Using A Checklist To Format Your Blog Posts
I’m a retired submariner, and submariners live by checklists.
We used a huge checklist for starting up the nuclear reactor, and another huge checklist for shutting it down. We used more checklists for operating the submarine: diving, surfacing, coming to periscope depth, or snorkeling. We used checklists for emergencies: while you were fighting the fire or stopping the flooding, someone was always reviewing the checklist and calling out helpful suggestions. Submariners who couldn’t use checklists didn’t last very long.
We even used checklists for flushing the toilets. (I swear I am not making this up.) You could judge the diligence of your shipmates by whether they correctly used the flushing valves… or by how many times they had to clean up after themselves.
Yeah, my family still uses checklists today at Hale Nords. (It’s mostly me– you can imagine how enthusiastic my spouse and daughter are about this habit.) But flushing domestic toilets is a lot easier than submarine toilets, so no checklists are posted in our bathrooms.
I used to take a lot of
abuse teasing for my checklist philosophy until best-selling author (and surgeon) Atul Gawande published his Checklist Manifesto.
Suddenly hospitals, first responders, businesses, universities, schools, and other teams across the nation began using checklists to make sure that they got things right every time.
This checklist mentality naturally applied to my writing. When I started blogging, I looked everywhere for the checklists. After all, if the Associated Press journalists write their articles with a stylebook, then I wanted to run my blog with a standard format too. But much to my dismay, hundreds of millions of bloggers are somehow blissfully ignorant of the compelling need for checklists.
I kept searching for an answer. I wanted to start each blog post with a framework of the post’s structure. I wanted to use the right HTML in the right places. I also wanted to make sure that I had the images formatted correctly, and that I remembered to add other features to the post, in the same way, every time.
Best of all, I’d be able to quickly format a post and move on to the next project.
I eventually built my own checklist with the help of the WordPress.com help forums. I posted my checklist question, and one of the bloggers suggested that I save a “draft post” file with all of my formatting in the text of the file. When I was ready to format a new post then I’d copy all of the draft post (HTML and text) over to the new post and then start adding my material.
Over the years I’ve learned a lot about formatting a blog post, and I added those tips to my checklist. The list is up to 20 reminders but I can still whip a post into shape in about 20 minutes.
At last year’s FinCon14 workshop, I mentioned this checklist. Much to my surprise, some of the other bloggers in the room were interested. Over the next few months I cleaned up my checklist and then asked Rob Aeschbach at MilitaryFinancialPlanner.com to beta-test it. He came up with some great ideas, which I’ve finally implemented.
Yeah, I know, I’ve finished this year-long project just a few days ahead of the FinCon15 Digital CoLab blogger workshop. Better late than never.
I’ve uploaded the checklist documents into this post, and you can download them using the links below.
How to use your checklist to format a blog post
In the spirit of the book (or in honor of submariners everywhere!), please make the checklist work for you. Once you have a handle on what I’ve included, then modify your list to suit your stylebook. My list is 20 steps long, but maybe you’ll go as small as three steps. As Rob says, “What do you hate to do in a blog post, or forget to do (because you hate it)?” Use the checklist to get stuff done despite being tired, distracted, or even under duress. If you don’t write every day, then use the checklist to make sure you remember everything and get it done quickly. Pick the half-dozen steps that really need to happen. You’ll do the rest of it because you enjoy it, or you might even have a new formatting idea.
All of the text of the checklist is at the bottom of this post, but these three links include extra features for your convenience.
The first link is a text file of the checklist itself. It’s as low-tech as I can make a file, and it should be compatible with every operating system and word processor. Copy this into a new draft post on your own site. Here’s the important part: save it as a draft post so that it’s never published! (From now on, you’ll never edit this draft post again– you’ll only copy it and paste it into a brand-new blank post.) When you’re ready to format a new post, then copy this checklist over to a brand-new post and begin plugging through the 20 steps.
The checklist includes some very simple HTML (mainly for links in the post). If you’re new at this, don’t worry about screwing it up. You’ll figure it out by comparing your checklist post to the original text file, and then you’ll edit your checklist post.
Once you’re comfortable with my version of the checklist, edit it to make it your checklist. Delete the steps you don’t care about, add your own, or just use it as a reminder of the little things that you need to remember for each and every post. Save it as a draft. When you’re ready to format your post, then copy your draft text into a brand-new post.
