When every brand has a blog, simply creating content isn’t enough. You need to know how to write a good article. And you need to make sure it captures the attention of your target audience.
In this article, I’m going to show you how to write a good article every time you sit down to write. We’ll start by identifying the type of writer you are, and then I’ll give you my 7-step process for consistently turning out good articles that rank well with readers and search engines.
2 Types of Writers
There are all sorts of writers. So, as you might guess, there are lots of approaches to writing a good article.
Planners can’t write until they have outlined every chapter, section and subsection. Pantsers, who write by the seat of their pants, like to start typing and see where their ideas take them. I’ve known other writers who can’t begin to write until they can “see” the entire project in their head.
Me? I’m a bit of a mix. Sometimes I have an idea and will free write to see where it takes me. Most of the time, I’m facing a deadline and don’t have time to waste, or the project is too big, and unless I plan it carefully, I could easily lose control.
As a result, I’ve settled into a writing process that allows me the flexibility to see where my ideas take me and still move quickly to completion.
7-Step Writing Process for Writing Good Articles (Consistently)
Step 1. Concept
For me, every writing project starts with an idea. It’s generally somewhat loose and unformed at the beginning, but I like the concept, so I know it’s worth pursuing. For example, the idea for this article arrived just after finishing an ebook for a client. It was a simple thought, “Hey, I should share my writing process.”
Often, the keywords for the project will be in the idea, and I already have a vague idea of the length and format: article, ebook, training program, etc.
Step 2. Working title
I may or may not start with a title. But I usually plug in something, even if I know it’s likely to change. Often, as I write, I realize that a particular phrase turns up often, and I suspect it could work as the final title. In that case, I pop back up to the top of the document and either replace the working title or add my new idea below it.
When the project is done, I’ll select the title I like best. Or, if I’m unhappy with my working titles, I’ll brainstorm for more.
Note: If I’m writing an article to rank for a keyword, I use the keyword in the title. For your working title, try this format:
keyword [colon] benefit
Step 3. Outline / Research
Just after I have an idea for a new project, I get a flood of ideas for how I could develop it. That’s when I grab a pen and paper or pull up a Google Doc to jot down my ideas. At this stage, the vague idea begins to become more concrete.
Find the high-level topics you need to include
I typically jot down my ideas in the order they come to me, then rearrange them to create a logical progression of thought. I want to see the working title and the major headings right away. That way I can see the overall structure of my project and confirm that the concept is worth pursuing.
Note: When writing, always work BIG to SMALL. Iron out your big concepts (subheads) before worrying about the details (the words).
Refine the article idea
To write a better article, you need to make sure your idea is clear and focused.
Once you have a rough outline, you can refine the concept of your article.
- Does it share information people are looking for?
- Is it specific and focused?
- Is it intriguing to your target audience?
If the outline doesn’t support my original idea, I work with the concept and my supporting ideas until they flow well from beginning to end.
How in-depth does your outline need to be?
That depends on the scope of the project.
If you’re writing a 1,000-word article, once you have your subheads in order, you can start filling in the content. In most cases, you can write in order, from the intro to the conclusion.
Writing from top to bottom, your ideas connect better, so you end up with a cleaner draft. (This flow will give you a better article because each idea flows into the next.)
But the content writing process is flexble. If you have ideas for one section and not another, it’s okay to that write the article out of order.
If you’re writing a 4,000-word article or a large project like an ebook, you’ll need a more detailed outline — usually as many as three levels deep. This lets you see at a glance how you’re going to develop each of your main ideas.
When you’re writing a long, in-depth article, review your outline carefully, before you start writing. Make sure you don’t have multiple sections that say the same thing. Check the flow of your ideas: Does one idea lead logically to the next? If you see any weak areas or gaps, fix those now.
How to fix a weak outline
Sometimes, when I struggle to get the outline right, it’s because the article idea is weak. When that happens, work from BIG to SMALL to diagnose the problem.
- The topic itself
- Your concept: way you’re approaching the topic
- The bottom-line point you’re trying to make
Sometimes, there’s disconnect. Your point doesn’t connect logically with the topic you’ve chosen. Or the way you’re approaching the topic is too vague or too complex.
Evaluate your concept first, to see if it needs to change. Then, if the concept is sound, do a bit more research to see if you can identify the problem.
For instance, my agency was recently working on an article about retargeting. The article brief included both keywords, and the ideas we were supposed to include referred to “retargeting” and “remarketing” interchangeably.
