#156: Three Ways To Write A Stunning Report Overnight


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Writing a report for your website can be quite a nightmare

How are you supposed to put 20-30 pages together? And what system should you follow to get great results? That answer is remarkably simple, and plainly effective. And instead of just one way, why don't we look at three ways you can put together a great report! Let's go into report-land, shall we?

Read this episode on the website: Three Ways To Write A Stunning Report Overnight


Rice. Curry. Meat, Fish. Papad. Pickle. Vegetables.

Many, if not most of the meals we'd have when I was growing up, consisted of a what you'd easily call a well-rounded meal. But as a teenager, I couldn't wait for dinner. I was ravenous by the time I got back from school at 4 pm. I'd head to the pantry, and pick out my favourite noodles: Maggi Masala.

Boil the water, toss in the noodles and the tastemaker and “two minutes” later, I'd be well on my ate to satisfaction-land.

When creating information, it's easy to get lost in a “rice, curry, pickle, papad land”.

However, complexity is the last thing you need, because it slows you down. What you need is something that's quick, yet effective. Something you can put together for your website, or as goodies to attract clients.

In this series, we're going to look at three ways to create a report, seemingly overnight—if you have a small or even disconnected content. And we'll also look at what to do when you don't have any content at all. It might not take “two minutes” but you can put together a report that will create a solid impact.

Let's take a look at the three types of reports you could put together.

Type 1: Report that goes from C to A Type 2: Diverse, Disconnected Topic Report Type 3:One Topic, Many Angles Report

Type 1: Report that goes from C to A

How do you make a delicious rice dish in under five minutes?

Step 1: Take a cup of cooked rice. Step 2: In a frying pan, pop a teaspoon of mustard seeds and some dry red chillies in oil. Step 3: Pour the oil, mustard seeds and red chillies over the rice and add 1 ½ cup of natural yoghurt.

Notice where we started?

We didn't start with the cooked rice. Our goal was to make a delicious rice dish in under five minutes. And then we worked our way backwards, didn't we? We didn't go from A to B to C. Instead we started with the goal in mind, then rewound the steps and it wasn't very difficult to get a very tasty result.

When writing a report, it's easy to feel like you have to cover a lot of information

When I started writing marketing articles back in the year 2000, I had no idea what to write about. I'd read a book about positioning, and then borrow some of the ideas and write my own version of positioning. I'd talk to someone about how they needed to brand their product or service and then rush home to work my way through an article.

These were early days. I was struggling just to get 500 words on a page. I wasn't exactly worried about which articles got more attention than others. Even so, it was hard to ignore how some articles got far greater views than others.

One such article was about how to write headlines in three steps.

Another winner seemed to be how to tell if your business card was too busy. Again, three steps. At which point we had this bizarre idea to turn one of the articles into a report. We did nothing more than put the very same information into a PDF.

We added some graphics, made the report look all pretty and then put it on the website as an incentive to sign up to the newsletters. If you've ever subscribed to the Psychotactics newsletter, you're likely to have seen and read this report. The reason why it works is because it's short, but more importantly it starts with Point C.

It shows you how to build a headline in a few minutes, that's what it does.

With the goal firmly in mind, it walks you through Step A, Step B and then in a matter of 8-10 pages you're at Step C. It's not unlike the method used to make the yoghurt rice, is it? You're not creating a complex document. All you're really doing is getting a client to get to a specific point, no matter how small the point.

We might believe a report needs to be more detailed, certainly more complex to be taken seriously

Instead what you'll quickly realise is that clients want the quick wins. And if the quick win is small, so much the better. If I were to give you a recipe of a biryani (another rice dish), with 30 ingredients, you're not likely to make that dish, are you?

Yet, a 5-minute shot at yoghurt rice couldn't go so terribly wrong, could it? In the worst possible scenario you'd waste five minutes, wouldn't you? Having a simple report that starts at C and works its way backwards in about three steps is what makes it easy to create a ton of reports—if you want to do so—that is.

