Today I’d like to talk about choosing topics for blog posts as part of our series on how to craft a blog post.
Image by devorocks81
Choosing the right topic to write about on your blog is vital if you want to write a post that engages your reader.
Rushing the choice of topic can set you off in the wrong direction and end up wasting both your time and that of your reader.
While sometimes the idea for a post hits you and needs little adaption – I find that many (if not most) times the first idea that comes to me for a post needs a little molding (or marinating) before it’s just right. I will often come up with a post idea and end up evolving it into something that is quite different – but which is much richer in terms of how interesting it is.
Here’s how choosing a blog post title often works for me:
- I’ll jot down an idea for a post topic in a text document on my desktop (this usually happens while I’m doing something else).
- Once a day I scan my ‘idea’ text documents and look for a topic that connects with me for that day (I like to work on things that give me energy).
- With that document open I’ll begin to brainstorm points that I could write about, title ideas and think particularly about reader needs that the post might overcome). I often use a mind mapping technique to do this brainstorming – it can actually lead to hundreds of post ideas.
- As I brainstorm a post begins to take shape and more importantly the topic emerges. While I have points and title ideas jotted down it is the ‘topic’ that I’m particularly trying to nail down at this point. Anything else is a bonus and will help cut down work later – but it’s the topic I’m attempting to identify.
- Quite often as I engage in this process I’ll end up with more than one topic – many of these i’ll put aside for another day but some will emerge into a series of posts.
Other tips on choosing a topic for your next blog post
- Identify a Need – As mentioned above – I’m particularly trying to name a need or problem that my reader has. I find that if I can have this in my mind as I write a post that it not only ends up being a well focused post – it ends up being useful to readers. So as you choose a topic to write about – identify concrete needs that you’re aiming for the post to fulfil and questions that you want the post to answer.
- Picture a Reader – Chris Garrett often talks about how he has a number of readers in mind as he blogs – he keeps their situation, needs, questions and challenges in front of him as he writes and even pictures them in his mind as he chooses topics and writes them. In this way he doesn’t just end up theoretical or abstract topics – but is closer to writing concrete and applicable posts that will connect with readers.
- Break out of the Echo chamber – one trap that many bloggers fall into is producing blogs posts that simply regurgitate what others are writing on their blogs. If the topic I’m wanting to write about is one that others are also covering one of the things that I attempt to do in this phase of choosing topics is to find a new angle. How can you bring your own spin to the topic? How can you give your readers something unique to ponder? Read more about breaking out of the echo chamber (and also here).
- Write Something that Matters to You – I find that when i write a post that matters to me (as opposed to one that is merely reporting news or tapping into a popular topic) that it tends to connect on a deeper level with readers. I guess it is logical really – when something matters to you it shines through in the way you communicate about it and this has a way of engaging others who also think it matters. Another way to say this is to ‘let your topics choose you’ rather than you choosing what topics you want to write about.
- Write Something Topical – Writing on a topic that is currently popular or that people are searching for information on is defitely something to keep in mind as you select a topic to post on. Use a tool like Google Trends to watch trends of what people are searching Google for, keep an eye on social media sites to see what people are voting for there – these topics can be well worth tapping into – particularly if you find a fresh way to explore them (see above point on breaking out of the echo chamber).
- One Topic per Post – this will vary a little from blog to blog depending upon your niche and style of writing but I find that posts that really hone in on one particular topic and communicate one main idea tend to do best. There is nothing wrong with writing long sweeping posts that cover many things, but do keep in mind that most people’s reading style on line is to scan content, flip between pages and not to dwell on any one thing for too long. So refine the topic for your next blog post down to one simple idea. If you have more than one write a series of posts or put those that you’re not going to focus upon into your ideas journal for another day. After all, you’re writing a blog and can expand upon your other ideas every day for the rest of your blogs life!
