Everything you need to write exceptional articles that grab readers like sumo wrestlers and spread like viruses.
By Sarah Cy
You want to write brilliant articles.
And not just one or two here and there, but consistently brilliant articles:
- Meaningful articles that win readers’ hearts and minds.
- Evergeen articles that consistently attract readers year after year.
- Viral articles that spread like wildfire across the internet.
The question is: HOW?
It looks as if the best writers were blessed with some mysterious writing mojo that skipped you.
Either that, or they were born under a blue moon, because Lady Luck is clearly on their side.
Well, not quite.
Writing is half science, and half art. Writing brilliant, popular articles does involve a dose of luck, maybe, but luck is like salt — it has to be sprinkled ON something to taste good.
In other words, before you start thinking about virality, you need to get your foundation set up write. (I mean, “right”).
When it comes to writing, you need to have certain strategies SOLID before your article can truly shine.
These strategies are compiled here in a simple guide, and a Checklist you can download and keep forever (scroll down to get your copy).
In this article we will go over:
- The 3 questions to ask that will help you choose a standout article idea.
- The 3 core principles of writing hypnotic headlines.
- How to write effective intros and conclusions that will gain readers’ trust.
- The 4 factors that go into well-written and appealing article content.
- What to do after you’ve finished writing your article.
Ready to get started? Let’s go:
1. How to Select Your Brilliant Idea (And Discard the Clunkers)
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” — Benjamin Franklin
When you start writing, you begin with an idea. But how do you know if your idea is good enough to share?
Easy. Just ask yourself these three questions: (Courtesy of writer/marketer and founder of Social Triggers: Derek Halpern)
- Do I have interesting research or a personal breakthrough on this topic?
- Do I have an opinion on this topic?
- What valuable thing do I want my readers to take away from this?
If you answer “no” or “I don’t know” to any of these questions, put that idea aside. Because if you try to run with a half-baked idea, you’re not going to produce quality.
Too many writers read one poular article and then dash off to replicate it in a badly written blog post no one wants to read.
Don’t be that person.
Don’t produce regurgitated content.
Instead, take the time to dig deep into the topic you want to write about. If you don’t know enough, read more. Research. Practice. Do what it takes to generate unique, personal insights that are of value.
Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun, but there are new ANGLES that you can use to approach an old topic. Angles that are fresh and personal.
And you only find those angles when you have personally engaged with the topic deeply, through thoughtful research and/or a memorable personal experience.
Remember: brilliant articles need to provide value to the reader. That value can take the form of helpful information, much-needed encouragement, and/or entertainment.
But you as the writer need to know beforehand WHAT value you want to provide, so that you keep it in mind as you write.
2. How to Hit Your Headlines Out of the Park
“On average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” — David Ogilvy
Your headline is THE doorway to your article, and its job is to convince readers to step through.
Here are the three biggest core components every headline must have:
A) Headlines MUST promise a mouthwatering benefit
People don’t read articles because they love taking time away from their favorite Netflix show to flatter you.
No. People read articles because they NEED something: Information, advice, encouragement, etc.
Which means that you as the writer must promise them that thing they need.
In the headline.
Because if you don’t do it in the headline, you don’t get another chance.
Readers won’t click on an article unless they have a sense that there’s something in it for them.
If you’ve chosen your idea well (Step 1), you should already know what reader need you are addressing. Make sure that it is clear in the headline.
Extra tip: the more concrete and specific you are in your promise, the better. “23 Secret Sicilian Restaurants You Can’t Afford to Miss” will outperform “What to Eat in Italy” any day.
B) Headlines need Power Words to pack a punch
What are power words?
They are emotion-stuffed keywords that pique people’s interest, arrest reader’s attention, and resonate with their souls. Words like:
I won’t bore you with the entire list of one million and one power words. But notice one interesting thing: what do many of the power words, even on this stunted list, have in common?
That’s right, negative emotions. (Crush, horrific, scandalous, etc)
Negative emotions tend to be more attention-arresting, because humans are wired to avoid danger, and so our brains are constantly on the lookout for warning signs — like scary words.
That is not to say that you should sprinkle every headline with negative words. Too much of that and you will turn your readers off.
Rather, when you are thinking about the headline for your article, consider what powerful emotions you most want to evoke. Which emotions are most in line with the body of your article?
Fear, frustration, anger are can be powerfully effective, but so can safety, encouragement, curiosity, excitement, etc.
Choose your key emotion wisely. Once you have that down, then you can think about which power words would be most effective for your article headline.
C) Headlines must be shareable
If you want your post to be popular, or even go viral, you need the help of the “huddled masses,” ie — your readers.
Posts only go viral when readers like them and then share them with their friends, family members, coworkers, social media buddies, etc.
What does that mean?
People share things that either 1) make themselves look good, or 2) they think will help the person they are sharing with.
