Table of Contents
- What is a template article
- Why are template articles useful
- How to create your own article template
- Example of my own article template
- Article template action plan
- Next Steps
Throughout this article, you will learn what an article template is, and how it can help you save time and create amazing content, consistently. We will also walk you through a 5-step approach to creating your own article template, with a short demonstration of how we use one for the Essentialist Dev.
What Is A Template Article
A template article is a blueprint for the type of article you want to write. There are lots of different types of articles you can write. If you plan to write more than a couple of the same type of article, then it's worth finding or creating your own template for it. Here are a few examples of some common articles formats:
- How-To Guides and Tutorials: teach your reader how to accomplish something, like setting up developer environments, troubleshooting, building projects and learning new languages etc.
- Lists: can help your readers explore a specific niche, or easily find tools and resources without having to do the research themselves.
- Checklists: help your user follow a streamlined process, or to gather everything they need in order to be able to learn something, or accomplish some kind of task.
- Case Studies: allow the customers themselves to talk through their own experiences with the product. You can use case study templates to plan for quotes, and introducing/summarising what your customers have to say.
Kevin Gates, 2020 has written a comprehensive list of over 73 types of blog post formats that are a great source of inspriration.
Why Are Template Articles Useful
Template articles are useful because they help you:
- Save time
- Create consistent content
- Increase flexibility
- Focus on what's important
Article templates will save you a huge amount of time. Whenever you want to write a new article, all you need to do is duplicate your template, and fill in the details without having to worry about setting up your titles, table of contents (if you have one), or having to set up a new outline every time.
If you are using a static site generator like Jekyll or Hugo etc, then you make huge time savings by not having to write in the tags (Markup or HTML) or remember the front matter variables every time you create a new article.
Create Consistent Content
To give you an extreme example of why consistency is so important, take a look at the most intentionally badly designed website ever created, User Inyerface. Sorry in advance for making your eyes bleed.
User Inyerface brilliantly captures what happens when nothing is where you'd expect it to be. The logo is in the bottom left corner, there is no menu and everything hurts to interact with (even when you know the awful design is intentional). This is because there are a huge number of internet norms that we have unconsciously internalised. We expect specific things to be in specific places, and when they're not, we feel uncomfortable and even frustrated.
On the other hand, when we visit a site where everything is where we'd expect it to be, then we're likely to feel a sense of satisfaction and instant familiarity. We get a sense that the author is a professional and trustworthy authority. Often, we don't even realise that we feel this way or why.
The ironic thing is that using a template to create order makes it look like you put a huge amount of effort into every detail, when in fact you actually reduced your workload by a huge amount, simply by not having to invent everything from scratch every time.
Having a template in place increases your ability to be flexible, because it gives you a strong foundation to explore from. When creating a marketing plan for example, many people start out by following someone else's plan. Then, over time they'll use it as a springboard to learn from, by tweaking some areas to see what happens. So while your template might start out as a cookie cutter solution, it can easily be modified and expanded to suit your evolving needs.
To share an example from Essentialist Dev, I started out with a basic article outline that included an introduction, a conclusion, an action plan section and a section on why the action plan was useful. Once I had written a couple of articles following this plan, I realised that I also answered 'what' and 'how' questions, and that instead of a conclusion, I wanted to add a 'next steps' section. After I modified my template to include these things, all of my articles suddenly felt so much better than they had before. I might not have discovered this had I not been using a template in the first place.
Focus On What's Important
Writing is hard. There are so many steps to crafting a well-researched, well-written article that pivots around your audience's needs. Finding ways to streamline the parts of the process that can be streamlined, will help you stay focused on what's important.
Having a template to duplicate every time you want to write a new article means that you don't have to worry about creating an article outline, or setting up titles, table of content lists, call to actions etc. All of that is taken care of for you. So you can focus on creating amazing content without being taken out of your flow.