- Plan Ahead – one thing that has helped me a lot in my blogging when it comes to choosing topics to cover is to think ahead about my blogging and develop an editorial calendar. I do this in my computer’s calendar program (I use iCal) where I have a calendar dedicated to each of my blogs. I don’t use this all of the time but find it particularly useful when I know I’m going to have a busy week or two (or when I’m traveling) as it helps me to think clearly and plan ahead for my blogging. Chris G has a nice post on planning blog post topics with an editorial calender.
- Looking for more ideas? – also on the theme of choosing a topic to blog is my recent post 24 Things to Do When Stuck for a Topic to Blog About – In it you’ll find quite a few other ideas for coming up with post ideas.
Not every post that you write will be able to do all of the above things.
There are times where in most niches you’ll need to cover a story that doesn’t really ‘matter’ to you so much – or where you write about something that does matter that is not topical – however somewhere in the mix of all of these things a post’s topic will emerge.
Take Your Time With Topic Choice
The point of this current series is to challenge us as bloggers to take a little extra time at different points in the process of crafting blog posts.
So main point today is simply to do that when it comes to choosing a topic. Don’t fall into the temptation of always writing about the first thing that comes into your mind. Instead, take those ideas and mold and shape them into something special – something that will engage both you and your reader.
One More Tip on Selecting Topics for blog posts
Looking for a little more inspiration and teaching on how to select topics for your blog posts?
Here’s a video that I made a few months back that shows you how to find blog post topics by analyzing your blogs statistics.
Got some tips of your own on choosing topics to post on? Add them in comments below – looking forward to hearing how you do it.
Read the Full Series
This post is part of a series on how to craft blog posts. It will be all the more powerful if taken in context of the full series which looks at 10 points in the posting process to pause and put extra effort. Start reading this series here.
My topics usually float into my head during dinner conversation. What’s on my mind, falls from my mouth. Then, when I’m preparing my post before I go to bed, it’s already half written, I just have to type.
I get ideas from forums and other bloggers. The topics are usually from questions people have.
I’d say that about half of my topics come from conversation in my communities. Between questions asked in comments, to conversations going on in Twitter, there is almost always something that I can lead into or connect with in a new post.
Writing down ideas is a must for me. They slip my mind so easily. I’ve got a big board within arms reach of me now at my desk, that way I don’t lost my thoughts during the day.
My topics usually do flow from my head, and this post really helps me to see that “care” in topic choice is a great way to have more control and manage. Excellent post!
These are very useful pointers regarding choosing a topic to write about, Darren.
As you suggest, I especially think that it is important to focus on your reader when you choose the subject matter for a post.
By doing this, you will- hopefully- always be producing content that matters to them and is relevant to their needs.
I look forward to the reminder of this very informative series.
This post is great for new and intermediate bloggers who run out of ideas to write about and begin to lose interest from there on.
This post will one day become one your best posts. Truly informative and mind blowing.
Since you ask people to add some more tips, let me give you mine.
Use latest or breaking news to your advantage. Do you best to tie them with your niche. It is quite easy to do. For an example. Let’s say that your niche is all about cooking and there’s a breaking news about a new social networking site. Show your readers that they can use that social networking site to promote their killer recipes or something.
All you need to have in order to do that is a little bit of imagination. You will never run out of ideas once you have mastered the above tip :-)
I think the mind map idea you mentioned sounds very good. I’ll definitely be trying that.
I also read the post about breaking out of the echo chamber. Very useful – I find that the big blogs get away with all saying the same thing but its pretty pointless for me just to copy them. But I could certainly use their posts as a starting point for mine – possibly using the comments of readers to give ideas for a fresh angle.
I’ve found that many of my best ideas have their roots in offline reading material. Blogs and community-based forums are great reflections of the world as it is right now, while books sometimes have more universal insight — and synthesizing the two can be uniquely powerful.
I keep a list of post ideas on my iPod Touch. That way whenever something pops into my head I can write it down. Then when I get writers block I simple pull out my touch and pick a topic.
Thanks for the inspiration and ideas. I am always writing down topic ideas – some become a series of blog posts and some never make it beyond the list… Its a great resource to check back with on days like today when I am lacking inspiration.
“noting down an idea for a post topic in a text document on my desktop”… Even I do this regularly.