But why create a ton of reports?

Let's say your site covers different topics, or has different products or services. Let's say you get to the Psychotactics site and land on a page about resistance. Would you be more likely to sign up for a report on resistance or on a topic like consumption? And if you were to land on a page about consumption, would you want more information on consumption or suddenly be fascinated with the topic of resistance?

Having multiple pages with reports embedded in them helps a client land on a page, read an article, and then find a report that's closely matching up with the article itself. Best of all, that report doesn't promise a tonne of information, but instead has three tiny steps to get the client to a result.

If you're wondering if you have to create a report for every page, no you don't. We have topics such as websites, article writing, consumption, uniqueness, etc. And if you have five-seven broad topics, you can create five-seven quick reports on each individual topic.

But back to the headline report

That report itself has been responsible for getting tens of thousands of clients over the years. When I put up a figure, I say it's been downloaded over 55,000 times, but that's being overly conservative. That headline report has been downloaded at least over 100,000 times and possibly a lot more. What's important is that the report didn't take time to put together. And when you look back, it didn't even have much of a strategy.

If you're teaching Photoshop, show your clients how to get from A-C in three steps.

If you're selling blue-tac, show your clients how to use it in three-steps. Almost any product or service can be quickly reduced to a specific subset, and then you can show the client how to get to that result quickly and consistently. Try the yoghurt rice. It takes five minutes. It takes three steps. It would make a good report, that's for sure. A one page report, but the moment you tried it, you'd be hooked. You'd want more, wouldn't you? And that's the magic of a C-A report. It's quick to put together and the client loves it.

But that's only one way to create a report. What if you wanted some variety, instead?

Let's look at the second option where you have a report with content that's diverse and seemingly completely disconnected.

Type 2: Diverse, Disconnected Topic Report

“Bring a plate”.

Sometimes, when you go to a party in New Zealand, you're told “bring a plate”.

For anyone born in Kiwi land, such an expression isn't very odd. But you have no idea how many immigrants think it's a crockery problem. They somehow think the host must have just a few plates, and bringing a plate along will help ease the dinnerware issue.

“Bring a plate” just means bring some food along, because we're having a potluck party

And if there's anything I detest when it comes to food, it's a potluck party. Barbecue chicken mingles with wontons, and chickpeas with some tomato-ketchup concoction. For me, it's a culinary nightmare. The textures, colours, and especially the tastes are a complete mishmash.

But really, no one cares about me

They're having too much fun with their chickpeas and tomato-concoction. And sometimes being a little stuck up at a party, is similar to being stuck up when creating a report. It's easy to believe that a report has to go from C to A, or has to work with a single topic. In reality, reports just do fine, potluck style.

We tried this in the membership site at 5000bc

One of the perks of 5000bc is something called the Vanishing Reports. At first, I was an absolute stickler about the reports. They all had to have a sequence. They all had to somehow take you from one point to another. Then, I realised that's hardly the way I read anything.

At this very moment, I'm reading about the “butterfly effect”, “the moons of Jupiter,” “creativity” and “confidence”. That sounds very mishy-mashy, doesn't it? Which is why we trialled reports that had a combination of “pricing, conversion, starting up, and a whole bunch of topics that seemingly didn't sit side by side with each other.

And it worked!

Sometimes the report will have super-duper-ultra focus. Like Report No. 59: The Magical Time-Saving Powers of Evernote. Or Report No.6: Three Core Steps To A Viral Campaign. But Report No.60: How To Keep Learning and Growing for Success, or Report No.45: Good Business Habits ,can have a bit of bacon baguettes jostling with the wontons.

This revelation shouldn't have surprised me because that's how I read, and how a lot of people tend to read. A newspaper, for instance, is a bit of a mishmash, isn't it? A magazine, that's definitely all over the place. Blogs, podcasts, videos: they all seem to follow a slightly random pattern without us so much blinking an eye.

What does this mean for you, however?

