Whether you write website content, emails, or white papers, a basic plan for handling new writing projects can streamline and nurture your writing career.
Because it isn’t good enough just to write when you’re being paid for it — you also need to write well.
To do that consistently, the simplest possible plan will be the easiest to follow.
So how do you structure a plan that will engage your reader with a great opening, keep them engaged to read the whole article/blog or other piece of content, then win them over to positive action?
My easy writing recommendation
Let me suggest a five-step plan that can be used over and over to accomplish your goal, no matter what you write about. And while this formula may look over-simplified at first glance, stick with me here and you’ll find a path to get to your conclusion and feel good about it.
Just choosing a topic can be daunting. Then comes the research on your idea. What do you want your readers to learn? Where do you find the information that supports or refutes what you want to say? What new thing can you relay to your readers?
Let’s get to it.
As a writing coach and instructor for adult college students, I have recommended The Five Paragraph Essay Format. It is an efficient and effective way to construct a message to express your viewpoint, persuade a change of viewpoint, and solicit a call-to-action.
And it lets you get everything out that you need to say without stopping yourself. Afterward, you can edit and polish it by using good copywriting techniques… but you can’t edit what you haven’t yet written.
The Five Paragraph Essay Format avoids much of the mental editing that can bog down your article and copywriting career. It will keep you focused on the purpose and flow of each paragraph and sentence as you go.
Here are the barest bones of this method:
Paragraph 1 — Introduction
Introduce the topic by explaining why it is important for the reader to understand and value your viewpoint. Here is where you name three key points and briefly explain how they’re correlated. This approach makes it easier for the reader to remember each point and keep them linked together while you make your writing ever more persuasive.
Clearly additional paragraphs can be added as necessary, but there is something about the human brain that finds a list of three items easier to grasp and remember. So even if you’re addressing a complicated issue with more than three specifics needing attention, it may be useful to categorize your list into three broader issues.
Once you’ve made the topic and direction of your message clear and easily understood, it’s time to move on to…
Paragraph 2 — Evidence for Point 1
The second paragraph specifically addresses the first key point. Using the most important point right up front will engage them quickly, but may lead them to believe that they already know the important points of your topic. Keep in mind that the order of your three points will determine how the reader is paced through the article.
Following the 20-second attention script which suggests that you must grab the reader immediately, may not keep your reader engaged for even a short article.
Whether you open with the most critical point, or end with it to persuade them to action, it is vital to explain the value and linkage of point one to the topic of your writing. This paragraph will show the reader how your ideas progress and should mirror the structure of the whole article.
It may help to think of each paragraph as its own mini-essay; include a strong opening sentence to express the importance of the point, a sentence or two of evidence to lend some credibility, and a sentence or two about contradictory views and your conclusion.
The second paragraph should end with a summary of why point one is important and a hint about its connection to the second point. The last sentence of this (and each) paragraph needs to begin the transition to your next point. It can be as simple as “The next most important characteristic of…” or “In direct correlation with…”
It’s important for your reader that you link the end of the first point to the beginning of the second point… take your reader by the hand and help them through your content. Be as creative and dynamic as you can here because this is one of those places in the article where they might be tempted to stop reading or start skimming.
Paragraph 3 — Evidence for Point 2
Address the second key point by stating its importance to your topic and how it relates to the first point. Present the evidence in shorter clear sentences. Why shorter? Your 20 seconds are gone! Shorter sentences speed up the pace of reading and can quicken the reader’s pace toward the grand finale. The effect of building to a crescendo is a powerful way to keep readers engaged.
Work into the second transition here, and once again, summarize the importance of this point and show the way to your next point.
Paragraph 4 — Evidence for Point 3
Now it’s time to reintroduce some power into the article. This is often the best place for your second most important point if you’ve led with the most important. Why here?
You’re building to our finale, remember? In the previous paragraph shorter sentences helped pace the reader. Here is your chance to show confidence in your “train of thought” and stoke those fires! Now is the time to present the third, and perhaps strongest key point. Show specific evidence, and wrap it up with a good, strong transition to combine the best attributes of each key point and show the way to your conclusion.
The point of The Five Paragraph Essay Format method is to keep organized and on track. Whatever modifications you can justify while adhering to the principles of the model will still work.
Paragraph 5 — Argument and Conclusion
The last paragraph is an opportunity to show the connections of each point and explain again why this topic is important. Be strong and demonstrate conviction. By now, your reader wants to be convinced.
But do not make the mistake of ending there. This is also your chance to show an understanding of opposing viewpoints. Address them here. This lends further credibility to your viewpoint by demonstrating that the topic has been addressed with an open mind and has answered the opposition’s questions before they ask.
The last sentence or two in this critical paragraph needs to summarize the topic or point of view confidently and persuasively. It may even be a great idea to restate the importance of the topic using some of the same words or phrases from the introduction in paragraph one. This brings the reader full circle through the topic.
Include your call to action here. Be brave. If your reader is still there, they are engaged and ready to act.
Even if your paragraphs turn into pages or chapters (as in white papers or long-form sales pages), this format still works. Engage the reader. Bring them along by tying all the points together, raising the energy as you approach your conclusion, then winning them over to take positive action.