Video is superb Darren.. Thanks…
Most of my post ideas come at me from two sources-
1. Since my blog focuses on videos related to politics, I find the craziest Ann Coulter rant, or absurd John McCain ad, and try to review it through equally absurd raving.
2. I occasionally want to speak about something, for instance my recent post on Aristotle and the Commons (http://crazyweirdvideos.com/2008/08/12/aristotle-is-an-idiot/), and find a video to fit that.
As the mother of two small children, I get most of my ideas while running around with them during the day. I keep a pad of paper in my kitchen and often will race through the house to the kitchen to write an idea down before I forget it. Then when I want to write a post, I just glance through my list of ideas and usually one will jump out at me. Because I blog about our interracial family, I rarely run out of ideas. I do think that if you truly love to write, and you love what you’re writing about, the ideas will tend to flow.
I get a lot of ideas while I’m driving. I keep a small digital recorder in my purse so I can just speak into that and get the ideas down before I forget.
“Not every post that you write will be able to do all of the above things.”
This is important. You can’t pressure yourself to craft one amazing post after the other.
A few will be amazing, most will be good, and some will be mediocre. And that’s just fine. Perfectionism and blogging do not go very well together.
I like the “picture a reader” tip. I once took a voice-acting class. I was told to just read through the script. And then the second time, I was to picture a specific listener that I know. I thought I always speak in similar manners but when we playback the recordings, I was surprised by how different it sounds. It’s so subtle but yet it cannot be ignored. So many voice actors use this technique: They have several people that enjoys listen to them talk that are their defaults. When they need to read a script, they imagine the appropriate person to share the thoughts with, and go ahead and talk that way. It works really well that way. I haven’t used similar techniques for writing, but you can tell the tone differences on those mommy/daddy blogs when they are writing open letters to their kids.
Mine usually come out of experience in using a particular app I found on the net to fix a problem, like converting a file format into another, or trying to extract more productivity from Google Calendar and stuff.
Keeping a pen and paper to jot down sudden ‘braingasms’ has been a lifesaver for me.
I get a lot of my best post ideas while running in the afternoon. I’ll have my iPod blaring and I’ll be rocking it up a big hill (rocking it for me at least). And a light bulb will go off in my head and two or three ideas will come at once. Nothing like a little adrenaline to feed a motivational blogger’s posting needs!
I was wondering if other bloggers did these things or if I was just weird. I carry notebooks with me and write idea’s for post in them. When I hit a dry spell I grab the notebooks and start looking for ideas.
I always write down any ideas I get – actually I store them in a spreadsheet. If I don’t write them down then I know I won’t remember them.
But I think really loving the topic makes a big difference in thinking up new ideas to write about and also in how the article actually turns out.
Excellent tips from you and others. Notebooks, Ipods n other gadgets and tools, simply to jot down ideas… Why haven’t I thought of all these before… Great work you guys!
Ellie @ APP
If you don’t really have anything to say – it’s okay not to say anything.
As a foodblogger, many of my post topics come from something I’ve cooked–it’s turning a simple recipe-with-picture into an interesting post that I find challenging. Finding a way to connect a story to the food is easier said than done.
“There are times where in most niches you’ll need to cover a story that doesn’t really ‘matter’ to you so much – or where you write about something that does matter that is not topical – however somewhere in the mix of all of these things a post’s topic will emerge. “
I agreed and quoted. When I post my latest post initially the idea is about how web hosting provider make money but then it skewed a little bit how you could lose some money and the same time probably your domain name. It suddenly connected with other earlier post about domain name management. All due mind mapping.
If I don’t have an idea, I go to my stumbleupon, get the inspiration from my friends, fans or my fans and write that on a notebook and after that start mind mapping.
I always have a bunch of draft posts ready to be fine-tuned, although sometimes I just have the title. Even that is a help if I feel stuck.
I agree with you that sometimes the post ideas end up evolving into something that is quite different. To avoid out of the topic, recently I found a way to keep me rich with blog post ideas. I outline the topics that can be covered based on my blog’s taglines and write it down and plan ahead.
