It’s so easy to wander off topic and confuse and probably lose the reader. While occasionally there’s a place for that type of writing, it’s hard to pull off without serious practice.
Besides, most of the time your readers, particularly those online, are looking for specific information. Keeping an your writing to a single idea facilitates their needs.
Big ideas vs. small ideas
One way to think about ideas is that they are not all the same size. For example, “save the planet” is a huge idea, while “quit using plastic bags” is a much smaller bite of information. Both, however are really part of the same idea – solving the climate change problem.
Naomi Klein has written a huge (576 pages including references to massive research) powerful book called This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. She documents the excesses of western society, their impacts on climate and proposes meaningful reform. Not everyone agrees with her, but a surprising number express deep respect for the ideas and information presented.
On the other hand, I’ve written a couple of blog posts about not using plastic bags. Two Years, One Plastic Grocery Bag is one example. Not quite 500 words, it’s an example of a small idea that falls under the bigger idea by focusing on just one way consumers can help reduce waste.
The most obvious difference is simply the length of the two works.
One post vs. a book
There probably is a book on getting rid of plastic bags. In fact an Amazon search for “plastic bags” gets almost 100,000 titles – and many of them deal with the problems plastic causes. But I had no intention of writing a book about them. I simply wanted to brag a bit and point out how one person could successfully drop the plastic bag habit. I’ve kept up the practice – which has nothing to do with this post but is a great example of how easy it is to wander away from the topic.
If you look at the table of contents of Klein’s book you see the topic is broken into three parts – each chunking down the larger topic into more manageable bits. Within each part are five or so chapters, each talking about a portion of the larger topic reflected in its Part. When you get to the chapters you find whole paragraphs devoted to a single idea, etc. etc. etc.
In other words, single ideas get woven into a larger whole. The secret is to be crystal clear on what the larger whole really is.
One approach is what I call the 10 Word Purpose Statement. It’s worked well for me over the years. I’m also sure that’s not the only approach.
How do you stay on course while writing a post, article, or even a book? Tell us about it in comments please.
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Write well and often,