Monday, September 25, 2006

How to Write a Captivating "How to" Post

The Project

Darren, of, occasionally runs a "group writing" project. The idea of the project is to choose a post type and have all readers write a post of that type. Darren then links to all the posts and encourages the participants to comment on and link to each other.

The Bottom Line

Darren's Postblogger is a highly ranked blog; a link from him is nice in it's own right. It drives some traffic to your site. It also helps Darren, in that many people link back to Postblogger, and he builds a community and buzz around his blog; but that's a win-win situation for all involved.

Being part of the group also gains you a few cross links. And if the stars are aligned well, the alleged real goal of the project is to discover a few good other blogs or posts.

One problem with the project is that sometimes a good post can take more than a few days to write; forcing posts to be completed within a few days is a sure-fire way to get some less than ideal posts.

This Week's Project

This week's project was to write a "How to" post. Here are the entries.

Group Behavior

Some of the bloggers left comments on every single blog they visited pointing back to their own posts. This is a shaky practice; in a small group like this, a whole bunch of other people are also going to read every post, and they are bound to see the pattern. On the one hand, yeah, you'll probably get the visit. On the other hand, it begins looks a bit promiscuous.

Similarly, some blogs simply take Darren's list of posts and copy all of the links to a blog post without adding any particular value. Well, it's nice for the linkees to get the extra link in Technorati, but a little more than that would be nice.

So I won't link to every one of the 343 entries, only the ones that stood out for me.

What I found

First of all, the first time through the list I only clicked on about 20% of the posts. These were the ones that either had good headlines, or were seriously about topics that I was interested in. That's your first lesson: a good headline. And by the way, 20% is actually very high, which only goes to show you that "How to" posts in general make for a good headline.

I decided to click through to all of them, however, to see what would happen next. The second lesson: about 5% of them failed.

Then I gave each post a glance, which is all that I would give most sites in general. I pretty much trashed the ones that didn't capture me on first glance. First glance incorporated the following parameters:

- Overall blog presentation
- Font styles and paragraph readability
- Post topic and length
- Pictures
- Standout phrases

Some blogs were simply uninteresting looking. Some blogs were hard to read. Some were simply completely out of my topic interest, and the presentation or length didn't make up for it. Beautiful pictures almost always make up for it, which is sad commentary, but true. Lastly, a well placed phrase that a) makes me think, b) is something I agree with, or c) is short but funny, will capture my attention.

My Picks

Here are the ones that passed all the screening process. NOTE: Of course, some of the ones that didn't pass the screening process were simply not of interest to me; this doesn't imply that either the post or blog were not good.

  • How to Survive Your Young Husband's First (Unexpected) Heart Attack by Olivia

    Being the first response to the project is a first bonus. By the time people read through 343 entries, the last ones are beginning to get more blurry. The first entry in Darren's list is the one most likely to be seen.

    This site also had the following things going for it: lovely floral picture at the top, interesting and down-to-earth advice, and good readability. Further examination indicates that the blog itself doesn't interest me, but the post did.

  • Do Blackbirds Swoop? How to Deal with Aggressive Bird Behavior by Trevor

    The subject of this post didn't interest me at all, but the pictures first caught my attention. Then I saw the list of birds the blogger was describing, one by one, and I really felt that the blogger knew his stuff. In a word: expertise.

    The post is readable, nice looking, and informative.

  • How to Visit a Sick Friend by SB

    This post has a lovely water drawing at the top, and the font and layout used give a feeling of art, new age, and sensitivity. The topic doesn't say very much new, but I found myself agreeing with what it said. This created a sympathetic connection with me, as a reader.

    It also has a funny post card at the end.

  • 19 Ways to Annoy People by Brad

    Lots of people do funny posts, but they lack what this site has: a very clean page that starts with the comic. And it wasn't very funny, but it was funny enough; a light funny, not heavy handed, insulting, or simply trite.

  • How to Destroy the Earth With a Coffee Can by Tony

    Actually, the biggest thing going against this post is its popularity. I have less desire to link to posts or sites that everyone else has already linked to. Why bother, when it doesn't make me original? Therefore, indicating that your post is popular is a turn-off.

    On the other hand, it is funny, and original. It is well-written, and Angelina's breasts can do no wrong.

  • Top 10 tips to survive laptop disaster: what to do if your laptop is dropped, catches fire, gets ripped off, is smashed, or just plain won'’t boot by Mary

    This post has a nice title, a nice intro, and simply covers a great topic about which people need a constant reminder, and provides useful links, too.

  • Useful Windows XP Hacks (Part 1) by The Foo

    Another post with information about something particularly useful, not overly known, and has great headers.

  • The Myth of the Sleeping Baby and Other Fallacies for the Work at Home Parent by Tony

    This post started with a nice cartoon, promised and delivered well written information, and read like a good newspaper column. And the subject was universal.

  • Attempting to 'how too' - now with more pie! by Busy Mom

    First of all, excellent blog design, with the fifties image and the great subheader. And unlike all the other posts that wrote a "How to" about how to write a "How to" - this isn't really funny even the first time - the post told a great story, and used the right word (pie) to link to the blog's theme.

  • How to Have a Better Garden Than the Neighbors by Doug

    Beautiful garden picture. The list was pretty good, too. However, I almost stopped when I read the first tip: "Relax". If there is one overused entry on any "How to" list or "Top Ten" list, that's it. Please don't do it. Here are ten other things never to include in a top ten list.

  • How to Plant Fall Garlic by Kenny

    Another uninteresting topic for me, but a beautiful blog, and a clean well-written post which I may one day return to.

  • How to Save Your Money by Bee

    A universal subject, of course. Also, the bullets are bolded and indented nicely. Paragraphs are nicely spaced. The advice is simple and achievable.

That's it. And thanks again Darren, for a great blog.



Busy Mom said...

Thanks for the input, this was my first time participating in Darren's project and I enjoyed it!

Trevor said...

I am blushing.

Thanks for the wonderful comments. I try to post every day so I invite you to return often.

This was the third time I had participated in Darren's group writing projects on ProBlogger. They are great fun, they get me writing, and some great links are made.

Brad Shorr said...

Hi, thank you for mentioning my article. Even more, thanks for taking the time to provide such in-depth commentary. Your post is an extremely useful how-to column on how to blog!

Tony D. Clark said...

Wow, thanks so much for the kind words. I appreciate you taking the time to visit, and the great commentary about the article.

Your filtering process is very similar to how I approached reading posts from the list. You did a terrific job of articulating the process, and I think it's very helpful to know how folks are reading.

Olivia said...

It was also my first time and I had the first bonus and luck to be placed first. I'm glad that you enjoyed my post...thank you...

I also enjoyed this post about how to write a captivating post. I agree with you about what you wrote.

I have bad eyes, and some of the posts were of great interest to me, but I just couldn't get through the contrast, say, on a black background.

Another great post...thanks again!