If your headline clearly offers helpful information that will make the sharer look smart, well-read, thoughtful, interesting, kind, etc., then your article will be shared.
For example, a mom might share “17 Ways to Bond With Your Teenager” because the headline makes her look like a conscientious parent who has (or wants to have) a great relationship with her teen.
Alternately, if your headline caters to a particular niche of passionate people, it will also make it more shareable:
An article about trendy gourmet restaurants in New York won’t be read by everyone, but everyone knows at least one foodie friend who would just love the information you offer.
So even if a viewer doesn’t read your article himself, he might still pass it along because he knows his friend will be interested.
When drafting headlines, don’t just think about your article content. Think about your reader, and his/her circle of acquaintances. Ask yourself:
- Why should my reader share my article?
- Who could they share my article with?
If you plan ahead, you will increase your article’s chances of being shared and read widely.
3. How to Write Introductions and Conclusions That Bear-Hug Your Readers and Don’t Let Go
“Write so that people can hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.” — Maya Angelou
Next to the headline, your introduction is your most important weapon.
If you write a good introduction, it will serve as a slide, guiding readers’ eyes down the page to the body of your article. If you flub this step, readers will bounce away and never come back.
You only have a few seconds to convince readers to stay with you and read your ideas, so don’t waste words.
To write a bear-hugging introduction, remember this key point:
Your article is not about YOU, it’s about your READER.
Which means your introduction — in fact, your whole article — must be suffused with empathy.
Show your reader that you get him or her. That you care about what s/he cares about. That you are a wise and worthy guide who can get them from where they are to where they want to be.
Here are some tips to infuse your writing with empathy:
- Use the second person pronoun “you” more than you use “I.” (Better yet, don’t talk about yourself at all in the intro…unless your article is a case study)
- Imagine what fears, concerns might be keeping your reader up at night, and use your intro to demonstrate your understanding of those fears.
- Pretend you are writing a letter to someone you love. If it helps, you could even start off by writing “Dear Mom” and ending with “Love, Me.”
The point of the intro is to show readers that they can trust you to understand them and their problem, and that you know the way forward. Keep that in mind as you craft your intro and you will ensure that readers keep reading.
Crafting Captivating Conclusions
Your last impression is often just as important as (if not more important than) your first. Leave your readers with a gold nugget, and they will keep coming back to read your next article…and the next…and the next…
So how do you do that?
Like the introduction, empathy is key.
In the intro, you resonated with your reader’s troubles so that they’d trust that you understood them. But in the conclusion, you need to resonate with their dreams so that they feel empowered to achieve them.
So with your conclusion, paint a picture for your reader about how their lives will change now that they’ve read your article and learned something useful.
The more specific you can be, the better.
And don’t forget your call to action!
The call to action can be something like “subscribe to my email list so I can keep sending you helpful info,” or it can be something directly related to the content of your article (“Now that you know about tiny habits, put down your phone and do one pushup. Right now.”)
Readers are distractible, so make your call to action clear, commanding, and uncomplicated:
“Take this step NOW. Do it.”
You want readers to IMMEDIATELY benefit from reading your article. That is the single best way to create reader loyalty and build your audience. But readers can’t benefit if they don’t practice what you’re preaching.
As Lee Odden said:
“Content should ask people to do something and reward them for it.”
So spell out exactly what you want readers to do, and when (ideally: now).
Once they do it, and start benefitting from it, they will know that you are a writer worth reading.
4. How to Sculpt the Body of Your Article
“Easy reading is damn hard writing.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne
Now we come to the meat-and-potatoes: your article itself. Here is where we learn to make your ideas come to life!
Organizing Your Ideas for Best Effect
When you are writing an article, you’re not just thought-dumping everything in your brain on paper. That’s called brainstorming.
When it’s time to write, you need some kind of organization to communicate your ideas clearly.
Yes, some writers write instinctively, allowing structure to arise as they go. But this only works when you are an experienced writer with an intuitive grasp of structure and idea flow.
If you are just beginning, however, you will need a more concrete form of organizing ideas.
At the very least, use a basic bulleted outline to arrange your thoughts in a logical order before you start to write.
Alternatively, if you are a more visual creative person, you can also try a variety of artistic mapping techniques to organize your ideas before you start writing. One method I have been most intrigued by lately is the concept of the Mind Map, by Tony Buzan:
Experiment with different outlining methods and see what works for you.
The Subtle Significance of Subtitles
Readers will not start at the top of your article and read all the way down.
In this age of increasing distraction and shorter attention spans, no one has the time or patience for that anymore. Especially not on the internet.
So know this: your readers will skim.
They will skip down the page, looking for interesting things to pause and read in more detail. And what are those interesting things that will stop them in their tracks?
Your subtitles, of course.
Think of your subtitles as mini-headlines. Their function is to persuade readers to read the content that follows.
So, like headlines, your subtitles need to be clear and interesting.
