By Nick Tumminello
Many health and fitness professionals come to me about writing. Either they’re looking for guidance on how to begin writing or they’re after advice on how to improve the quality of the content their writing about. Writing is such a powerful method of contributing to the field, but it’s something so many trainers and coaches struggle with. In this article, I’m providing my 10 tips for writing great articles in the fitness & conditioning field.
Simple and practical tips for formulating your article ideas and content, for creating your article’s framework, and for ensuring your work stands out from the rest are all covered here.
Note: No matter how many articles I’ve got published, I’m still not a writer. I’m a trainer who happens write often about training. This is an important delineation to make because,within the context of this article, when I talk about writing great articles, I’m speaking about it from a quality of content perspective – not from an editorial one.
Now, before we talk shop, there are two things that I first want to address and clarify.
The antidote for lots of bad information is more good information.
First off, complaining that, “Anyone can put anything they want online” is ridiculous because that’s what happens when you have a free market of ideas. You sure as heck don’t want to be in a place that isn’t a free market of ideas where people are telling you what you can and can’t say online.
If you want to influence people, you have to know what’s already influencing them. We know that people are going on the Internet to get information – you reading this article is evidence of this reality. That said, many health and fitness professionals get hung up on the fact that there is already so much (conflicting) information out there, with much of this information being of poor quality and coming from unreliable sources. This makes them question whether they should even bother writing articles of their own.
Put simply, of course you should bother writing articles because the answer to having lots of articles from unreliable sources certainly isn’t to have zero articles from reliable sources; it’s for reliable sources to write more articles – better articles!
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There’s no disguising weak work.
Make no mistake, success in writing articles begins and ends with whether or not the information you’re providing resonates with people and they find it to be meaningful.
All of the following article writing tips provided below can surely help you to better communicate what you’re trying to get across in your article, but, as the saying goes – you can’t polish a turd.
Tip 1: Write about your areas of passion and expertise.
Many trainers and coaches often have trouble deciding what to write about. This is usually because they try to outthink themselves. It’s really pretty easy! Write articles about:
- What you talk about often
- What you think about often
- What you get asked about often
- What you do often in your professional practice
Basing your articles on the topics listed above ensures you’ll be writing about familiar things that you’re excited about, and that are important to you (and others). You can’t write a great article unless you’re writing on something(s) you’re passionate about and on something that you’re familiar with. Sure, the information you write about may be new to the reader, but it shouldn’t be new to you.
Tip 2: First, establish your take-home points.
Once you’ve decided on your article topic (see tip #1), most people will want to start with an outline of the article. However, I recommend you begin by first establishing the major points you want to make in the article. Write them down in bullet point format.
The reason why I recommend starting here is because it’s these main take-home points that are the reason for why you’re writing the article to begin with. The outline and what follows are all establishing how you’re going to go about doing it.
If you don’t know what the main points are that you’re trying to get across, you don’t know why you’re even writing the article to begin with, or even if it’s worthwhile to write – much less how to go about formulating the article. Not to mention – once you’ve established your main take-home points, you can then decide what order is best to make each point within the article. This creates the outline (the skeleton) of your article.
Tip 3: Help people to see different things or to see things differently.
Think about the people in the health and fitness field for whom you have respect, and regularly turn to for information. You’ll find that their work stands out to you and resonates with you not just because you find the information they provide to be valuable, but also because you find it to be unique and original. This is because they either give you new ideas and/or because they have their own unique style of communication that helps you to see things you’re already familiar with in a different manner, a different perspective. So when you’re evaluating your take-home points, you want to make sure they also fit these criteria so your work stands out to readers, and resonates with them in this same manner.
Now, anytime I talk about originality and uniqueness in the context of providing fitness and conditioning information, many trainers and coaches start arguing that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel and pointing out that it’s problematic to be different just for the sake of being different. I totally agree with that, which is why it isn’t at all what I’m talking about here. When I encourage trainers and coaches to write original and unique content and avoid just being a cover band for someone else in the field, I’m not talking about trying to reinvent the wheel; I’m talking about showcasing your own unique brand of wheels.
