In some places around my website, I created mini surveys that would help me figure out what people ACTUALLY want to read about. So about a year ago, I received this response to one of my surveys:
If you’re wondering why it took me that long to write about this topic, well, the answer’s gonna make me look bad. I just completely forgot about the responses to my surveys. It was like, “Oooh! Somebody took the survey!” and I never thought to actually write blog posts on what they were asking.
(Yes, you have my permission to look disgusted.)
Anyway, I thought, better 13 months late than never! Plus, it’s also a very popular question that I still get from my readers and newsletter subscribers from time to time. So, still helpful to discuss now.
How to structure a blog post to make it flow and understandable
It was an anonymous submission so I can’t ask the anon to clarify, but I think I understand what they’re asking.
If you’re already a blogger, or if you love writing, writing itself may already be easy for you. (Most of the time)
What’s hard is converting that writing into something that readers can understand and enjoy. Editing, refining, and sometimes re-writing what you wrote in order to make it ‘publishable’.
Case in point: I wrote the points for this blog post in about 2 days, but editing the blog post to make it understandable took more than a week. It wasn’t easy.
Is it hard to look like you ‘flow’?
Let me tell you a story. Of how I performed when asked to do a presentation in front of the CEO of my company, Heads of Department, and also two impressive and respected experts in my field — during the first 6 months of being hired there!
The summary: I screwed it up.
How I screwed it up: First of all, I lost my voice. Whenever I get nervous, my voice dies in my throat. I don’t mean a sore throat — I mean my voice disappears eventhough I’m speaking. So imagine how awkward it was when suddenly at the end of the sentence, no sound came out!
Secondly, I started to ramble. Eventhough I had slides ready, I completely messed up the flow of the presentation. Should’ve just followed the slides but noooo. My smartass brain thought it could do better. I could see my supervisor looking all eyebrow-raised but semi-amused at the same time.
Thirdly, I didn’t get to say what I came to say. The side effect of rambling is that I completely missed certain points. Because when your mouth is busy saying things, it’s hard to suddenly stop yourself and say “OK, that’s not exactly what I wanted to say.”
So. My presentation wasn’t structured, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t understandable, and I most certainly DIDN’T FLOW. In front of people I wanted to impress. It was a cringy moment even nearly 2 years later.
You want to impress your readers with your flow.
You may be thinking: How is your story relevant, Aina? Presenting is a whole different thing compared to writing.
OR IS IT?
Let me tell you something. When the reader is reading your blog post, they’re reading it out loud inside their head. Or rather, they’re hearing your voice inside their head.
So if your blog post is as messy and rambly and awkward as my presentation, the effect is the same.
I completely understand why ‘the flow’ is so important to writers/bloggers. When you have that flow, your blog posts are easy and enjoyable to read. Your blog posts become natural to read. And you’ll look effortless.
We want our writing to be cool but effortlessly cool. Not like we’re trying too hard to be James Bond. Ya get me?
But writing naturally and achieving that flow takes some strategies. Which are exactly what I’ll be discussing with you in this blog post.
First strategy: Paint the big picture by writing a general introduction.
Don’t be that friend who starts the story with the tiniest details and then you have to ask a million questions to get the full story. That friend is a horrible storyteller.
What you need to do is to make your writing UNCOMPLICATED to follow. That means starting from the big idea and then zooming into the small ideas.
That’s the structure that you want: BIG CONCEPT > SMALL CONCEPTS.
Quick example. Let's say you want to write about the benefits of argan oil for your face. Sure, you can dive straight away into the benefits. 1st benefit, 2nd benefit, 3rd benefit…
But then about halfway through, you feel like it gets harder and harder to explain the benefits. You have to deviate from your current track to explain about things in general. In short, your thoughts become messy and you don’t see how to finish writing your points. You feel like you’re swimming through seaweed.
How to fix this? Zoom out of the points you were focusing on and start again. Firstly, what the heck are face oils?
Face oils are oils that you put on your face to moisturize and hydrate your skin. They’re like the face creams you usually put on before bed, but are in oil form instead. (There, that’s a good general introduction.)
