Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, August 8, 2008

Professional Content Writing: How To Create Your Own Content Templates For Different Article Types

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Writing posts, articles and reviews while utilizing a very specific content structure and sequence as an editorial guiding path, can provide better and more interesting writing while providing more consistently your readers with the information they want in a uniquely recognizable style.

Photo credit: Graffoto

While journalist schools teach a very specific and standardized approach, my suggestion is in fact for you to do just like I did: consider developing your own content template and sticking to it every time you write.

Structure is among the most important factors I have highlighted in my article about the differences between professionally-looking published articles and improvised blog posts.

For structure I refer to the invisible sequence of logical content sections upon which a good article can be built. The content skeleton, the editorial template, the writing framework within which the writing of an article or report takes place.

Many bloggers write in an impromptu, spontaneous, genuinely inspired mode. While this provides a more spontaneous and credible writing style it unnecessarily sacrifices other good elements of professional writing that in synergy with these existing ones could provide for an explosive mix.

To move up one step in the learning path toward becoming a well recognized, professional web publisher, adopting, or better yet, creating, your own content template is just a natural, logical step.

If you fear that using a content template may limit too much your spontaneous and creative expressions, fear not. A content template should act only as a carpet, a mobile stairway to take your readers wherever you want to take them to. Both on the red carpet or on a underground mobile stairway you can still keep your "cool", your style and your way of expressing things. Nothing gets lost.

With a content template you will be only adding an invisible logical sequence to the way you present information in a way that can help your readers access, scan and understand it in a more effective fashion.


Why You May Want To Develop Your Own Content Template

Photo credit: Sintez

In an article entitled What Differentiates Yet Another Blog Post From A Professionally Web Published Article? I have recently written:

"Same applies for the writing and formatting style. If you are in a rush to write some breaking news, it matters a lot less if you have a spelling mistakes, formatting overlooks, missing or no images to complement your writing. The immediacy of that breaking news is what matters to us readers, and your ability to get it out fast to us is probably what in many cases we value most.

But are all online publishers, bloggers and web reporters all in this same, "breaking news", high immediacy situation?

I don't think so."

Why then the need to improvise at all times in your writing?

Why needing to wait for the inspiration to produce good content?

Do blog posts really need to be all written in this romantic fashion?

How can you rely on producing, good and increasingly better content if you need to rely only on your writing inspiration?

The usefulness of building your own content template is all in following a pre-designed and well thought over route instead of trying to arrive at your point only in a haphazard, improvised fashion. By following your own custom designed route you can save time, spend less energy in trying to be "inspired", and produce content that is tangibly more readable and interesting than your typical creative spontaneous blog post.

To follow a pre-designed structure or template does not mean your writing needs to become predictable and dull. Quite to the contrary. Having a solid route on which to build your content should often allow for even greater creative expression and for you to have less of a mental burden during your article preparation.

How To Create Your Own Editorial Content Template

Photo credit: Velkol

To develop your first content template the only thing you need is a simple text editor and some quiet atmosphere around you.

Here's how to proceed.

Let's suppose you are a technology reviewer, though the same reasoning can be applied to just about any content publishing category.

1. Close your eyes and imagine running into a breaking news story about a new web service that does something you really are very passionate about. The article is just out and this is something you have good interest for.

2. Imagine now what kind of information you would like to read at the opening of the article. Is it what the product is called and does or is it how the reviewer find out about it? Imagine, picture it in your head.

3. Then think what information you would like to be reading next: is it a list of features and their abilities as reviewed in the hands of the reviewer or is it a random set of impressions of how the tool felt when first tested.

4. Now take note and convert those expectations about what you would have wanted to read, in a sequence of questions you would pose to your imaginary tech blogger.

5. Take the time you need to list as many questions as you may think relevant for obtaining all the information you like to know about a new product when you read a review about it.

Once you have done this, look at all the questions and see if you have overlapping ones and eliminate them. Order then the questions into a few groups and review their order and sequence, always thinking in terms of what you would want to know and read first as a reader, not as a writer.

That's it. You now have a good content template that you can use to write any post of that type.

Sample Tech Review Article Template

Photo credit: Pazo

Here is a real example of a content template. You could actually copy and paste this inside an empty blog post and use it as a guiding path to gradually build your tech review. One of the nice advantages is that you can jump more easily from section to section to fill in what you are ready to write, without needing to do a linear, sequential writing, which can be much more difficult to do and replicate.

1) Introduction section
Answer these questions:
  • What is so special about this new product?

  • What are its most prominent key traits?

  • What is its name and who is it targeted to?

1b) Second Intro

  • What are other relevant things about this product?

  • What about its pricing and availability?

  • Who is behind it?

  • What are the first reviewers saying?

2) In-depth Review
Write here a two paragraph overview of the product being reviewed.

a) What is it in detail

b) What it does in detail

c) What uses, target users and applications it has been designed for

2a) Key features
List each one of the key features with your product in a separate subsection and provide a good description of it. Accompanying detailed images, screenshots or short video clips / screencasts are great complements for this section.

2b) Summary Overview
In this section provide a list of all of the features that represent a key strength for the product you are reviewing. These could be bulleted lists with short descriptions. One list with the key strengths and a second one listing all of the problems, limitations or opportunities for improvement for the product reviewed.

3) Additional Resources
Where can you learn more about it?
(list other articles or reviews that talk about the same product)

List key information pages on the product site that provide more specific information about:

  • download

  • pricing plans

  • help and documentation

  • tutorials

4) Editorial
Provide an opinionated section at the end of the review to help the reader judge key strengths and weaknesses of the product as well as your personal impressions. In this content it is important to provide opinions based on strong, tangible facts. Opinions based on personal whim or preference but not substantiated by verifiable facts are much less credible. Summarize key strengths and highlight important problems or limitations that may hinder the product success. Then express your personal preference and impressions while clearly documenting the reasons for them.

Examples at work
See a few examples of recent Master New Media reviews who have utilized this approach:

Other Content Types

Photo credit: Romai

In time you will want to develop more editorial content templates to serve different types of article types. From news to interviews and from tutorials to opinion pieces and tech reviews the spectrum of article types in the online world keeps expanding rapidly.

Here a short list of other types of web articles that you may want to consider building a personal customized template for:

  • How-to article
  • Opinion piece
  • Interview
  • Topic Introduction - What Is ...?

Now that you have already a basic idea of how to go about developing your own editorial templates, refine the process by spending some time at analyzing great articles you run into on any media and identifying the content components and sequence used in each. Just dissect, analyze and take good note.

Then next time you prepare an article look at the newly studied references and see whether you want to slightly modify your own template to integrate one or two content components you hadn't used before.

That's all.

If you want to learn more about content templates and how to improve your professional web publishing skills stay tuned as I have more interesting stuff coming up.

Originally written by for Master New Media and first published on August 8th 2008 as "Professional Content Writing: How To Create Your Own Content Templates For Different Article Types"

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posted by Robin Good on Friday, August 8 2008, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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