Put simply, showcasing your own brand of wheels through articles (and other educational platforms) comes down to 1) communicating in your own unique voice and style about 2) your rationale for why you do what you do while 3) highlighting the methods and techniques you use that have come from that rationale, and 4) sharing your experiences from using those methods and techniques.
Tip 4: Focus on the need-to-know information instead of the nice-to-know information.
Using the adage, “Teach a person to fish versus give them a fish,” most evidence-based educational resources focus most of their efforts on covering basic physiology, reviewing the general scientific principles of exercise and periodization and discussing several relevant studies. Then, at the end, they may wrap-up with providing a few practical programming recommendations. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t really do much to teach you how to fish (i.e., provide a clear, practical programming instruction and direction). All it does is focus mostly on telling you what equipment is required to go fishing, what materials the fishing equipment is made up of, and what studies have been done on catching various types of fish.
To bridge this gap and to actually help the health and fitness professional learn how to become better at doing their job and to help exercise enthusiasts train smarter, the order and focus of fitness continuing education articles (and live courses, for that matter) must change. This means focusing your take-home points on the need-to-know information instead of the nice-to-know information. We’re all aware of the fact that one can learn how to make a variety of paper airplanes without ever knowing much about the laws of aerodynamics responsible for their flight. Sure, understanding the intricacies of aerodynamics are nice to know, as it can give one a deeper appreciation for paper airplane making, but it’s not necessary to be able to make paper airplanes that fly well.
This also means spending less time talking about the details of various relevant research studies and spending more time talking about what the evidence says and practical strategies for how you use it in our everyday practice.
Tip 5: In the intro, tell people how they’ll benefit from reading your article.
In the intro of the article, you want to write something that catches the reader and tells them 1) who the article is for along with 2) how they’ll benefit (i.e., what they’ll learn) from taking the time to read the rest of your article.
It’s important to realize that you only have a few sentences to do this before people decide whether or not to stick around. One of the main reasons why I write articles and blogs is to provide practical solutions to real world issues that health and fitness professionals face. Therefore, one of the things I like to do in the intro is to identify a common problem and then quickly describe how my article provides a (potential) solution(s) to it. You may have noticed that this is exactly what I did in the introduction portion of this article.
Tip 6: In the main body of the article cover the Who, What, Why and the How.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received on producing educational resources was from a mentor of mine, Bob Esquerre, which goes along with what I said in tip #4 about focusing the need-to-know information instead of the nice-to-know information. This advice is to try and answer all of the major questions before they’re asked. A simple but highly effective strategy for accomplishing this is to, in the main body of the article, address the who, what, why and how of the subject matter you’re writing about. This is especially true for pure training articles where you’re sharing specific workout techniques and exercises.
For example, in 2011 I wrote an article for PTontheNet titled MMA Circuit Conditioning – Train Like a Pro, where I provide the details for a real-world MMA workout that I’ve used many times over to prepare the fighters of Team Ground Control MMA in Baltimore MD for Shogun Fights, Showtime Elite XC, Bodog Fights, WKA’s, Reality Fighting and several other professional and amateur fight competitions. In that article, I not only included recommendations on when to begin using this type of circuit prior to the fight date, I also included sections that provided details on:
- WHO Should Use this Workout?
- WHAT Does this Workout Involve?
- WHY Does this Workout Work?
- HOW to Perform the MMA Circuit
Additionally, in that same article I also provided a Frequently Asked Questions section where I addressed and answered some other common application questions, such as:
- Can I use this workout with my regular personal training clients?
- How often should I use this circuit?
- How many circuit rounds should you do?
