How to Write a Blog Post that Gets Read

As I was thinking about this post, I remembered the professor who used a “shuffle the cards” exercise in his writing class. We were all so focused on giving good, clear instructions for shuffling cards, that we forgot the obvious step number one: “Start by obtaining a deck of cards.”

Sjuffle Cards to find the right topicSo, the obvious step number one in writing a blog post that gets read is, “Do you want to blog?” There are many good ways to pass along your information. Everything from phone calls, to text messages, to emails, and beyond.

If you have decided you want to write a blog, why?

There are different kinds of blogs. There are different ways to write a blog post, and different reasons for posting your content. You may want to express your feelings about a certain issue or happening. You may have a subject, or some ideas that you just need to share. Or, you may be supporting your organization or your business. Your blog site may be a personal one, or a business one. Next come the toughest questions:

What do you want each post on your blog site to achieve? What do you want your blog site overall to do for you? Are these goals consistent with each other?

With this in mind, what reading audience are you writing your posts for? Who will be interested in what you’re writing about? Are you speaking your language or theirs – both visually, and in words? Are the readers you’ve identified consistent with your reasons for blogging, and with what you want to achieve with your posts? Do they have the resources to do what you want them to do? How will you obtain, create, and maintain a good, appropriate mailing list?

When your medium (the blog posts); the type of content you want to write about, and the type of blog site you want to create; your reasons for writing it; the reader; the tone – the personal nature or the business nature of your blog site; and your expectations for the results you will get from each post, and from the blog site overall can be expected to work together, you’re ready to write.

At this point, with your strategy settled,

1. Figure out what you want to write about with this post. To give you clarity and focus, a good place to start is by giving the post a rough title that says what you are posting about. Later on, you can rewrite that rough title into a headline for your post.

2. When you write your introductory paragraph(s), appeal to the interests of your readers. Let them know what this post is about. Suggest how it will solve a problem they may be having.

3. Organize and write your content for easy reading. The longer the post, the more important this becomes. Consider using sections, lists, and visual clues such as drawings, charts, and photos; type sizes and weights; perhaps videos, and colors to help your reader follow your conversation.

4. Make it pretty. If it looks professional you gain credibility. Consistency in appearance helps your readers to recognize your company and your brand at first glance, reinforcing your other consistent activities.

5. Give the post a final once-over. Revise your working title into an accurate, clear, appealing “grabber” to bring your readers in. Check for awkward spots, typos and inaccuracies. Now you’re ready to go!

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Timing and Frequency for Blog Posts

What is the right blog frequency?Many organizations, from very small businesses to large corporations, use blogging  to stay in touch with their clients and prospects, and to maintain a web presence. Many use their posts to sell products and services.

How important is the timing and frequency of these posts, what should the timing and frequency be, and does it really matter? As my business partner used to say, “Timing is everything in this life!” Was he right?

Fortunately for all of us who want to provide something of value to our old (and new!) friends and clients, there is considerable research ongoing, and a great deal of results sharing online. And the recommendations are in a constant state of change.

Joe Pulizzi offered some practical advice back in 2011 that still makes sense today. When he asked his research group, “How many blog posts make the correct frequency for corporate bloggers?” He received answers varying from twice a month to once a week to at least once per month.

Considering each of these answers correct for the time, he summarized by saying that as long as your blog post serves two goals: (1) providing interesting and compelling information to your readers; and (2) serving your objective for your blog; do a post, and post it. Frequency, he added, depends on these two criteria, plus consistency. Consistency, he emphasized, is the key. Once you have decided on your frequency, whether it’s five times a day, once a week, or twice a month, stick with it.

Kevan Lee in a May 28, 2014 post, suggests that based on Track Maven research covering 4600 blogs and 1.2 million blog posts, blog posts get more shares on Saturday and Sunday than any other day of the week.

Additional Track Maven results suggest that, “the late-night infomercial effect might come into play… Essentially when there’s less competition, the more your post stands out….”