It means that you may not have ten articles on a single topic. You may run a yoga site, and some articles might be about stretching, some may be about shavasana, some may be about what the client needs to do on a full moon night. They're seemingly disconnected, but it still makes for a splendid report, doesn't it? And better still, you don't even need ten articles.

Just three-four, okay five articles. That's just fine because every article will probably span 2-3 pages and if you slip in the introduction and a bit of an epilogue, you're looking at a decent fifteen to seventeen pages of content.

And despite the mishmash, you can create a strong feeling of cohesion within the report

There are two elements that create a connection. The first point of focus is the title. If you're going to put together a bunch of unconnected pieces of content, the title must somehow tie the content neatly together. Interestingly, you can veer down the non-specific route when creating a title.

E.g. How to create “hidden magic” in your business. Or “Good Business Habits”. As I veer my chair to my left to look at the titles of some books, I see a title like “The Non-designers Design Book” by Robin Williams. Or “Design it Yourself” by Chuck Green. Or “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins.

All of these books may, on the face of it, look incredibly focused, but one look within the pages and they're a disparate bunch of articles that have a workable title and one other element that is probably more important. In most of the books—and this applies to reports as well—there's a bridge between the chapters.

This second element isn't utterly crucial, but it's nice to have

Notice how this piece of content connected from the first type of report to the second? A bit earlier in this piece, you read about the report that goes from C to A. And then as we got to the end, we could just stop dead, or create a bit of a bridge. The last few lines spoke about how the C to A report is potent, but what if you wanted more variety? And then it suggested that there was a second kind of report—the report that had diverse, disconnected topics.

It's the kind of thing you should be doing: creating a bridge

As you come to the end of your piece in the report, build up the anticipation for the second piece. As the second piece winds to a close, it's time to shine the spotlight on the third, and so on. A simple set of lines at the end of the content create enough of glue to bind seemingly random topics together. We're not talking about mixing auto-repair and gardening in a report on business, but you get the point, don't you?

That isn't to say I like potluck parties. I guess I never will. Yet, as we've seen, it works just fine with reports.

Are we done, yet?

Not quite. There's still one more kind of report. Which as you might have guessed is the most obvious one of all. It's the report that consists of a single topic. It seems pretty self-explanatory, doesn't it? Still, let's take a look at why that kind of report is much-loved and how to go about creating it in a way that is pretty magical.

Type 3: One Topic, Many Angles Report

On 29th March 1974, farmers in the Xi'an district of China stumbled on a treasure that was to rival the Great Wall of China.

The farmers real goal was to find water for their crops, when they stumbled on a beautifully sculpted head. The more they began to dig, the more they found hundreds, and then thousands of soldiers—terracotta soldiers. This was the army of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of unified China.

Over 8000 terracotta warriors, cavalry, charioteers, foot soldiers and archers, were built to accompany the emperor into the afterlife. These terracotta soldiers were created using moulds and seem to have an early assembly-line construction.

And this is where the story gets really interesting

Most of the hands of the Terracotta Army appear identical. Yet, when you look closer ever single soldier seems to have completely unique facial features. Every one it seems came from similar moulds, but somehow got tweaked just a little bit to create a high level of uniqueness.

When creating reports, a single mould; a single topic can be tweaked in dozens, possibly thousands of ways as well

Which is why a report on a single topic can be so very powerful. The information that seems to emanate from one source suddenly creates a wealth of sub-topics that become very attractive to the reader. What is being suggested here, is that you can you have a single topic and have dozens of sub-topics. Each sub-topic represents an article and several such articles become a fascinating report. To get the one-topic report going, all you have to do is first start with the topic and add a few sub-topics.

Let's take a topic like headlines, for starters.

What kind of sub-topics could we generate?