How To Create Your Own Article Template
Step 1: Identify your primary content format/s
To create your own article template, start by thinking about the type of content that you are publishing. Are you writing a how-to guide, a project tutorial, compiling a list of resources, creating a step-by-step checklist or are you creating content that is a combination of one or more of these?
Step 2: Find examples of your chosen content format/s
If your chosen content format is a how-to guide, try and find examples of articles written by other people that follow this format. Once you have a few, write a list of things that are the same, or different. Maybe they follow a similar outline, or include more than one form of media like text, images and video content etc. It can also be helpful to record what you do and don't like about your articles too.
A good way to find examples of your chosen content format, is to use a search engine to search for '[topic][format]'. For example, if you wanted to find how-to guides for writing articles, you could search for 'How to write articles' or 'Article writing guide' etc.
Step 3: Write three articles without a template
By now, you will have a good idea of what kind of content is commonly included for your chosen article format/s. You also have some idea of the things you like and dislike about these articles.
We are not going to convert this information into a template, because it will be too rigid. Instead, it's better for your template to evolve from your natural process. However, the research you did above will help give you a sense of direction while you write your first few articles.
Instead, the best way to come up with your own template, is to record your current process for writing articles. Literally write down everything you do. The more detailed you are, the more material you will have to chisel down later when it comes to creating your first template. When you are doing this, it helps to create a seperate record for each of the articles you write, so that you can compare them in the next step.
Step 4: Merge your three process records
Once you have recorded your article creating process for three or more articles, it's time to merge them into a single process document. The reason we need at least three process records to to do this, is because it's easier to use your birdseye view to see the tasks you repeated across all projects, rather than getting lost in all of the details.
Step 5: Create your first article template
The final step is to turn all of your research into an article template. I'd recomment setting up your template in whichever editor you are going to be using to publish your real articles. If you are using Wordpress, your template could be saved as a draft document. If like me you are using Jekyll, your template could be written in Markdown or HTML.
Example Of My Own Article Template
Whenever I want to create a new article for Essentialist Dev (a Jekyll site), I go to my drafts folder, then make a copy of my template and move it into my live post folder, with the following command in the terminal:
cp 2020-01-01-template.html ../_posts 2020-04-29-new-article-name.html
The command above says copy
cp my article template
2020-01-01-template.html and paste it into the posts directory
../_posts with the date and name of my new article
When I open my template, it looks like this:
Clickable article card variables (front matter)
My template starts with front matter, which sets up a few key variables that I use to generate the clickable article cards like the featured image, author, and leading text etc. Before I created this template, I had to open up a different article, copy the front matter (because I could never remember the variables) and paste them into the new article file. This is now done automatically every time I create a new article.
Hyperlinked table of contents
After the front matter, my template starts with a table of contents section. The table of contents is a list of links that when clicked, takes you straight to the relevant section of the article. My table of contents also serves as a general outline for each of my articles, including an introduction, and sections that address 'what', 'why' and 'how' questions etc. It saves me a huge amount of time having all of that HTML generated for me when I create a new article.
Along with a title in the body of my article for each of the items in my table of contents, I also include a short bit of copy. At first, I did this because it helped me get going. Instead of starting from scratch I could just fill in the blanks at the end of the sentence. I later found that it was a great way to keep my articles consistent by having a few key phrases at strategic intervals throughout the article.
Downloadable action plan
Finally, I include a link to a downloadable, dummy action plan, which reminds me to make sure I add the real one in when writing the article itself.
This article template has made the writing process far more fun for me, because I don't have to worry about the HTML structure, coming up with an outline every time or inserting download and skip to action plan links. I can focus on what's important, the content itself. Here's what an earlier version of my template looks like as a web-page:
Your challenge for this article is to think about your current article writing process and ask yourself whether you think creating an article template will help you. If yes, schedule a time to go through the article template action plan that is available for download above.
If you completed the challenge, high five for taking action! Bonus points if you leave a comment with a link to an article you have created using your own article template.