On the other hand, many professional bloggers advise that the best time to publish your blog post is when your reader is most likely to be reading. If this is on the job, a workday could be more appropriate.

You will most likely experiment a bit to figure out the frequency, and the schedule that works best for you and for your readers, based on your goals, and what your readers want. There does, however, seem to be consensus on three important things:

  1. Publish a new blog post at least once a week
  2. Publish on the same day of the week consistently
  3. Place your focus on creating the best content you can

Blogger Christina Walker recommends, “…Publishing at least one new blog post a week is optimal because it helps maintain good relationships with customers, attract natural search traffic, and avoid burnout from writing too often.” Three very practical reasons indeed.

“Once you discover the best times to blog, being consistent with your publishing schedule also increases SEO value and encourages readers to come back regularly for more,” Walker added.

An article from Marketing Savant offers three important questions to ask yourself when planning your publishing schedule:

  1. Can you keep this schedule consistently?
  2. Can you always publish high-quality content at this rate?
  3. Will you have enough content for this schedule?

Adjust the frequency of your publishing schedule so that you can answer “yes” to each of these questions. “It’s okay to tone down or ramp up your blogging frequency as your goals, resources, and audience desire change over time,” the article points out.

One final piece of excellent practical advice: “… Before you finalize how often to blog, consider ways to avoid burn-out…blogging less often, using guest posts, assigning blogging responsibilities to a team…and anything else you can think of.”

What are the best times to blog for business? Jason Keith noted that the most popular weekday time appears to be 9 AM to 10 AM, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays the most popular weekdays.

Dan Zarrella, a social media scientist at HubSpot, found the best time to blog for page views is Monday between 8 and 11 AM, and the best time to blog for increased engagement is Saturday between 8 and 11 AM.

His recommendations?

“Keep in mind that the best time to blog varies by your audience. If they are mostly business people, blogging on Saturday probably won’t work very well. If they are mostly located in a certain time zone, schedule your posts to publish in their mornings, not yours.”

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Do You Run, or Leap? Crawl, or Creep?

MOuntain BikerLet’s talk about that old workhorse, that four-letter word, that indispensible element in every sentence: the verb.

So what is a verb, and how do you use it? Perhaps you remember your English teacher telling you, “A verb is a word that expresses action (throw, run, examine, read, write), or state of being (is, are, was, seem).”

In a typical sentence (not always the most useful, but certainly the most common), the verb comes between the subject and the object, e.g., Mary (subject) throws (verb) the ball (object). You can also think of it as who (subject) does what (verb) to what (object). This of course, is for an active sentence. More about that later.

While we could talk about the differences between types of verbs (there are about a dozen types), Let’s concentrate today on how to use verbs for effect.

1. To add spice, and enhance your writing with greater clarity, use specific verbs, verbs that go a long way to creating the picture you want your reader to “see.” Paint a picture for your reader.

You could, for example, say,

“Jerry went down the hill.”

To be a bit more specific, you could say,

“Jerry ran down the hill.”

A bit better, but let’s be even more specific,

“Jerry raced down the hill.”

2. You can paint an even clearer picture with a step-by-step description, adding additional “picture verbs,”

“Jerry raced down the hill, tripped, stumbled, caught himself, and kept running as if the devil himself were about to devour him.”

In this case, we’ve used a couple of words with verbs to help paint the picture – “himself” with caught, and “kept” with running, and then the “as if” phrase to complete our picture.

You’ll note that in the above example, we’ve added words as we paint the whole picture for the reader.

3. Frequently, just exchanging one verb for another (“ran” for “went,” and then “raced” for “ran” in the above example) works well, and is all that is needed to paint a sufficient picture for more concise business writing. For example, you could say:

George sat at his desk.

Or

George slumped at his desk.

For tighter writing, you may want to avoid verbs like is, was, are, were…. E.g.,

MaryAnne is a person who plans for unexpected events.

Or

MaryAnne plans for unexpected events.

