framing the shot properly. In any case, cropping is an important part of my process to ensure pictures included in posts are high quality ones.
Sometimes though, words and pictures are just not enough. For example in Celebrating SG50 on Kilimanjaro, I also included a short snippet of the song that greeted us upon descending from the summit. I do this so readers have a more visceral feel of the scene. The snippet was uploaded to Soundcloud which has a set number of minutes free to use.
Apart from sound, video is also another important media. In Postcards :Painting the Kranji Marshes, there is a video that provides an over-the-shoulder look into how a black and white picture is inked using watercolour. It was taken by my Canon Powershot S90 and uploaded into YouTube with no editing done to the video.
Besides video taken by my camera, I also recently started to take screencasts like in What I learnt from StrengthsFinder 2.0. I’ve tried a couple of pieces of software for this purpose but the best I’ve found for Windows PC is one called icecream screen recorder. The name of the software make it sound like a scam product but it’s simple to use and free to boot.
I highly recommend it if you need to take screencasts in Windows.
A great tip that I found was that before posting any videos, images or any media that you have to credit other people for, besides initially asking for permission, it is also good practice to let the other party know when the post goes live along with the link. I think it’s just basic courtesy.
Finally, at the end of the writing post, I do a preview of the post in wordpress so that I can see if it translates well into desktops and mobile devices like tablets. This is especially important if I have embeded other media into your post like Instagram pages, YouTube videos or other media.
I’ve found that crafting a helpful blog post is a process that is iterative. Through each iteration, it enables me to find out what works for a certain post and what doesn’t . I hope that by bringing you behind the scenes gives you an idea of the software and tools I’ve used.
Let me know through the comments if you’ve tried any others and if you have any tips of your own! Let’s keep the conversation going!