September 23, 2017

Blog post structure | Try a temple

New approach increases reading by 520%

“God is in the structure,” says Richard Preston, author of The Demon in the Freezer.

How to structure a blog post

Try a temple This structure grabs attention, helps readers understand and lets nonreaders get the gist of your blog post. Image by Oskar Vertitics

I agree. Once you’ve nailed your structure, writing becomes almost a matter of filling in the blanks.

For blog posts and many other online pieces, the best structure is not a pyramid. Rather, choose a structure that’s been proven in the lab to:

  • Attract 300% more readers and increase reading by 520% (Groove HQ)
  • Get more social media shares (Reuters Institute)
  • Boost readership, understanding, engagement, interest, satisfaction and more (The Poynter Institute, The Readership Institute, the American Society of News Editors and the Newspaper Association of America)

The temple blueprint

Call it the temple structure:

  • Its pointy top grabs reader attention, tells ’em what you’re going to tell them and gives them context to understand the big picture.
  • Its columns show the parts, making it easier for skimmers to skim and reinforcing key ideas for nonreaders.
  • Its base calls readers to action and leaves a lasting impression. That’s important: Because for readers, remembering is next door to acting.
Use this blueprint

Use this blueprint This structure works for blog posts and more. Image by Ann Wylie

Here’s how it works …

1. Grab attention in the lead.

Make the lead:

  • Concrete. Grab attention by showing instead of telling. You might try a startling statistic, for instance, instead of an abstract lead.
  • Creative. Steal techniques like storytelling and human interest from fiction writers. Storytelling leads have been proven in the lab to draw 300% more readers and increase reading by 520%, according to a Groove HQ A/B test.
  • Provocative. Raise (don’t ask) a question that readers can only answer by reading the piece.

Do. Here’s what it looks like, in a content marketing piece for workers’ comp folks by Caren Baroudy, a writer for WCB-Alberta:

By some estimates, prescription drug overdoses have killed 100,000 North Americans over the past 20 years. In Canada, overdose deaths involving prescription medications now vastly outnumber deaths from HIV.

Don’t. Avoid leads that bore or overwhelm readers, like this original version of Baroudy’s piece:

Throughout last year, Medical Services and Customer Service worked together to improve the resources available to help claim owners effectively manage opioid claims. The result included new eCO enhancements and some minor changes to the management process, all designed to help claim owners manage these often-challenging claims.

2. Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em in the nut graph.

Use the nut graph to:

  • Put the story into a nutshell. Let readers know where you’re taking them with this piece.
  • Make a promise. The feeling here is “If you read this, you will learn …” Focus on the reader and the reader’s needs, not “us and our stuff.”
  • Communicate your key message. Answer the reader’s two most burning questions, “What’s this story about?” and “Why should I care?”

Do. Here’s what it looks like in Baroudy’s rewrite:

Good opioid claim management can literally save an injured worker’s life. But it isn’t easy.

Don’t drop the nut graph. Baroudy’s original story lacked this element.

3. Give the big picture in the background section.

Here’s where you introduce:

  • Context. For Magna International, an automotive supplier (and new Wylie Communications client!), the context for many of its pieces is “This is just one more step we’re taking toward building the future of self-driving cars.”
  • Definition. You know that 16-word boilerplate you use to describe your product, service, program or idea in the lead? Move it here. The background — aka, the blah blah section — is no way to draw readers into the story.
  • History or trend. Baroudy’s piece uses this approach, catching readers up on what’s been happening in this key area of her organization.

Do keep it pithy, as Baroudy does here:

To help you better manage opioid claims, Medical Services and Customer Service has been working together to develop new resources, including new eCO enhancements, and streamline the management process.

Baroudy’s original didn’t include a background section; she’d used it up in the lead.

4. Tell ’em in the body of the story.

In the body:

  • Organize the parts. Choose thematic, chronological or geographic structure.
  • Show the parts. Use subheads, bullets and bold-faced lead-ins to help readers see the parts and find what they’re looking for. If you have three sections, you’ll have four subheads — one for each section, plus one to break the wrapup and kicker from the body.
Show readers the parts

Show readers the parts Use display copy to help readers find what they’re looking for. Think of subheads as your Roman numerals I, II and III in a traditional outline of your piece. Image by Ann Wylie

Do focus on “news you can use to live your life better.” In other words, write about what the reader can get out of the story, not about what your organization put into it. Baroudy nails in here:

Here’s what you can do for your injured workers to help keep them, and you, on course:

  1. Learn about the new Opioid Claim Management process by referring to Business Procedure 40.11. Or take a refresher courses through Business Training. Talk to your supervisor about registering.
  2. Engage and empower your claimants. Recognize the clues of at-risk behaviour with this Opioid Use Checklist (Form FM035AFC).
  3. Get guidance throughout the process with Opioid Claim Management tools. You’ll find everything from business procedures, policy, letter templates, tipsheets and tutorial videos at EW > Business Tools >Opioid Claim Management > Resources.

Don’t focus on process, or how the sausage was made, as in the original piece:

Business training facilitated information sessions to all Customer Service teams in November, referring to the analogy that the claim owner as the decision maker is in the driver’s seat. Claim owners have the task of ensuring injured workers receive the services they need to return to work. In cases of severe injuries where a return to work is not possible, claim owners provide services to improve an injured worker’s quality of life. The rollout focused on …

  • Moving opioid claim management to a point where it is an integrated part of claim management;
  • Establishing key measures that report on the status of opioid claim management;
  • Increased director, manager, supervisor, and claim owner accountability;
  • Improved consistency on how the policy is applied; and
  • Updated opioid procedures, forms, letters, and the introduction of opioid-specific eCO enhancements.

5. Tell ’em what you told ’em in the wrapup.

In the wrapup:

  • Revisit your key message. You might even copy your nut graph, paste it here and massage it a bit. The nut graph and body reinforce your message. That’s why readers remember temple structures better, according to a study by the American Society of News Editors, the Newspaper Association of America and The Readership Institute.
  • Call readers to action. The CTA goes here, not in the final paragraph.

Do make your case with an emotional plea, as Baroudy does here:

Solid Opioid Claim Management prevents addiction and overdoses and can save a claimant’s life.

Don’t drop the wrapup. Baroudy didn’t include one in her original piece. Because the way out of the inverted pyramid is to just stop typing.

6. Leave a lasting impression in the kicker.

Make your kicker:

  • Concrete, creative and provocative. Sound familiar? All the techniques that work to draw readers in also work to leave a lasting impression.
  • Come full circle. If you can nod back to the lead, your story will feel more polished and complete to your reader.

Do end with a bang, as Baroudy does here. I love the light, elegant nod back to the lead:

Don’t drop the kicker. It’s a key ingredient to helping readers remember and act.

Roll out the temple structure.

This structure works for all of your blog posts and content marketing pieces, from storytelling to survey stories, from case studies to tipsheets.

Because God is in the structure. And the structure for blog posts is the temple.

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