You can be a little cleverer with the subtitles, using word play like alliteration (see the subtitle for this section), rhythm and rhyme, metaphors and imagery, etc.
However, you still have to be clear. Subtitles have to let readers know exactly what is in the section, so readers can tell if it’s worth their time to read on.
Some of the ideas in your article will be relevant to some readers, and not to others. So label your article appropriately with well-crafted subtitles and let readers read just the parts that are most useful to them.
Your readers will thank you.
The Power of Quotes
Writers are not know-it-alls. But they are brilliant researchers and translators.
They are able to take a topic they know nothing about, teach themselves everything they need to know, AND translate it for readers.
Readers know this. They don’t expect you to be an expert in everything you write. But they DO expect you to have done your research right.
Which means: if you want your readers to take you seriously, you better not be pulling all your facts and ideas from your own head.
Instead, you need to cite authorities: Researchers, leaders, scientists, statisticians, etc.
Include links to expert research, summarize their ideas, include thought-provoking quotations from authorities.
The more experts you refer to, the better.
Don’t just cite 1 or 2 per article. Cite 6 or 7. That will show readers that you really did your homework, and they can trust what you are saying.
If you tell your readers that getting up early is good for their health, that’s one thing. But when you let Benjamin Franklin say it for you, that packs more punch.
And the stakes are even higher when you say something controversial or unique.
We ALL stand on the shoulders of giants. Don’t pretend your ideas all come from you — that’s the quickest way to lose reader trust. So refer to experts! Cite your sources!
No one wants to hear your original ideas until they know you’re trustworthy, and the best way to build up your credibility is to cite other leaders to introduce and back up your points.
Visually Appealing Articles Matter
Another benefit of including expert quotes in your article is that it makes the article more readable.
Separating text with italicized pull quotes here and there helps to create breathing room for your reader and draws their eyes down the page. Visually appealing articles are well-read articles.
Visual appeal is crucial with online article writing because reading chunky text on a screen causes headaches and a massive reader bounce rate.
Other ways to create visually appealing articles?
- Use short(er) paragraphs. No more than 3–4 lines per paragraph, ideally.
- Use white space wisely (Medium allows you to separate sections with three dots … )
- Include relevant, interesting images, not just at the top of the article, but throughout the article if need be.
- Supplement your ideas in visual form, either with photographs, infographics, embedded videos, or diagrams for easier processing
The human brain dedicates some 30% of the neurons in the cortex to visual processing, more than any other sense that we have. Vision is the most powerful senses humans use, and we writers have to keep that in mind as we write.
5. After You’ve Written Your Article: DON’T HIT PUBLISH!
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” — Mark Twain
Sometimes, when you’re basking in the golden glow of having written, you can’t wait to share it with your readers. You can’t wait to publish and share your thoughts with the world!
But wait. Hold on. Back up.
The best time to publish your article is NOT right after you’ve written it.
Instead, let the article sit. Ideally for a day or two. The longer the article, the longer you should wait before you return to it.
While you wait, you can work on another article or project.)
Once you have created some chronological distance between you and your article, go back and re-read it. Look for spelling and grammatical errors, muddy ideas, and things to cut.
In general, writers always put too much fluff in their first draft. The more you can cut, the tighter and better your article will be. As Seth Godin once said:
Why waste a sentence saying nothing?
When you have done your cutting and line editing:
- Send your article to a trusted friend or two for feedback.
- Alternately, read the article out loud to yourself.
- Or put the article into a software that can read it aloud for you (Google translate can help with this) and listen for mistakes or awkward phrasing.
- Keep track of the types of mistakes you are repeatedly make (typos? overly-long sentences?) and pay special attention to those when you edit.
- If you’re really serious about making this your best article ever, repeat this wait-then-edit process, until the article is as polished as you can make it.
NOW you’re ready to share your work with the wider world!
It’s Time to Write YOUR Brilliant Article
There you have it.
Everything you need to know to write your own stellar article.
WITHOUT these five foundational skills, your article will go nowhere. But WITH these five strategies solidly locked in place, you’re article will sprout wings and fly as far as you want it to go.
So don’t write blindly — use this checklist to guide your article structuring and writing.
And as you keep honing these skills, you will create more and more consistently exceptional-quality articles.
Before you know it, you will become an elite writer, producing polished, high-quality work that will astound, enlighten, and delight your readers.
Ready to be a Brilliant Writer?
Whew. That was a lot of info! If you’re wondering how to remember it all, no worries. I’ve created a checklist summarizing the most important points for you. Feel free to print it out for easy reference:
Notes from the Honeypot editors
Every aspiring writer needs a start. While we go into more details on various subjects, Sarah’s ultimate list is a great intro into writing a compelling article. Every paragraph has the function to make the audience read the next one. And then the next. Sarah’s tips get you to more audience read-time.
Main image: NikVector & Simple Line, Shutterstock