Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Jesse Hines of Robust Writing.
By now, almost anyone familiar with blogs knows that list posts (7 Reasons Why…or 10 Ways to Do…) are all the rage, an easy way to attract readers and to persuade them to read your post.
Most bloggers have done one (or tons) of these and it’s true–they are very effective.
The question, though, is in what way are they effective?
Clearly, writing a headline that says, “The 12 Most Important Things You Need to Know About…” will often get many people to read the post. So, a list post with a corresponding good title does bring you readers.
The Power of Singularity of Focus
But…true effectiveness and success is far more than just gaining readers; it’s really about persuading your readers of the strength of your argument by giving them something truly memorable to take away from your post–and then, hopefully, to act on your message, if appropriate.
A list of 10 different points, even if similarly related to one overarching topic, necessarily dilutes the effectiveness of each single point–your readers don’t have just one main, memorable idea to ponder, but now have 10!
As Dosh Dosh says, “Ideas spread when they are remembered. And they stick in the mind better when they stand alone, without competition from other opposing ideas.”
“A persuasive blog post or sales letter argues one point and accentuates it thoroughly with analogies, metaphors, examples and references. Just one point, because too many and you’ll not only lose your own focus but the attention of your audience. You don’t want to distract them from taking action.” [Emphasis in original]
What to Do?
Even after I’d been blogging for awhile, I still suffered from the same problem that Michael Masterson speaks of:
“Like many writers, I often tried to put too much into each essay. I began with a main idea, but when that idea suggested a second one and then a third, I put those in too. That was a mistake. It made the essay too long and cumbersome. And instead of gaining power, the message weakened.”
Masterson says, “My strongest pieces – the ones that got the most positive responses from ETR readers – were those that focused on one good and helpful thought….Because one good idea, clearly and convincingly presented, is better than a dozen so-so ideas strung together.” [Emphasis mine]
An Example of Laser Focus
Here’s a concrete example of how I used this insight–that one main idea strongly argued is better than 10 similar ideas argued together–to make my own writing more powerful.
On my original blog, I decided I wanted to write a post in which I shared a list of the bloggers I had most benefited from, those bloggers whose perspective and advice had most impacted me. I started out by doing a post listing five to 10 bloggers, along with some specific advice they had given and a little write-up about why I thought that advice was so helpful.
Thinking about it, though, I began to realize that I could give each blogger more exposure and make each piece of advice much more memorable by turning each blogger’s advice into a single post.
For example, instead of doing a post on top blogging advice that included points about “speaking persuasively and not commandingly,” and “how often you should post,” and “how a blog really makes you money,”–I should do a series on this advice, wherein I do a single post on “speaking persuasively and not commandingly,” and then another single post on “how often you should post,” and so on.
By doing this, I made each point of advice stand out far more effectively, gave each blogger more exposure, and–a bonus of this method of blogwriting–I ensured that I would have plenty of material to write about in the future instead of using it all up in one post.
By focusing each post on one main idea and arguing it with supporting examples and quotes, I could more effectively convey my message–which is the real point of writing anything anyway.
Putting It Into Practice
The next time you have a great idea for a post–say, 15 tips for better health–you might want to do this instead:
Do a series of 15 posts on better health, each post with a single tip, persuasively presented with evidence and examples. Done well, your readers will remember each tip more profoundly and you will have 15 posts instead of one. No need to make more work for yourself than necessary (by using up so much material in one post), especially when doing so will likely dilute the effectiveness of your message anyway.
As Dosh Dosh reminds us, “Too many statements and important points can be an obstacle. When you want your audience to remember a message, make it clutter-free and uncomplicated.”
For more from Jesse Hines, see his blog: Robust Writing.
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