Writing Articles

To write a set of TM articles:

1. Define requirements. Figure out what you’re writing about and what you want to write exactly. Get a vision of what you would like your final product to be like, in terms of quality, quantity, depth and presentation. Be optimistic, but realistic. By being organized, you can probably increase your performance, but it will be still proportional to your current level of performance. The important thing is to have a vision of your end product in the state that you want to present it to your customer or audience. This is the vision that you will be turning into reality.

2. Visualize the content. Once you have a mental vision of your final product, you can start visualizing it with technology. There are many names for essentially the same information visualization techniques: mind mapping, concept mapping, infographics, etc. Create a visual representation of the structure of your final product. In this case, the product is a set of articles. In graph theory terms, this can be represented as a graph where each node/vertex is an article. Once you can make a chart/diagram/infographic of your future articles, you are pretty much done with this step. The following is for “advanced users”. Each article is also a graph, and each node in that graph is a point that is going to be covered by the article. Taking care of identifying the subjects covered by each article at this conceptual stage tends to save time later.

3. Make article stubs. Now make blank article stubs as files for all your planned articles. This helps be aware of how much work you have exactly and what needs doing. Having multiple articles in production at the same time helps switch between them, so when you are feeling burnt out on one subject, you can switch to another subject and keep going. If you have a lot of articles going on at the same time, you can just keep going through them in whatever sequence you want. So if you are feeling burnt out on one article, you switch to another, and then another, and so on, and by the time you get back to the first article, you don’t feel burnt out anymore and so you can keep going pretty much continuously while you have the energy.

4. Split article stubs into bundles. In most real-world workflows, there are dead-lines, so it helps to have deliverables on hand to keep releasing. To accomplish this, article stubs can be organized into bundles that can be released at approximately the same time. Splitting articles into groups also helps stay organized throughout the writing process. If you have a small set of articles, say under 40, you can probably make do without this step. A TeamMentor library usually has at least 150 articles in it, so splitting them into groups is pretty much essential to stay organized.

5. Fill article stubs with outlines. Go through the article stubs in the group that you are working on and get an idea for how hard each article is to write. One of the most time consuming parts is doing research. Another time consuming part is adding “exhibits”, like code examples or pictures. What I call “exhibit” here is basically if you are putting some media or some information product in your article that helps clarify your point. Producing the “exhibit” is often more work than writing the article itself. Even just `shopping an image can take longer than writing an article and that’s pretty much the quickest way to have something original besides plain-text. So, while you’re going through your group of article stubs, you get an idea of how much work each article is going to be. While you’re doing this, you can put your notes about what you want to put in the article inside the article stub. As you are putting in your notes inside the article stub, you can organized them sequentially to produce a structure for your article.

6. Write the articles. Ultimately, the articles have to be written. It’s recommended to start with the easiest/quickest articles, so that you have something to deliver as soon as possible. While you’re working on the easy ones, you can think about what you’re going to write for the hard ones. When you have the outline structures in your stubs that you should have from step 5, you can start writing the articles from any place within the article. So say you have an article with an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. If you have an outline, you can write the second body paragraph, then the introduction, then switch to another article. When you return to this article again, you can write the first body paragraph and the conclusion, then switch to another article again. Then when you get back to this article, you write the last body paragraph and your article is done.

7. Update the content chart/diagram. As you’re writing your articles, you might find out things that you didn’t know before you started writing them. As a result of new information, you might want to update your plan slightly and the final product will be a little different than what you have originally visualized as a chart. Once you have most of your content done, you can go back to your chart and update it so that the chart reflects reality. This chart is going to be useful for other things now, so it helps if it reflects the actual content.

8. Cross-reference the articles using the chart/diagram. One thing you can use the chart for is to group the related articles together and link them to each other. This way the reader can explore the related articles after finding one of the set. This is one of the most common examples of scenarios that are enabled by having an accurate chart of your content. You can also plan a delivery schedule, share the chart with a customer to describe what content is there, share the chart with your team to show the current state of your content and where it might need improvement, etc. When time comes to update the content, you can use the chart to plan out your updates.

9. Review and edit. Apply formatting, style the text, run the spell-checker, and then have an editor review the articles.

10. Publish. Since we are talking about TeamMentor here, this means import the articles into TM. In the context of blogs, it means pressing the publish button, assigning categories, tags and doing SEO.


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