Coming up with a great idea for an article can be a cinch—when you land a topic that just-so-happens to be your favorite hobby. But when you need to make a buck and every topic on the list is some obscure part for an industrial machine you’ve never heard of, writing what you know isn’t very lucrative advice. At the same time, we can’t afford to get bogged down in research. That leaves us in a double bind. So how do you go through faster ideation and end up with an interesting topic?
Here are a few methods I use that help cut writing time in half.
1. Think of a title first
Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? If you’re a writer coming from a fiction or copywriting background, writing the title first is the last thing you’d think of doing. However, I’ve found that when it comes to writing blogs, conjuring a title is sometimes the same as the ideation process. The title is equivalent to your main idea for your article, and if it’s catchy and creative, your article will be too. Choose a topic that’s least daunting and brainstorm titles that’ll rope anyone in.
2. Stubbornly refuse to research; scan instead
I learned the hard way that choosing a topic you know nothing about can easily steal hours of your time—and it won’t necessarily turn up a good article. The solution? Don’t research the topic broadly, but rather scan for details.
What I sometimes do is try to come up with an idea or two and not worry at first whether they are accurate or useful. Then I look for the information by scanning various sites very quickly. During research and writing, I often tweak the main idea as I rapidly learn the relevant details. When I put the information together, the result is a unique and coherent piece that is useful to readers.
Here’s an example. I know nothing about cakes, but what if there were a number of useful and surprising things that even baking fiends didn’t know about cakes? Turn this question into an intriguing title like “Everything You Never Knew About Golden-Browning a Delicious Cupcake.” Now all you have to do is ask the internet what those things are, scan rapidly to source that succinct information and voila, you’ve got your article.
3. Write a “how to” guide for the common man
Ask yourself, “What would Average Joe who’s browsing this topic like to know how to do?” You’ll have to avoid something obvious to earn yourself four or five stars, of course. Picture your target audience searching their topic online.
For example, Joe, whose rose garden is looking a bit sad, has just typed the word “mulch” into Google. Think of something that he didn’t know he wanted to do, like making the mulch or getting it free instead of buying it. When he comes across an article entitled “Cheap and Easy DIY Mulch” how could he not get dragged in?
4. Try a hodgepodge idea
This has worked for me to surprising effect. What you do is scan the internet for a number of interesting or useful facts. Put three or four of them together and thread them through with a common idea. They may have seemed unrelated at first, but when you get them together you can find a way to link them with a common purpose.
For example, I know nothing about cars, and not only can I not afford to spend hours researching just to write an article about cars, but also I would die of boredom doing so. However, I once heard a statistic about silver cars being the most popular. So I asked myself, what other interesting fact are there about car colors? Turns out, a lot! I chose a few factoids linked to colors and created an article geared towards choosing your car’s paint job. Useful, interesting and unexpectedly coherent.
A variant of the hodgepodge idea is to link two things that people don’t expect to be connected. Your topic is “hotels,” so what shouldn’t you find in most hotels? Pets—write an article about traveling with pets. Your topic is “gold” so what shouldn’t you have on your bling? Filth—write an article about techniques for buffing dowry.
5. Choose a topic that’s been done before, but make it easier, faster or cheaper
People don’t like spending money or time, especially not on obscure and tedious topics. That’s why making things easier, cheaper or faster makes for a riveting read! As long as the answers aren’t obvious and haven’t already been documented in three separate wikiHows, you’ve got yourself instant ideation.
This method works great with most topics. For example, there may be tonnes of articles online about cleaning glass in your bathroom, but do they tell you how to do it without breaking a sweat? Again, you may not know how to do this yourself, but you can source the specific information from a smattering of sources to create something original and helpful.
I hope these tips have helped. Please post some of your own in the comments, or give us an anecdote of how you came up with your best idea. Just remember to avoid too much detail and don’t use the final title.