This guest post is by James Chartrand of Damn Fine Words.
But you know what none of us tell you? What to do after the headline.
You know, the actual “content” part.
It’s not enough to create killer headlines or spectacular introductions. It’s not enough to write compelling content (and we don’t tell you how to do that either). It’s not enough to use storytelling. The only way to get your blog posts read, shared and revisited means writing great content.
Which really means you need to know how to write a stellar paragraph.
I know: paragraphs aren’t sexy
Catchy headlines sounds sexy. Storytelling sounds sexy. Paragraphs? They sound about as sexy as gramma’s underwear. They’re not a technique or a tool. They’re just plain old-fashioned grammar school stuff.
Here’s what you need to know about what a fantastic paragraph can do for you:
Your readers will take in every single word you write.
Not just the words in the bullet points. Not just the numbered lists. Not just the headlines or the sub-headers. They won’t skim looking for “the good stuff.”
It’s all good stuff. They’ll want every single word.
Here’s a thought: Online readers are notorious for skimming and scanning, running through the bullet points. But do you know why their eyes are wandering? Do you know why they skip through your posts?
It’s because they weren’t interested in the paragraphs.
The content in your paragraphs? Readers figure those are just filler. And in many cases for many, many bloggers… sadly, filler it is.
Readers read … if it’s worth their time
A lot of bloggers assume that skimming and scanning is just the way things are. Nothing they can do about it – people are lazy. Too busy. So they don’t bother putting effort into crafting carefully written paragraphs the way they do their headlines and bullet points, because no one’s going to read the content anyway.
But, as Georgina pointed out earlier today, not all readers scan the content—and that’s important to remember.
Everyone has a favorite blogger whose posts they read religiously. I’ve got one. You’ve got one. You get excited when you see a new post go live because you love the way this blogger writes. You share the posts. You read older posts from the archives. You link to these posts.
Good paragraphs make that happen.
You’re not reading your favorite blogger’s posts for the headline, the bullet points, or the nugget of brand-new secret insider knowledge. Who’s ever said, “Oooh, Darren just put up a new post – I gotta go read this; his bullet points are so hot!”
You read for the words, and you would never consider any of the content to be “filler,” no matter how long that post ran.
That means your beloved blogger probably writes a killer paragraph.
Starting to sound a little sexier? You bet it is—who doesn’t want to be one of those bloggers whose readers hang on their every word?
No one, that’s who. So let’s get you started.
Good paragraphs leave no sentence behind
You’ve probably heard this adage: the purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to read the second sentence. The second sentence is to get them to read the third sentence, and so on.
Most bloggers forget to pay attention after the fourth or fifth sentence, which means that by sentence 36, they aren’t doing a thing to keep their reader hooked and moving along.
So they leave sentence 36 in the post because they think it doesn’t matter that much. (And hey, it’s good filler.)
It matters. Every single sentence matters. If you have a sentence in your paragraph that isn’t actively getting people to read the next one, chop it out. It’s doing nothing for you—or for your paragraph.
Good paragraphs form a chain of thought
You could obey the above rule without actually creating a paragraph. You could just snag a handful of Problogger’s best headlines and stick ’em in a post, and that would satisfy the “get the reader to read the next sentence” rule.
The problem comes when the second sentence has nothing to do with the first sentence. Watch as I display this technique: Is your tribe holding you down? You could increase your blog subscription rate by 254%. Eminem can teach you how to become a writing and marketing machine. Let’s talk 50 can’t-fail techniques for finding great blog topics.
Those are some of Copyblogger’s most popular headlines, and they’re undeniably compelling. But they don’t relate to one another, so midway through, the reader’s wondering about the follow-up. Eventually, he gets frustrated trying to figure out the point.
Frustrated isn’t good. Every sentence in a paragraph should refer back to the one before.
And if it’s a new paragraph, it should refer back to the last sentence of the previous one. Your very first paragraph should refer to your headline. Your headline introduces the post idea, which means everything you write afterward depends on that one idea—so you need to make a chain of thought to back it up.
How do you know when to end one paragraph and start the next? Well . . .
Good paragraphs know when to end
Every paragraph should last long enough to make one single point.
Some paragraphs—like the one before—only need one sentence to make the intended point. Others, like this one, need a few sentences to discuss the point fully and explain several ways of looking at it. You might need to expand upon your thoughts or give examples to drive the point home.
When your point is made, move on to the next point. Which, obeying the Rule #2, should relate back to the point that came before it, move on to make its own point, and end when that point is fully explained.
Nerdy, I know. But sexy? You bet. Sexy bloggers know sexy writing, and there’s nothing sexier than a well-crafted paragraph like that.
Now, a lot of people try to string together several points in a single paragraph. That’s never effective. Paragraphs help give readers visual cues on how to organize their thoughts. When they see a paragraph, they know it’s going to give them a certain amount of information on a certain point.
But if you give them three different (and often unrelated) points in a single paragraph, it forces readers to try and figure out where the distincts are between those points.
That’s work. And people hate it when reading content is work.
If you don’t want your readers just looking for the bullet points, keep your paragraphs easy to process and let them end when the point is concluded.
Don’t neglect your paragraphs
You’ve learned to write snappy headlines that get readers to come to your site and craft bullet points that draw their eye. Now it’s time to pay attention to the rest of your content.
Great paragraphs are the way to do it.
Got more ideas on what makes for a great paragraph? Shout out in the comments! And if you haven’t already, check out ProBlogger’s Anatomy of a Better Blog Post, for more specific post-writing techniques.
James Chartrand is the leading copywriter teaching people how to improve their writing skills at Damn Fine Words. It’s one of the best online writing courses for business owners and bloggers ready to boost their business success… through compelling words that get results.