As you can see, if you cover most, if not all of these above criteria – depending on what best fits the subject matter and article/blog length – you’ll pretty much answer all of the most common questions before they’re asked. This is because you’ll tell the reader just about everything they need to know in order hit the ground running using the techniques and applications you’re highlighting.
Additionally, it’s important to note that, although these above criteria apply most easily to articles that cover training techniques and applications, these criteria still apply to more philosophical and scientific articles. In that, using these criteria to shape the framework of any article ensure that you create a resource that’s all killer and no filler.
Tip 7: Address common counterarguments and misinterpretations.
When most people write articles and blogs, they often only think about what they want to say and fail to consider what others may say in response. In this day and age, everyone has an opinion on your opinion. So, if you want to write better, more comprehensive articles and blogs, you also want to think about all of the potential reasonable and worthwhile counter-arguments and misinterpretations you’ll likely get from readers so can you address those points in your article before your readers even make them. This is exactly what I did in the second paragraph of tip #3 in this article.
If you don’t already have a good idea of what the common misinterpretations to what you’re saying are, or what the popular counterarguments are from people who may have a different view on things, you can use Facebook to help you. I’ve done this many times. If there’s a situation where I‘m having a hard time thinking of how someone else might misinterpret what I’m saying, or if I think I’ve got a pretty airtight argument, I’ll post certain excerpts from the article I’m currently writing to see what others say in response to it. Sometimes there are some good comments made – usually among many more poorly thought-out comments that you just bypass. If so, I’ll know if I need to rethink how I’m saying something to minimize misinterpretations along with some common counterarguments that I need to also address and disarm in the article.
In addition to using Facebook to benefit you in writing better articles, you can and should also talk about what you plan on saying in your article with other smart colleagues. Not only does this expose you to some of the potential misinterpretations and counterarguments you may face from readers, but it also gives you an opportunity to rehearse your material. This helps you to better organize your thoughts on the matter and therefore refine the way you’re communicating in your article(s). Not to mention, sometimes your colleagues or people on Facebook will bring up relevant aspects of the subject matter that you originally neglected to consider, but feel are important to include in your article.
Tip 8: Take your time!
Piggy-backing on what I just said above, unless you’re on a tight deadline, I recommend you take some time to talk shop with several of your colleagues based on the first or second draft you’ve got written, not just to see what they have to say (see tip #7), but also to see how your article sounds and flows. This will help you to make the appropriate adjustments in your final version.
I also recommend you wait about a week after writing the final version of your article to do your final proof read. Doing this allows you to come back with fresh eyes. At this point it’s almost like reading someone else’s work, so you’ll have a better perspective on what last edits and adjustments need to made in order to get your article ready for primetime.
Tip 9: Make it empowering and inspiring.
An article (i.e., a written educational experience) doesn’t offer anyone much value if the author simply tries to impress the reader or make them feel inferior by using lots of cool jargon and technical information about physiology, biomechanics, the latest research etc. but fails to provide any practical applications ((i.e., meaningful information) from it.
Going back to what I covered above in tip #3, this doesn’t always mean that you’ll be adding new training techniques and applications. It can also mean that you’ve highlighted why and how the reader can eliminate certain concepts and techniques from their training as you may have discovered that they may not be as valuable as you once thought. It might also help the reader to refine the techniques they’re currently using.
In other words, writing great articles isn’t about trying to do something to the reader, its about trying to do something for the reader by providing them with resources that empower them with some knowledge that they feel inspired to go utilize.
Tip 10: Only publish articles that you’d want to read.
Sure, most of what I’ve said here could apply to anyone in any field who wishes to write articles. However, I’m writing to my audience, to people just like me because I know how they want to learn and can teach them in a way that clicks. That’s my final recommendation for writing great articles:
Write to your audience about what you’d want to learn and in a manner that you’d want to learn about it in. Provide them with the tools and resources that you wished were available to you. Write the articles you’d want to read.
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Related content from Nick: How to Write for Fitness Magazines