The Top-Down Approach To Article Writing

Are you planning on writing some lengthier articles/ blog posts than you’re used to, such as flagship content, link bait, or viral /strategic content? A large writing project can be daunting, and many good writers get intimidated. One thing that my 30 years of computer programming taught me is that you can pretty much write any program if you (1) know the tools and (2) know the functionality you want to achieve, then using a technique called “top-down design”.

What is Top-Down Design?

Top-down design was a buzzphrase in coding circles during the 80s and early 90s. It amounts to breaking a large project down into manageable bites, all the while giving you the feeling that you’re in control and that the project is achievable. Using that technique, I could write up to a thousand lines of code in a day or three, including editing/ testing. You can apply a similar methodology for writing larger blog articles, tutorial series, e-books, etc.

  1. Scope out your project.
    Break it down into stages: know your goal, produce an outline (for bigger projects) and task list, do your research, etc.

  2. Know your writing goals.
    What are you planning to say? Start with a bullet point list or mindmap of topics you’d like to cover in the article. Go with what you are comfortable. Sometimes I use mindmaps, sometimes bullet lists, or both. It depends on what “feels” right for a particular project. Similarly, I sometimes use paper and sometimes I type my objectives.

  3. Have a task list.
    Don’t think this is important? Something small will be forgotten, if you’re a busy blogger. You’ll want to utilize your fave search engine. I typically use Google and Technorati (blog-specific sources). I’ve also been putting together a few custom Yahoo Pipes (tutorials to come).

  4. Build an outline and pad it out.
    Here is where the real top-down design begins. You want to maintain the feeling of knowing where you are at each stage. I’ve adapted principles from my coding experience:

    1. Write a preliminary outline of your article.
    2. Add section headings and apply whatever HTML formatting you want (h2, h3, bold/ strong).
    3. In each section, create a bullet list of subtopics.

    This all gives a feeling of partial completeness. You’ll have a better feeling of what you’re trying to accomplish.

How Do You Use It?

There you go. You’re done. Well, sort of. But go through those steps. Don’t you feel like you accomplished something? I’ll emphasize that you cannot have done this on paper. The point is to progress towards your end goal (a finished, formatted web article) in stages.

You now have the start of your article. All you have to do is fill in the blanks 🙂

  1. Start writing by filling in sections or bullet lists wherever you can.
  2. Research what you don’t know and refine the article.
  3. Rinse and repeat until you have a rough draft.
  4. Add hyperlinks externally and into your archives. (Some bloggers prefer to do this as they write, others like to wait. Do what’s comfortable.)
  5. Edit for content (grammar, spelling) and length.

That’s it. Follow this methodology and you can tackle big writing projects. Obviously, I’m leaving bits out, but I’d like to hear from other bloggers who have written large posts/ series/ linkbait. How do you go about completing a big writing project?

2 thoughts on “The Top-Down Approach To Article Writing

  1. For people who generally write shorter posts, writing a longer post can be time consuming and fill you with self-doubt.

    Before doing one, you should have a back up of small posts ready to go. That way, when the longer post takes longer than anticipated, you will have something to post ready to go to assuage your feelings of guilt.


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