Some folks just have that touch. They capture our attention, establish an authoritative but conversational tone, and then tell us exactly what to do. And we then unquestioningly and gratefully accept and apply their advice to our lives. For these fantastically skilled people, this happens seamlessly. It’s a remarkable skill but unfortunately, not many people possess it.
Self-improvement is one of the topics bloggers discuss most frequently. On one platform alone, 300,000 articles are tagged with “self-improvement”. Readers seem to gobble up advice on productivity, entrepreneurship, health, and wellness. However, from a writer’s standpoint, there are good and not-as-good ways to convey this information. And from a reader's standpoint, there are some things to watch out for.
I like to think of it as a relationship. If I went out with my husband and said, “You must stop wasting time and live your life now!” he might be a little taken aback. If, though, I told him that I had read an article about the benefits of seizing the moment or that I was proud of my productivity for the past week, he might be more willing to engage in the conversation.
The fact is that if a writer tells a reader in a self-improvement article what they “must,” “should” or “shouldn’t” do, they’d better have a good reason. I’m sad to see that many self-improvement articles fall flat without a few key components.
So, how does an author set themselves up as an authority on a topic? Well, there are two things that I find reassuring when I’m reading a self-improvement article:
You’ve been there, done that
One great reason to give advice to a reader via a self-improvement article is that you’ve personally experienced a positive change in your life due to . . . whatever you’re writing about. Maybe you sipped lemon water every day for a month and felt more energetic, achieved top writer status from a specifically targeted writing technique, or found enlightenment after meditating for a year.
If you have been there and done that, you can share your experience with authority. Granted, your experience may not be like someone else’s, but you can most likely provide valuable information to readers because you are living proof of whatever you’re writing about.
I love articles that tell me about the before, the after, and all of the steps in between. It’s like a good makeover on a talk show or a rerun of The Biggest Loser. Additionally, as a writer/self-experimenter, you can advise your readers on exactly how to do what you did.
Here’s a good example of a great “been there, done that” article by Natasha Serafimovska. She could’ve simply written an article advising readers to leave their jobs if they aren’t happy, added in a few inspirational quotes, and called it a day. Instead, she tried it first and walked the reader (step by step) through her process. Your “been there, done that” article could be as small as “I tried goat yoga for the first time” or as big as “I spent a year in a closet, and here’s how I survived.”
You’ve done the (legitimate) research
If I see one more person citing Wikipedia as a legitimate source, I will throw my cat across the room. Maybe it’s the academic in me, but this drives me nuts (I was a dean at a university in a past life). Do you know what drives me even more nuts? Random claims without any research at all.
Medium is an exceptional place to write . . . anything. This is why I love this platform. I could wake up one morning and write about my pet praying mantis or I could decide to write about nothing other than the fact that I’m sad. It’s all fair game on this fantastic site.
Here’s the problem, though. Specifically with self-improvement articles, if a writer makes a claim and they don’t have qualifications in whatever field they’re writing about, it might be wrong. If you decide to write an article about, say, the physical benefits of drinking coffee in the morning (and you’re not a doctor), you need research to back up your claims. The same goes for pretty much any claim that you make that isn’t publicly accepted knowledge.
And, while we’re talking about research, I recommend verifying your sources. When I first started writing many years ago, I will admit that I cited a few other people’s blogs. I now realize that’s not cool. It’s the literary equivalent of spreading a rumor.
Unless the blog you’ve cited also cites something else reputable, you don’t know if that blog is providing legitimate information. And, in that case, you should always go to the source to make sure the information wasn’t truncated or changed. It’s like playing a game of telephone in grade school. (Not to mention, some blogs are commercial platforms selling something couched as unbiased content.) Incidentally, Google Scholar is a great place to look for sources.
Even if you are an expert in your topic, citing reputable sources can give your reader a way to get more information if they want to dive into a topic. Additionally, it adds credibility to your article and boosts reader confidence.
The advice in this article is simply presented from my standpoint as a reader . . . so, take it or leave it. I love learning things from writers on all platforms, but I trust and remember those writers who speak from experience and validate their claims.
At the end of the day, I just plain love self-improvement articles. I read them, I write them, and I believe I am a healthier and more productive human because of them. Let’s work together to create pieces that educate, entertain, and improve their readers. The most important thing is to either be the expert in a topic or to find someon who is.
What else do you look for in a good self-improvement piece? Are there any examples you’d recommend we all read? Leave them in the comments. I’m all eyes. :)