Usually what I do is try to focus on making a continuation of my previous blog post and that way I can ensure that the readers would want to come back for more.
I’ve seen lots of the echo chamber you mentioned. It seems that in the world we affectionately call the Blogosphere people lose their individuality trying to pull a bit of this, a piece of that, etc. from other blogs. I find that if you stick to (like you said) what’s important to you (the blogger) and what the reader wants to spend time perusing, you’ll earn a respectable following
Really great advice here. The editorial calendar link is also really useful for me. I think it’s a great way to write better posts if you plan them. Thanks!
As you suggest, I especially think that it is important to focus on your reader when you choose the subject matter for a post.
One of the points you say works for you,Darren, is choosing a blog post title. I find when I’m writing a book that choosing a title for it before I begin keeps me on theme. For instance, Healed Within was the biography of a young woman who was struck down with a brain tumour and ended up being a quadriplegic. She lost everything: her marriage, her lifestyle, everything. But she had a faith. And that was what I was commissioned to write about: the way her faith healed her – not physically, but inside – her mind, emotions and spirit. That title meant that when the storyline looked like going off at a tangent, I was pulled back into line. Great idea. Sometimes, though, when blogging (and I’m very new to that) I find that a title comes to me from the first draft rather than the other way round as with a book. I’m beginning to ramble! It’s bedtime here. Night. Mel Menzies
Great post. Really helped me to see that I need to discipline and formalize my brainstorms (more like brain drizzles, but you get the idea).
All this used to be a problem for me too; so I built myself a handy resource :-) It’s at
and I hope people find it useful.
And link to it.
No, really, I do! It is useful if you’re stuck and some of the resources on there are just plain interesting in their own right.
Choosing content is one of the hardest things for me.
Like the others I tend to jot things down in a “to-do” list file and I’m pleased to see that others also either use the ideas or they don’t.
Its probably a good filtering technique.
If the idea doesn’t hold water the next time you come to it, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.
I also record ideas using my phone recorder when I’m out and about ot if I wake up in the night with that brialliant idea. How sad is that !!
I also use Google Alerts for research on particular topics, I’ve also got a couple of other ideas for using Google Alerts on my blog.
That’s actually a great idea… I’ve been jotting things down in a pen-and-paper journal that I keep in my purse, and coming back to it later always helps. Also, I’ve been reading up on blogging (BooksOnBoard has a series of useful ebooks about blogging). I really enjoy your tips… your blog is definitely a must-read!
I’ve found that planning ahead is the best way to produce quality content and relieve a lot of the pressure bloggers have to continually crank out “the next great post.”
I designed some a post planner and calendar and am making them available for free at Productive Flourishing. I’d appreciate feedback, and I hope some of you find it helpful.
I get a lot of my post ideas by checking out the top posts of other blogs in my niche. From time to time, I also check out Google hot trends, what’s hot in Squidoo, Hub Pages and ezinarticles, buzzle etc
I have a decent friend base that comes to me for advice, help, or tips on performing better at a specific task, which will go un-named here. ;)
Nonetheless, as friends come to me with these queries, I come up with topics to talk about. While pondering ideas on blogs is something I’ll do from time to time. I’d much rather have a discussion about the topic with someone, write down notes afterwards, then shape my blog post around that conversation. This way it is fresh in my mind and I feel in the groove.
Blogging about the dialogue of my advice to someone helps keep my readers engaged. Also it is easier to see the full issue, reasons behind it, steps to overcome it, and how the end result should feel.
That’s my 2cents,
I can see that getting more organized will be a big help. I often browse around on Digg for ideas. It’s a great place to see what people are interested in and talking about.
Once a week or so, I like to just browse around, letting one thing lead to another, I find this random approach puts me in touch with things I might not otherwise have found.
But I also get, “where the hell did I see that…?” so the tips on organizing this stuff are great.
Thanks for the tips and nice video.
I’ve been following this series and things have been going great!
http://www.oraloh.com has gained traffic like crazy since its start a few weeks ago.
I always reference back to this page when coming up with a new post.
Thanks again ProBlogger!