4. You could use a verb that “shows”:

Barbara is taller than her co-workers.

Or

Barbara towers over her co-workers.

5. Finally, that familiar grammar checker item: passive verbs. An active sentence is one where someone/something is, will, or has done something – an actor and an action, e.g., “Alex grasps the situation.” A passive sentence is one where someone/something is being done to, e.g., “The situation was grasped by Alex.”

Note that the active sentence in the above example contains four words, while the passive sentence must contain six words to provide the same information.

Passive sentences tend to be longer, slower moving, and impersonal. For better comprehension, easier reading, and fewer words, use active verbs to create active sentences.

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Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Before You Hit “Send”: Final Email Checkpoints

WomanatComputer175

Unless it’s an attachment, odds are that in most cases your email will be fairly short – a screen to a screen-and-a-half maximum. And because we write so many of them, we need to write them quickly. The shorter, the better – and out of here!

Business writing is a tool to get a job done. To make it easier for your email to do its job and avoid snags along the way, here are ten quick things to check before you send it.

1. First of all, ask yourself, “Should this information be passed along at all?” If not, don’t.

If Yes, Continue reading

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Ten Tested Tactics for Clearer Writing

BusWomanComputer200Have you ever sat in front of your computer, staring at the blank screen, and wondering what to write? We all have! So what can you do to avoid those awful blank-screen-staring-moments – and why is it they always seem to come up when you’re working against a deadline? How can you get started quickly?

Strangely enough, you can get off to a faster, easier start by taking just a little more time up front to save a whole lot of time writing the whole piece. Begin tactically.

What are tactics? Strategy. Good strategy is the essential part we so often leave out, before we begin to write. And a clear strategy is what lets you start quickly and easily; continue step-by-step; finish with a piece that does the job it was meant to do; and get the results you need.

 Here are the ten steps that will get you off to a quick, easy start:

Continue reading

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Translating Technical Terms

In writing technical information for the non-screwdriver200technical reader, the traditional wisdom goes that you are, or should be, “writing to express rather than to impress.”

So let’s take a look at translating some of those technical terms to help our non-technical readers understand just what we are talking about. And let’s also expand our definition of technical writing to include not only material that is technical in nature, but also information that is new to our readers, or new in a specific discipline or field. And thusly, will also need “translation.”

Just who are these readers? They are managerial – very often the decision-makers. They are your co-workers; government agencies; advisory committees; “The Public”; and…. Here’s where you consider your various specialized audiences.

Three ways to translate the technical terms you use:

The first step is to identify the terms that need to be translated for your audience. You will most likely recognize them as you are writing, but for practice, jot down five words or phrases that may need to be translated for your audience.

1. Informal. This is the way many of us were taught to translate unfamiliar terms, and while it may not be appropriate for strictly technical writing, it can be useful in business writing. To use this familiar method, you will set your definition off with a parentheses (  ), or with commas ,   ,. If you are defining an acronym, the most common use of this method, you will spell out the term in full, followed by the acronym. After this definition, you may use the acronym in the balance of your piece without further definition.

2. Formal. The formal definition includes three elements: (1) the term itself; (2) the category; and (3) its uniqueness – what it is that makes this term different from others in its category, e.g.,

A Phillips Screw Driver is a hand tool with a “+” shape at the tip, and is specially designed to be used with a Phillips screw.

3. Extended. A sentence, or as much as several paragraphs or even pages, usually combining the above translation methods, and often including visual elements –  diagrams, charts, graphs, and so on.

Using your list, translate each of your five terms using one of these three translation techniques. For this practice, try to use each of the techniques at least once.

Then, remember what Peter Drucker said:

“As soon as you move one step up from the bottom, your effectiveness depends on your ability to reach others through the spoken or written word.”

Come back next week. We’ll see you then.

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog, and subscribe to our newsletter.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentationsexecutive coaching,consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Using Numbers for Technical Writing

ThinkingWoman170

While some organizations may have their own style guides outlining their unique preferences, the following 14 guidelines are how numbers should be used, absent a formal style guide in your organization.