The second link is the same checklist with a more detailed explanation of each step. This post would be three times longer if I explained each feature in the checklist. I read dozens of blogs every week, and I take notes of neat ideas or nasty pitfalls. I don’t remember all the places I’ve learned these techniques over the years, but I try to explain the rationale behind each step. This list gives you the background and a detailed explanation for each step.
Use this document to add your own enhancements to the checklist. It’s also another backup copy of the checklist if you accidentally edit the original on your blog (instead of copying and pasting).
The third link is a PDF for you to save and archive. It’s deliberately hard to edit because it’s the copy you’ll refer to if you accidentally screw up your version. It opens and closes faster, and it’s easier to refer to for side-by-side comparison.
I strongly recommend that you save these documents to your hard drive and to your online backup drive. When you modify them, I’d recommend backing them up all over again. If you’re truly
paranoid experienced with data storage then you might also want to print out a copy. (I don’t want to get into how I learned this.) If you someday have your own “learning” experience, then at least you’ll have everything you need to reconstruct your checklist. Otherwise, you’ll have to hunt down this post again and restart from my original version.
By the way, I wrote this checklist when WordPress 4.3 was the latest version. If you’re using this with a later version of WordPress then some of the names or features might be out of date.
Over the last five years, I’ve learned that WordPress doesn’t work the same way on every browser and every theme. There are some features that don’t work reliably.
If I do something in a certain way and you’ve found a faster or easier way to do the same thing, then use your way. It probably works better on your system, and you can always check by saving the draft post and then previewing it.
Please let me know if something in this checklist doesn’t make sense– or if it doesn’t work! My setup might be different or my guidance could have more than one interpretation. We’ll figure it out and I’ll publish an update.
Blog post checklist text file (This link downloads a low-tech text file of the checklist without explanations.)
Blog post checklist with explanations (This link downloads a robust Word file of the checklist, including explanations.)
Blog post checklist with explanations (This PDF is your last-ditch hardcopy backup, including explanations. Download & archive.)
The blog post checklist:
1. From the “Posts” view of your WordPress control panel, select “Edit” on the title of your checklist post draft.
- – Switch the WordPress view of this checklist to “HTML” or “Text” (so that you can copy HTML and codes as well as text).
- – Select all of this checklist text and copy it.
- – Select “Add New Post” from the WordPress sidebar.
- – Paste the entire checklist text to your fresh draft of a new post.
- – Switch the WordPress view of this new post back to “Visual” (if you prefer to work from this view).
2. Before you add any of the new post’s text above this checklist:
- – Compose your post as a document on a word-processing program.
- – Add in bold, italics, and underlining with your word processor. (Or add this when you format the post in WordPress.)
- – The first paragraph could include the phrases “financial independence” or “military retirement”.
- – Insert the post’s link URLs in the document’s anchor text.
- – Add links for “Related posts”: copy their titles (anchor text) and URLs at the end of the document.
3. Copy and paste the text of your word-processor document in the WordPress editing window above the top of this checklist. Add a few blank lines to make sure you separate your new post from this checklist text.
4. Format the post text with bold, italics, and underlining. It might have been stripped out by the WordPress cut & paste. Save the post as a draft and then preview the result to check the text formatting.
5. Format all of the link anchor text (including related links) with color code #bb133e.
- – Select “Text color” and click on “Custom” at the bottom of the color palette.
- – Edit the “#” field with the code for your chosen color. (For example, “bb133e”.)
- – Click “OK”.
- – Highlight your chosen anchor text.
- – Click on “Text color” and click on the new custom color box at the bottom of the palette.
6. Sending readers to the top (if the theme doesn’t already do so):
- – Switch the WordPress view of this checklist to “HTML” or “Text”.
- – At the beginning of the post or page, add this HTML: <a id=”top”></a>
- – Anywhere in the post that you want a link to return the reader back to the top of the post, add this HTML: <a href=”#top”>(Click here to return to the top of the post.)</a>
7. Add images from your preferred stock photo website:
– Give your image a descriptive filename like “Chocolate-Chip-Cookies.jpg” and save to your drive. Make sure the filename of this image is different from the permalink URL of your post or WordPress will only display the image.
