What were you reading about a year ago today?
Every once in a while, we like to go back in time and revisit the conversations we’ve begun. Last year at this time, we were telling readers how to create five easy steps … in five easy steps.
Here’s a refresher.
You can’t swing a dead gimmick around the net without hitting a blog post featuring five easy steps, or three secrets, or 10 tips, or six ways, to do something. It’s the cyber equivalent of those inflatable dancing tubes you see in front of car dealerships.
Goofy, yes, but it works. It works because people love to quantify chaos. People want to tie the loose ends of life into neat little bows. Whether people desire increased sales or abs that make other people weep, they want “wham-bam” methods to attain their desires.
Either that, or they have nostalgia for the Count.
So, here are five … ah … ah … ah … steps.
1. Put the most important information first. Journalists call it the inverted pyramid style. Put the main point in the first sentence (lead) and follow with the next most important information, down to the least important. An article written in the inverted pyramid style gives readers the basics first, and it gives them the option to stop reading after that.
2. Be practical. The most useful home advice you’ll ever find will probably come from a “Hints from Heloise” column—for example, use a shower cap to cover a bowl of leftovers. Heloise is the MacGyver of everyday living, and she leaves her readers saying, “I wouldn’t have thought of that!”
Take it from her. Give your readers easy-to-implement, practical ideas.
3. Write something useful. Before you create your list, take into consideration whether a reasonable person would already know what you’re writing. The definition of a reasonable person is someone who hasn’t been living in a cave.
Consider the occasional neanderthal at your gym, the one who deserts his 100-lb weights on the squatting machine you were hoping to use. You may feel inspired to write a how-to list that begins with, “Use your opposable thumbs to pick up weights.”
Most people do not require such explicit, “no duh” instructions. Give them ideas that they wouldn’t already know.
4. Appeal to the reptile brain. Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D., uses psychology to explain human behavior, and she blogs about it at whatmakesthemclick.net. Weinschenk keeps readers intrigued with her growing series of articles, “100 Things You Should Know About People.”
Consider what she writes in her 11th article about a part of the human brain that resembles that of a reptile: “The job of your old brain is to constantly scan the environment and answer the questions: ‘Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me?’ That’s really all the old brain cares about, is food, sex, and danger.” Think James Bond eating a steak.
Although the human brain has evolved, Weinschenk writes, it still has that primitive part.
So, try something sexy, tasty, or dangerous. It’s more effective than a kick in the shins.
5. Create your list. It’s as easy as ABCD.
A. Pick your topic. What will you advise people to do?
B. Pick the length of time it will take to complete the steps.
C. Pick the number of steps you will include.
D. Pick your buzzword—Secrets? Ideas? Hints? Suggestions? Tips? Steps? Keys?
Now, complete the sentence: “How to (insert A) in (insert B) using (insert C) easy (insert D).”
You, too, can create a list of five easy steps by following these five easy steps. Remember to keep your content useful and practical. Develop your formula. And, in the repurposed words of a great president, “Ask not what your [blog] can do for you—ask what you can do for your [blog].”