1.  Use Arabic numbers (1, 2, 3,) for:

•  All numbers over nine in the text

There were 98,526 wafers in that batch.  There were 10 operators involved.  (ButTen operators were involved.)

Note that when the first word of a sentence is a number greater than nine, you have two options: (a) spell it out, or (b) re-write the sentence so it does not start with the number. The exception is a numeral that identifies a calendar year.

•  The day and year of the date:

April 10, 2014

•  Time:

5:25 A.M.;  4 P.M.

•  Address:

13535 N.W. Science Park Drive

8600 S.W. 10th Avenue

2700 N.E. Third Avenue

•  Measurements, decimals, money, percentages:

5 in.  (or 5 inches)

5.0       0.67834

$5.78

4%

• In a series. Combine as appropriate (AP Style)

15 cashews, three walnuts, 52 peanuts,…

•  When modifying a noun

1/8-ft. lengths,   3-1/4-in. pipe

2.  Spell out when:

•  The number is the first word in a sentence

Ten operators were involved.

•  The number is less than 10

three containers of filters

3.  Other things to remember:

•  Put a zero before the decimal point for a number less than one (0.543).

•  Line up on the decimal point for lists of numbers (e.g., in a table).

•  Combine Arabic numbers with words for large numbers (i.e., 200 million, $345 billion).

•  For contracts, checks, and other documents where a typographical error could be really serious, spell out and use Arabic numbers [nine thousand twenty four dollars and twenty cents ($9,024.20)].

Hope these number guidelines will be helpful. They will also work for general business writing. Next week: Three easy ways to “translate” your words and terms to improve non-technical reader comprehension.

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Technical Writing: Will They Get It?

typingOnKeyboard200Strictly speaking, the purpose of technical writing is to provide technical information in a totally objective way. This type of technical writing is frequently written for professionals in a specific field who already  “speak the language,” and understand the general concepts. So what may look like unintelligible “jargon” to the non-technical reader may well be a timesaving “insider language” for the technical reader in that specific field.

It is important to make the distinction between this type of technical writing, and a second type – the type of technical writing most of us will most often be called upon to write: technical writing that is, by most (short) definitions, good business writing dealing with technical information.

Unless you are specifically employed as a specialized and highly-skilled technical writer in your organization, this second type of technical writing – writing technical information for the non-technical reader – is what most of us will be called on to do, and frequently just from time to time.

Understanding what this technical writing is, what it has to accomplish, and how to do it effectively is critical if it is to succeed.

Why? Two examples:

1. Writing technical information effectively for the non-technical reader could well be the “go/no go” difference when the non-technical reader is the one, or perhaps the group, who decides whether your project or process is likely to be viable – or not. Or when that individual reader – or sometimes the group – holds the power of the purse, and can decide whether or not to fund that project. Remember too, that often-overlooked, but critically important group – the influencers whose opinions strongly affect the decision makers.

2. Alternatively, your non-technical reader could be a technician who is unfamiliar with a process, or perhaps a purchaser who implements – or tries to implement – your technical instructions, for example, and may well determine whether the process, or the product “works” or not.

You must understand who your reader is, and how to write for that reader.

Where do you start?

  1. First, identify what you will be writing – an instruction, a proposal, a “sales sheet,” or…
  2. Understand your reader. Who is he or she, and what is his or her background, knowledge, experience with what you hope to communicate? What do you want him or her to do with this information – why are you writing it? How will he or she use it? What kind of words, terms, phrases will you use? How “technical” can you get – at what level will you best reach your reader(s)?

And then what?

Now that we have a good starting point, over the next few weeks let’s take a look at how to

• ”Translate” technical information to improve non-technical reader understanding

• Make necessary and appropriate adjustments to strictly technical writing for your non-technical reader – and why it matters

• Use the basic grammar and usage of technical writing

• Select, edit, and organize your material

• Use graphics to enhance your message

Join me right here next week!