As we researched the topic to create our outline, we realized retargeting and remarketing are two distinct strategies. There was no way to talk about them together. To make this article work, we had to change the focus of the article to include both strategies. Then we created a section for each term.
Step 4. Research / Write
Research is never a stand-alone step in my writing process. I research when I’m refining my article idea, when I’m creating my outline, and as I write the first draft.
To learn how to write a good article, you must get good at research.
During the outlining phase, you’re looking for the ideas and topics you need to include in your article. During the writing phase, your research focuses on statistics, graphics, quotations, case studies, and other proof elements that will support your claims.
As I just mentioned, writing and research go together. If you’re in a writing frenzy and know you need a statistic, you don’t have to stop writing to search for the perfect statistic. To keep your flow, type an underline or highlight that passage to remind yourself to come back to it. Then, when you’re done writing, scour the web for the statistic you need.
But sometimes, writing and research together can help you connect your ideas and find a better way to present your idea. Both ways of working are valid. Both with help you write a good article.
Aim to write an ugly first draft
Your goal during this stage of the writing process is to capture and refine your ideas. You want to make your points as clearly as possible.
Don’t try to write a masterpiece at this stage. If you have a rough draft that follows your outline, you’re good. Once you’ve got the bones down, you can start focusing on making your writing smoother and more readable.
Note: A title and an outline give you the framework of your article, but you can’t always know exactly how the article will come together until you’re writing. When you outline, you’re a planner. When you begin writing, you need to be at least a little bit of a pantser.
For me, every article starts rough. I’m just throwing ideas and words onto the page. As I get into the article, my ideas begin to crystalize. As that happens, my writing becomes less “drafty” and begins to read more like a final draft.
By the time I get to the end of my first draft, I can see my point very clearly, so I write a good, clean conclusion. Then I go back to the beginning and rework the introduction.
In general, however, I research and refine the outline, then, when the organization looks good and I’m confident I know what I’m going to say, I begin to write. I like this stage to be relatively uninterrupted by left-brained processes. I want to find a flow and stay there.
For me, a writing session lasts as long as the ideas flow. When the ideas stop, I take a break.
Step 5. Review
Once the writing is done, I can lightly edit the article, but fine editing and review must wait. I’m usually still in the writing zone, and I see what I thought I wrote, not what’s really there.
I do a quick review to catch glaring mistakes and make sure I covered everything I meant to cover. This is a good time to give it a good spelling-check and grammar-check. Grammarly is my favorite app for this.
As I mentioned above, I start by making sure my intro still works. If the project veered away from the original concept, the intro probably needs to be rewritten.
I make whatever corrections seem necessary, then put away the project until the next day at least.
Step 6. Rounds of edits
One or two days after I finished writing, I can review the project more objectively. I’m no longer in my writing zone and can see the article as a first-time reader might.
A quick read-through tells me where the rough spots are and helps me identify gaps where I need to add content, or repetitive areas where I need to consolidate ideas or delete them altogether.
I try to fix those areas now. During this phase, I may move whole sections or sentences, add or delete paragraphs, and make sure the structure and logic are sound. This process continues until I can read through the piece without a hitch.
But don’t expect one pass-through to be enough. Great writing happens during the editing phase. So I go through the article several times, fine-tuning and improving my writing with each pass.
Edits should always progress from the general to the specific. I wait to review the finer details until I’ve completed the rough edit. Now, it’s much easier to see the awkward phrases, unclear references, and grammatical mistakes.
The process isn’t perfectly linear, though. If I see these errors while making my rough edits, I fix them. But a last read-through inevitably turns up small mistakes that I couldn’t see before, so I always make time for one last review.
Once the text looks good, I return to the title:
- Does it capture the essence of the project?
- Does it entice readers to click through or download?
Step 7. Final read-through
Before calling the project done, I do one final read-through to catch anything I might have missed in my editing.
I also do a visual scan to make sure the piece looks good at a glance. On a blog, I preview the article and quickly scroll through it. For an ebook, I do a quick scroll through the document.
At this point, I’m looking at paragraph lengths and layout. This is when I might tweak subheads or adjust images.
What’s Your Content Writing Process?
I like my process because it easily scales for any sized project. It also allows me to work quickly while still being creative and flexible. It almost guarantees I’ll write a good article.
But as I said before, all writers are different. What’s your process? Does it keep you productive, or are you looking for a better way?