You may think, isn’t it cliche to talk about general things? Plus it’s so unnecessary because the general points are usually too basic. I don’t want to write a school essay.
I hear ya, but here’s the thing:
Not everyone that reads your blog post knows everything (or even ANYTHING) about the topic you’re writing about. You can't assume that you are writing for people who have the same level of information that you do.
So, rather than leave the beginners totally confused and abandoned, a general introduction will equip them with the right concept and terminology to properly understand the rest of your blog post.
(If you had skipped the explanation of face oils, people who have never heard of face oils would think it’s crazy to put oil on their faces.)
BTW, for readers who already know the general stuff, they'll just skim through that intro part. It won't be an issue.
Even if you’ve explained the general idea in a different blog post before, it’s NOT REDUNDANT to write about it again. You can’t assume that your reader has read that particular post before.
The readers who are currently reading right now may be totally new to your blog. So it doesn't hurt to re-explain stuff for their convenience.
It doesn't mean that you have to explain it from A to Z. Just briefly explain AND link that part to the previous post. You can add, "I've talked about face oils and why they're actually good for your skin in *this post*."
When your writing is easy to follow, no matter if your reader is a beginner or otherwise, it’ll just flow better.
Second strategy: Make it conversational by including your friend.
A blog post is NOT supposed to be a lecture. And you’re not a lecturer.
The best outcome of writing is when your reader feels that you’re speaking to them, and there’s a conversation flowing between you and them (for the whole blog post!).
When this happens, your writing will be conversational. The words that you use are more informal (and casual) and you phrase your sentences differently. It’s the difference between writing “There are several varieties of face oils in the market” and “You can check out a few different face oils in the market”.
(OK, maybe not a perfect example there, but you get what I mean)
But how to make it conversational when you’re writing on your own? You can’t always have your friend with you to help you write.
Well, you’re gonna have to work double-time and cover for your friend too. Basically, write AS IF you’re having a conversation with your friend.
If your writing still doesn’t feel conversational enough, no worries. It’s time to edit. (My writing rarely turns out conversational enough the first time — I usually need to edit in the conversation)
Here's how you edit in the conversation:
1) Take whatever you've written. Look at it in front of you.
2) Paragraph by paragraph — read it out loud. It has to be out loud. Not just in your head, OK? You have to hear what you’re writing for this strategy to work.
3) Read it in the best intonation possible, as if your friend is in front of you. Like you're telling your friend something.
4) Occassionally, switch roles and become your friend for a bit to ask questions. Like, suddenly, you'll be the friend who asks, "Wait, I thought it's bad to put oils on your face??" This will be a good opportunity for you to include the questions as well as the answers.
When you write as if you’re having a conversation with your reader, you’ll hit the natural flow of the conversation. What question will your friend ask first? How will your friend react to this or that? You’ll KNOW, because the conversation is happening inside your head! Now you just have to put them into words.
Third strategy: Relate to your readers by finding out WHO they are.
The way to REACH inside and GRAB your reader’s brain is to understand this: WHO is your reader?
Day after day, when you’re tapping away on your laptop, or scribbling away on your notebook, who do you imagine you’re writing to?
If you say you’re writing to Anyone or Everyone, that means you’re not PERSONALIZING your writing enough.
When it’s not personalized, it means that it’s general. Like it’s not intended for anyone. Your reader is reading and he/she isn’t feeling special, because it’s not personalized to him/her. Your writing won’t flow the way it’s supposed to in his/her head.
At work, there’s usually a few talks every month that everyone is supposed to attend. And I’m REALLY bad at listening to talks. I either fall asleep (despite my good intentions) or play with my phone. The talks are usually too… General. And general = boring. So I don’t pay attention.
To get my attention, the speaker would have to speak as if they’re speaking to me PERSONALLY. They have to mention things that relate to ME. Not the person beside me.
That’s how it works in writing too. You need to personalize your writing based on who your readers are (or who you WANT to write to).