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog. 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentationsexecutive coachingconsulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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Hello 2014 – Fare Well, 2013!

Over last weekend, I’ll bet many of you, like me, were busy packing away ornaments, deciding which candles can be used again, and trying to find a youth organization to give our retired trees to for recycling. Or at least, again, like me – thinking about it!

And now it’s serious back-to-work time. Time to try something new. I’m not quite ready for 2014 yet – what happened to 2010, anyway? So, with a final salute, let’s wrap up 2013 with the Best of the Blog – a short collection of my top nineteen posts of that year, as judged by the number of “likes” each garnered. An “e-book” for want of a better name, and the first e-book I’ve ever done.

I’d like to give this compilation to you as a thought-starter. A new way of thinking about your writing. Or maybe as a way to address a New Year’s resolution to strengthen your on-the-job writing, making it faster, easier, and more effective. Totally free. Please email me (gail@gailtycer.com), and I’ll send you the free link.

We’ll talk about:

1. If You’ve Ever Said, “I Wasn’t Good at English in School…” Read This!

2. How to Say It When You Can’t Think of What to Say

3. Shorter, Fewer Emails

4. Strategic Email

5. Meeting Minutes

6. Writing a Successful Instruction

7. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Getting Started

8. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Finishing Strong

9. How to Write a Business Thank You Note

10. Nine Places to Find Ideas for Your Blog Post

11. “Spin”

12. Hide, Hedge, Mask, and Cloud?

13. How to Offend, Anger, or Frustrate Without Realizing It

14. How Many Common Writing Errors Do You Make?

15. Stronger, More Powerful Sentences

16. What Was That Again?

17. Words That Create Mix-Ups

18. Words, Words, Words…

19. Fatigue-Reducing, Confidence-Building Phrases

We’ll also include a few of our weekly Quick Tips, answering some of those pesky grammar questions.

So here’s to 2013, wrapped up with a bow – and on to a great new year: 2014. Let me know how I can help you to achieve your business writing goals this year. I’m totally committed to helping you write less, say more – and get results in 2014.

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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How Important is a Thank You Note – Really?

Thank You Card

Take just a moment to think about that person in your life who always sends you a thank you note.  In our family, Cousin Harriet comes to mind. Her thank you notes are gifts in themselves. They make you feel good. Happy about whatever small service or gift, and eager to see her “next time.”

Can your thank you note do this for your friend or family member? Of course. And what a privilege it is to write that note, knowing you are brightening the day for Aunt Minnie or Uncle George, who spent hours online, or at the Mall, finding just the right thing to brighten your holiday.

A hand-written note – on paper and through the U.S. Mail – is often the best. A hand-written note, on paper, has a more lasting quality. In some cases, an email, a text message, or even a quick phone call of thanks may be more appropriate. What is important is to let that person who has done you a service, or sent you a gift, know that you sincerely appreciate his or her effort.

Is this equally true in business?

Absolutely. Things can often be so rushed that we may forget to say thank you. To let the people who do so much for us know how much we appreciate we appreciate them. To let them know that what they do is important to us, and that it matters in the business situation. It’s the right thing to do.

Please note: We are not talking about “form” thank you letters, printed postcards, or even a thank you note offering a discount on future purchases. These are advertising messages, not a sincere, personal thank you.

One of our readers, Holly, commented that she makes a conscious effort to write at least one hand-written note of appreciation each week.

The key is – you must really mean it. Readers have a built-in ability to sense when a message is sincerely meant, and when it is just words. This week, finish those holiday thank you notes to your “Aunt Minnie” or “Uncle George.” Then think about those in your business life whose days you can brighten with a sincere “thank you.” Personalize that message with believable specifics. And get it done – if only one each week.

See you next week!

If you like what you’re reading, please subscribe to our blog.

We’ll be happy to bring a Gail Tycer workshop to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location or ours, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

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