8. Insert your image(s) into your post:
- – Put your cursor in the post text where you want to add the image.
- – Select “Add Media” from the post editing screen and upload the file.
- – Choose simple display settings from “Attachment Details” like “Alignment” (Right), “Link to” (Media file), and “Size” (Medium). You can edit the rest of the attachment details from here (WordPress doesn’t always save the information from this screen) or from the image in the post.
- – Click “Insert into post”.
9. Edit your image for descriptions, SEO, and a faster display time:
- – Click on the image and select the “edit” icon.
- – Add a short caption (this will display under the image in the post).
- – Alt text: A description of the image for visually-impaired readers (and search engine indexing bots). Describe the image but feel free to stuff keywords in this text.
- – Add “| The-Military-Guide.com” to the end of the alt text (the URL is used by Pinterest).
- – Check display settings one last time.
- – If your image will be linked to another URL, change “Link to” to “Custom URL” and enter the URL. Otherwise leave the “Link to” setting as “Media File” for viewing a larger version of the image.
- – Add metatext in the “Image Title Attribute” field. This text displays when the reader’s cursor hovers over the image. Use it for additional commentary or SEO.
- – Click “Update”.
10. Check the “img” HTML for correct alt, src, and size attributes:
- – Switch your post editing view to “HTML” or “Text” and find the image’s HTML. It might start with “img” or “caption”.
- – alt= description of photo for SEO bots| The-Military-Guide.com.
- – src= The-Military-Guide.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/chocolate-chip-cookies.jpg.
- – width=”595″ height=”770″ (insert exactly what dimensions you want so it loads faster).
- – Switch the WordPress view back to “Visual” (if you prefer to work from this view).
11. HTML tables:
- – http://www.textfixer.com/html/html-table-generator.php
- – Or use a plugin like TablePress.
12. Break up a long post using h3 headers with SEO keywords.
13. Guest posts:
- – Add to the beginning of the post:
- “This post is brought to you by… ”
“If you’re interested in contributing at The-Military-Guide.com, please see our posting guidelines (sample: https://militaryguide.com/guest-posts/).”
- – Add bio of guest poster to end of the post?
- – Use red color #bb133e and italics font.
- – If applicable, use the “Custom Author Byline” boxes to insert your post author’s name and site.
14. Schedule the date and time for the post to go live.
15. Build a Twitter tweet and add hashtags:
- – If the shortlink is not in the Twitter window of the Publicize plugin, then “Save Draft”. Click on “Get Shortlink” from the Permalink line under the post title. Copy & paste that into the Twitter window.
- – Limit the use of hashtags to a total tweet length of about 125 characters for easy retweets: #military #sot #MilitaryLife #vets #milfam #militaryretirement #earlyretirement #milspouse @USAA @MOAA #milSO.
16. Choose the category of the post.
17. Add tags to the post:
– early retirement, military, military retirement, financial independence.
18. Featured image:
- Add an image of a book cover or some other photo. Consider editing it for Pinterest as well.
- A 640×400 pixel size (or 708×400) may be specified for some themes.
6a. Add the HTML code at the bottom of the post for returning to the top of the post (if the theme doesn’t already do this):
<span style=”color: #bb133e;”>bb133e;” href=”#top”>(Click here to return to the top of the post.)
19. Add the WordPress shortcode at the end of post text (before the “Related articles”) for displaying a book ad or some other product ad:
wpsm_woobox id=”10370″ (This shortcode would actually be surrounded with brackets, but then you’d see a book ad.)
20. Related articles:
– Move the related article anchor text and URLs to a couple lines after the book ad.
Start Your Blog– Or Outsource It!
Just Write It
Update To “Just Write It”
Beginner’s Guide To Part-Time Blogging For Money
Beginner’s Guide To Part-Time Blogging For Money (part 2 of 2)
“So Nords, why are you still blogging?”
“So Nords, why are you still blogging?” (Part 2)
“So Nords, why are you still blogging?” (Part 3 of 3)
Details Of The Blog Move
The Checklist Manifesto: How To Get Things Right
Creating and promoting the perfect blog post (courtesy of Chris Ducker, two weeks after I drafted this post)