Here’s a few things you can find out about your readers:
1) Gender: male, female, others
2) Age: school children, teenagers, young adults, 30 year-old adults, mature (40+ and above)
3) Occupation: student, SAHM, executives, freelancers, business owners, office jobs, retail jobs
4) Level of interest in the topic: hobbyist, freelancer, business owner, professional
Those aren’t the only things, but they’re a solid place to start.
Let me give you an example. If you’re writing about budgeting money and your audience are teenagers — then tips like how to apply for loans and financing from banks won't be relevant to them (yet). Teenagers can’t apply for loans and financing.
So not only do you personalize the content, you also personalize your examples, writing style, and also language.
I have another tip. The thing about bloggers or writers is that they're usually sharing things that they themselves have experienced. So they share with people who are similar to them. So another way to understand your audience is to look at yourself.
Your own age, gender, occupation, etc all plays into how you write and personalize your writing.
Fourth strategy: Have mercy on your readers by embracing learning aids.
Learning aids are those things you can find in a school textbook. Diagrams, charts, etc… Learning aids make learning easier because you’re not just reading TEXT.
OK, so I’m writing about writing, but I’m telling you to use things other than words. Seems funny, right?
In my first year of university, reading law, I made this meme:
Why? Because everything was just ENDLESS text. Paragraphs upon paragraphs with no end in sight, and I was just supposed to digest everything by reading? No way jose.
I like reading, but reading to understand something is a whole lot different than reading fiction.
So would you, as someone who’s passionate about educating your readers, inflict on them the same kind of pain? There are things, ideas and concepts that MERE WORDS cannot explain.
There are points that you can more readable and understandable with learning aids like diagrams, etc. Takes more effort for you to prepare a blog post, yes, but your readers will understand what you’re writing. I’d say that’s worth it.
Here’s a short list of learning aids that you can use in your writings:
1) Photos. Ohhh boy. If you can insert photos into your blog, I would really recommend it. Especially if you're writing tutorials. Sometimes it’s better to SHOW the steps rather than tell.
2) Videos. Videos are a bit difficult to produce and let's face it, video-editing is something that most people just don’t have time for. Me included. BUT, make short videos. Even if it's without any voiceover or captions or fancy editing, it can still be useful.
3) GIFs. If you don't feel like videos are your thing or they’re just too hard to produce, use GIFs! GIF stands for Graphic Interchange Format and it's like a hybrid between a photo and video, that will play on loop. I've used this before my Ultimate Guide to Microblogging on Social Media using a free tool called LiceCap. I know, weird name. But it works great!
4) Diagrams. Examples are the Venn diagram, flowcharts, pyramids, etc. Sounds a bit nerdy to make diagrams about argan oil or the best way to pack electronics or cupcake frosting, but WHAT ELSE ARE YOU GOING TO BE NERDY ABOUT? Tip: You can use the SmartArt on Microsoft Word and screenshot from there, or use a graphic design tool like Canva.
5) Analogies. Analogies are when you compare Concept A and Concept B. Concept A is the one you’re trying to explain, Concept B is something that your reader is already familiar with. For example, an analogy that I've used before is to explain the concept of a website:
A website is like a house.
The pages on the website are like the rooms. A blog, which is a page, is a room inside that house.
The About Me page and the Contact Me page are also other rooms in the house.
The domain (or the link that you type) is the address of the house.
I use all the above (except for videos, still working on that), but my personal favourite is using analogies. I find it easier to create diagrams and graphics when I have a visual idea of what I want to explain.
Bonus strategy: Accept that there is no such thing as a perfect, 100% flowy blog post.
Even after all your editing and getting to know your audience et cetera, you will never achieve the 100% flow. And here’s the thing: it’s NOT IMPORTANT and it’s NOT REQUIRED.
I'm not saying you shouldn't try to make your writing flow nicely. I'm just saying, it matters less than you think. What matters is actually conveying your message/points/lesson/tips to your readers.
So if you’ve gone through all the strategies and there’s still something not quite perfect, LET IT GO. There's no need to force it. Your time is better spent writing another blog post!
Let me know in the comment section: How much time do you usually spend on your blog post to make it ‘flow’?