For some, drafting is the most painful portion of the writing process, while editing is the fun part. For others, outlining and drafting is the meat of the workflow, while editing is just a necessary step in polishing written work. If you aren’t sure which group you belong to, take a good hard look at your workflow–odds are, it isn’t optimized.
Which group you belong to depends largely on what parts of the process you find most enjoyable, coupled with what writing roadblocks you encounter most often. There isn’t a right or wrong workflow, but not having defined steps in your process leaves you open to distractions, rabbit holes, and writing bits and pieces that you will likely eventually cut.
Also, if you are trying to optimize your writing or blogging for maximum SEO power, then it is a must to think ahead. If you write a blog post without doing keyword research beforehand, you run the risk of appearing to keyword stuff as you attempt to squeeze in all of the short and long tail keywords for which you’d like to rank. It’s inefficient.
So what does a simple workflow look like?
Whether you are in school, starting an online business or blog, or creating any type of written content, the major steps are mostly the same when it comes to writing and editing. The first step for anyone starting out is to begin with a workflow framework and then iterate based on your specific field or niche, along with how you work best and what roadblocks you encounter.
- Define the task, intent, and scope.
If you are writing a blog post, what do you want it to rank for? If you are putting together a newsletter, what and who are you planning to include? How many words or pages are you aiming to produce and by when?
A tip to avoid doing work twice:
Not answering these questions upfront means you will be drafting and editing to get your ideas down on the page, but then you will inevitably have to go back and do your due diligence to make sure your work ranks on search engines, address all of the relevant points needed, includes expert commentary or feedback, etc.
Ask yourself these questions to set the foundation for a productive workflow in which you never have to re-do time-consuming tasks.
- What am I creating?
Think about: Is it a blog post, guide, infographic, product review, opinion piece, etc.?
- Why am I creating this?
Think about: What outcomes are you looking for from this endeavor–to rank, get press, make a contribution, etc.?
- What is the scope?
Think about: What information, opinions, feedback, experiences, research, etc., will be needed to make this a useful piece of written work? How long should it be? How long will it take you to complete? Will the people you want to talk to be able to make time for you by the deadline?
Working through the answers to these questions will give you a bearing, setting you up for success by helping you make actionable plans and set deadlines.
2. Do the legwork.
The legwork for your project may be as simple as trying out some online tools or products to be able to write about them in a review article. Or, you might need to do some keyword or other type of research before you are ready to start drafting the body of your work. Either way, Step 2 of a great workflow is about gathering all of the necessary information.
A tip to avoid doing work twice:
Have a working outline document already created so that as you go along in your research and find keywords, sources, information, or ideas that you know you want to utilize, you can begin to build your argument. Take these bits and pieces, along with the accompanying citation information, and add them into your outline so you don’t forget. Don’t worry about making it perfect just yet–it just needs to be written down and cited. You can move the pieces around in your outline later. What you don’t want is to have to find and/or re-read sources weeks later if you forgot a citation, deleted a file, or accidentally closed a tab.
3. Outline and build your argument/story.
This is a chore for some and a joy for others, but it is essential to making a cohesive written work. Your argument or the flow of your work needs to be logical, and there’s no easier way to ensure this than to make an outline.
Have you added tidbits from your research in Step 2? Move those around to help you craft your story or argument. This is where you will be able to identify gaps in your argument/story and/or see where you need more information, sources, etc.
A personal note:
I like to make a detailed outline that lists most of my important facts and sources. I also aim to actually write out the topic sentence for each paragraph, so I know exactly what that paragraph will cover. This helps me avoid writer’s block.
4. Draft it!
You heard me. Step 4 is about putting all of the pieces together–getting to work! Articulate your ideas! Defend your points! It’s an exciting time, for some. For others, it is daunting and can be a huge time sink.
Step 4 is where a lot of writing roadblocks happen, especially if you draft at a snail’s pace. This is mostly when writers/creators agonize over making it perfect right off the bat. It’s not called a rough draft for nothing, though, so get to work drafting. You might not feel ready, but even an extremely rough draft is better than no draft at all. It’s not going to be perfect the first round, even if you spend a year on it, because ideas evolve and new sources will come out.
Commit to getting the draft done ASAP. Set a deadline for yourself, and do not compromise on it. You can polish it to your heart’s content in the editing stage, but you have to have a starting point–and that means a draft.
5. Edit in stages.
When it’s time to edit, you might feel daunted because your draft is not as good as you want it to be. Maybe the grammar, style, or tone aren’t there yet, or you know there are some paragraphs that are clunky and awkward. If you’re having trouble getting motivated for this stage, then put your work down for a day or two. Let it rest. Let your brain rest. Then, come back to it with fresher eyes.
A tip to avoid doing work twice:
There are two main types of edits, which you should do in stages to avoid doing work more than once, and they are: content and grammar/punctuation/spelling/word use edits.
There is just no sense in editing for grammar (and related mistakes) before your content edits are finished. Content edits will help smooth the flow of your work, bolster your arguments, and overall, make sure you are saying what you want to say, the way you want to say it. When you’re still changing around sentences, paragraphs, or maybe even the entire structure of your work, it doesn’t make sense to take your time and energy to review it for grammatical errors, since you’ll just have to do it again later anyway.
Once your content is no longer changing, do a critical pass of your work for grammar, spelling, punctuation, and word misuse errors. Then, give it a second pass by putting your work through one of the many free grammar check programs available online. Understand that your normal Docs or Word grammar checkers do not catch more nuanced mistakes, such as special comma rules or errors associated with misused words or phrases. Good grammar ensures that your points are clear and that your writing is professionally polished. Don’t lose your audience to sloppiness when there are so many easy, free tools you can use to check this!
6. (Optional) Collaborate or get feedback.
If you are part of a larger team or are working on a project in conjunction with others, it is courteous to send them the final draft for their input. You do this to make sure the thoughts and ideas given by the group are represented in a way that everyone is comfortable with and is cohesive to your purpose. This may be optional for some use cases, but it can be really important in ensuring that your team is aligned.
In smaller teams, outside feedback is important if you are the only one writing and editing because fresh eyes and perspective can often spot issues with clarity and flow that the writer misses. The reason for this is because the writer is too close to the subject or has a more robust foundational knowledge than the readers, so getting feedback is always worth the extra time.
What does your workflow look like? Whether you follow this basic flow completely or use it as a jumping off point to elevate your productivity and iterate, it is important to have something in place to ensure that your writing has the impact that you want it to. If you are currently writing using the “flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants” approach, I hope you can see how inefficient that could be making both you and your writing. The good news is that with a little bit of intention and attention to detail, you can find a workflow that feels effortless and supports you being the best writer or content creator you can be.