Updated: Mar 15
by Neil Patel
Have you ever sat in front of a screen thinking, “What the heck am I going to write?!”
You know that content marketing is effective. You know that you need to do it. Sometimes, though, it’s tough to actually make it happen.
Along with the feeling of writer’s block is the experience of taking way too long to write an article. I know writers who spend ten hours on a single article. When it takes this long to produce a piece of content, it’s easy to get discouraged and give up on content marketing altogether.
Is there a secret to publishing high-quality content in less time? I believe there is. One of the reasons why successful people can do so much in a shorter amount of time is because they depend on systems.
A system or process for completing a given task is a formula-driven way to achieve something. Such an approach may sound boring and difficult, but in reality, it makes jobs easier, faster, and far more efficient.
In this article, here’s the system that I use for writing a blog article in sixty minutes or less.
1. Pick Your Topic Ahead of Time
One of the best things that I’ve ever done is decided ahead of time what I’m going to write on.
I used to sit down and try to decide on my topic and write it in the same session. That killed my productivity. I don’t rely on an editorial calendar, per se, but I do have a list of topics and titles that I work from in order to make my process fast and simple.
When it’s time for me to write, I pick a title from the list and get to work. One of the benefits of having these topics ahead of time is that my subconscious mind is working on the topics even when I’m not writing. By the time I sit down to write the article, I’ve already been thinking on the topic. I’m better prepared to write faster, clearer, and better.
Often, when I’m mapping out my titles and topics, I jot down a few ideas under each title. Sometimes, it’s a link to an article that inspired me, an image that caught my attention, or even a few ideas that I have.
The more that I trace out some points for each title, the faster the writing process goes. I have to be careful not to write out the whole article, however, since this will distract me from the task of coming up with topics.
2. Write Three Paragraphs for Introduction
The first thing that I do when writing an article is to create the introduction.
Some writers prefer to keep their introductions and conclusions as the last task. For me, the introduction helps to set the stage and define the progress and flow of the article. Getting an article down helps me to write the rest of the article.
How do you write an introduction? Keep it simple.
Paragraph one: Try to get the reader’s attention and share the big idea for the article.
Paragraph two: Try to emphasize the need for the article. Prove to the reader that they need to read this.
Paragraph three: Explain the big idea of the article. Take a look ahead at what the reader is going to experience and learn.
That’s it. Now, you’re ready to dive into the rest of the article.
3. Create Five Main Points
This is your outline — five main points.
Why five? It’s a random number. You need as many points as it takes to prove your point and get the idea across. Make it twelve. Make it twenty. Whatever. The point is, you need some structure in order to create an article.
An article without an outline tends to ramble. The reader may get confused, bored, or simply frustrated. Make the outline clear, and then you’re ready to fill it out with content.
I often fall back on the technique of numbered content topics. One reason I do this is because readers tend to enjoy them more. Another reason is that they are easier to write. I’m not spending all my time figuring out how to approach my topics. Instead, I have a plan already traced out in the topic or title — five reasons why…, ten ways to…., six techniques for…
Readers like this approach because it’s clear and organized. If they prefer, they can simply skim the main points to get the gist of the article.
For your part, you can load the article up with deep content and research, but you’re frontloading the most valuable and action-oriented portions of the content directly into the outline.
4. Share One Piece of Research in Each Point
Now that you have your points clearly laid out, focus on the research element.
Conduct a few Google searches that pertain to your topic. Find some good case studies, examples, papers, news articles, or other high-quality content that proves your point.
This is the meat of the article, and it’s important not to simply neglect it. Discerning readers want you to back up your claims with actual research.
Because this is the meat of the article, it’s also the place where you will tend to spend the most time. To avoid getting bogged down, you may need to limit yourself to citing or discussing just one research source — a single case study, for example. Yes, the internet is full of potential helpful information, but tracking down all of it will take you too long.
5. Add Images to Prove Your Point
Break up your content with a few relevant images. The quickest way to find images is Google’s image search.
Search for an image by entering the keywords that are relevant to your article or topic.
For example, here I search for “content marketing.”
This is a broad query, so I need to narrow it down. An easy way to do so is simply to click one of the categories at the top of the image search page.
By funneling my search into a specific area of research, I can gain a valuable amount of visual data to back up my points.
Notice that these are images that I’m citing within my article as part of my research. These images are not intended to be the creative lead for my articles.
Every article should have some images, so use the ones that are best for your audience and that fit within your budget. Be aware of copyright laws, and always cite your sources.
6. Create a Conclusion
Sometimes, I write my conclusion before I write the article. Though it seems counter-intuitive, doing so helps me to keep my thoughts focused. Just as often, I write the conclusion at the end.
I don’t try to get cute. I call the conclusion “Conclusion,” and leave it at that. This makes it simple for the user. They know exactly where and how the article will end. It also makes it easy for me. I’m not wasting my time trying to think up a creative twist. I just bring everything to a conclusion.
7. Write Three Concluding Paragraphs
My conclusion consists of three paragraphs on average. There is a way to write a conclusion that doesn’t sound lame or weak.
The best approach is to summarize your article, keep it short, and just be real. Avoid the trap of stuffing your conclusion with all the things that you wish you had said in the article. It’s a conclusion, so use it to put on the brakes and stop the article.
8. Close With a Question
If you’ve read any of my other articles, you’ll notice that I usually end with a question. I’ve found that this is a helpful way to encourage readers to think. It has the double benefit of providing me with an endpoint, too.
This is a formula-driven approach to writing an article. Are you allowed to break the formula? Absolutely. When you choose to color outside the lines, you’re simply expressing the kind of creativity that makes your content more valuable.
Take the article you’re reading now, for example. I’m all over the board, breaking half the rules I just explained! That’s because I’m using the formula as a guide, not as a lawbook.
Follow the rough process. It will enhance your productivity. But take your own approach. It will expand your creativity. Both productivity and creativity are esse