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How I use Retrospectives to Write Better Articles

How looking back can help you leap forward

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I like to apply ideas from my work life to my writing, and one of those is running retrospectives.

In a nutshell, I define a retrospective is —

Opportunities to reflect upon one’s previous work/process and find improvements to be used moving forward

After a week has passed and my article is out of the publication’s limelight, I run a retrospective on that piece.

This simple activity has allowed me to keep front-of-mind what has and hasn’t worked, allowing me to apply my learnings to future articles.

Here’s how I do it.


1 —I carefully read comments and feedback from everywhere

After each article, I carefully read through all of the feedback I get and make notes on what was said.

I say carefully here because not all feedback is relevant.

Why?

Some people will leave feedback that doesn’t really tell you much about why they don’t agree or dislike that point.

I didn’t like it just because. Helpful!

Others will leave you feedback you can use and act upon.

I’ve had great comments from people suggesting areas I could have used to expand my piece, areas that should have been better explained and the list goes on.

For me, this also extends into my entire social network.

I always take the opportunity to ask people what pieces of an article they resonate with and why.

There really isn’t too much magic to this point, apart from the personal feedback you get some people.

Actually striking up a conversation gives you feedback, but also inspiration and thoughts for new pieces.

Not all of these “suggestions” are often nice, but they’re useful nonetheless.


2 — Analyse what was highlighted

After your article’s time in the light has passed, your article ends up looking like a nice heatmap.

I achieve this by zooming out on my browser window to about 25%, and looking down the page at how many pieces were highlighted.

This heatmap is incredibly valuable!
An example of how one of my articles ends up looking like a heatmap.

Looking at how much of your article was highlighted is a great way to see if people agree with the points you’ve raised.


3 — Identify what I struggled with while writing

Every article brings different challenges for me.

Sometimes it’s the title, the actual idea of the article, the points within the article or how to lay out the article.

Whatever it was, I make a point of remembering what caused me grief. For me, this is one of the more important points because I hate roadblocks while I’m writing.

After a few articles, when I notice the same problems over and over, I focus on trying to find ways to overcome it.

This has led me to try things such as changing my scenery, reading more, reading less, trying various writing apps and many other tips.

While some haven’t worked, I’m glad that some of them have — and helped me continue on writing.


4 — Write everything down into my Notes

As I go through all of these steps, I write all of my findings down into a notebook.

Whether you use a notebook, 4 different apps, a tablet or a computer, find what works for you. I simply use the Notes app on my iPhone that allows me to then pull them up on my Mac when writing again later.

This part of the retrospective is crucial. These notes form the basis of what you look at later on when you’re writing your next article, so work on finding a format or style that suits you.

Mine isn’t rocket science, just a title and a few notes underneath of it in bullet points.

As time passes by, this stack of notes will grow and allow you to form something along the lines of a compass for you as you write.

Use it to point you towards what works and away from what doesn’t. Most importantly, keep adding to it!


So, next time you’re writing — consider using a retrospective!

Nathan Allsopp is a Sydney-based Product Manager/Designer.


Helping each other write better.