Testimonial Headlines: How To Get Your Clients To Write Your Headlines Bottom-Up Headlines: How To Use Headlines As Email Signatures Keywords And headlines How To Avoid Potluck Headlines Why Unclear Topics Lead to Unfocused Headlines How To Use The Attraction Factor of Knew and New (When Writing Headlines) How to Write Intensely Powerful Headlines Without Using Keywords

What you're experiencing is the creating of a Terracotta Army

The topic, in this case, headlines, is pretty mundane. Even so, if you leave your computer, and your Internet connection behind and head to the cafe, you're likely to be able to come up with several sub-topics for any given topic. You may not end up writing great headlines right at the start, but you'll have a bunch of topics nonetheless. Let's take an example from Photoshop, for instance. Let's not get lost in the Photoshop universe, however.

If you've done just a bit of homework, you'll quickly figure out that you can just pick one sub-topic in Photoshop. Let's say for instance, that sub-topic is “Selections and Layer Masks in Photoshop”. Ready, let's run through the sub-sub-topics, shall we?

Okay, Selections and Layer Masks, here we come!

Using the Marquee and Lasso tools Combining selections Converting a selection into a layer mask Using the Quick Selection tool Selecting soft-edged objects using Refine Edge Touching up a layer mask with the Brush tool

Granted that all of the above topics may seem alien to you at this point, but just talking about Photoshop does bring up an interesting story.

When I first got to New Zealand I had a job as a web designer

Within six months, I was made redundant and needed to get some work as a cartoonist. This took me to several ad agencies, and in these ad agencies you tend to deal with art directors. As they were leafing through my portfolio, I would tell them how I used photoshop to do my illustrations. And how I would use Photoshop without the toolbar and double my speed and productivity.

This little nugget would get them instantly interested and at least a few of them asked whether I could teach them how to speed up their own use of photoshop. It led to jobs where I would charge $60 an hour training them individually.

However, it's not like I was outstanding at Photoshop. For instance, all of the points that we have just covered with layer masks would have been beyond my reach. Even so, I would be able to watch the videos several times, get fluent at the skill, and then in turn be able to teach it.

Any topic quickly cascades into sub-topics

And sub-topics in turn become a bit of an avalanche as you dig just below the surface. What's extremely exciting when you sit down to write a report, is that you don't need the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang. A report can be extremely powerful with just three-four articles.

However, it's still an excellent idea to go into caffeine-land and brainstorm the topics and sub-topics needed. You may use the bare minimum needed for a report, but you can use the others to create more single focus reports in the future.

All of this brainstorming has a wonderful series of side effects

When you sit down to brainstorm the topics and sub-topics, you realise that you know quite a lot and can write about several topics for your report in detail. However, this very same brainstorming session may be a cause for intimidation. When I was called upon to teach those art directors, I knew a bit of Photoshop, but by no means was I well versed in every facet of the program.

For instance, “Selection Layers and Masks” were definitely something that I hadn't learned about.

This exposed my weakness and there are two ways to handle any weakness. You can pretend that you were not born with innate Photoshop skills, or you can simply pick up a book or video and learn the skills. I have no inborn skills, as far as I know, so I just learned and taught and learned an taught.

To this day, a decent chunk of what I do is something that I've learned along the way. If I find any gaps, well that's what learning is all about isn't it? I learn and then I teach and that is the lesson you can use for your report as well.

This learn and teach method is slower, no doubt

However, we are all beginners at some point in time and having information to share is not going to be at our fingertips. In such a scenario, it's a better idea to simply use the “learn and teach” method. It's more tedious, but I can assure you that almost everyone has to go through an almost identical method when they run into new material.

Not knowing enough about a topic is pretty normal, but what's also normal is that a lot of people intimidate themselves and give up. If you're made of sterner stuff, you'll quickly realise that you can put together a report just by learning about the topic, trying it out yourself and then tying it all together in a nice little PDF, or even a video or audio report.

Having a single topic is a great way to focus, if you're creating new material

If you've already created content in the past, it's easier to find as well. For instance, if I needed to write about topics like pricing, planning, productivity, etc, it would be quite an easy task to go digging through the archives and finding three-four articles on just one topic.

And there you have it

You might have to slog a bit if you aren't familiar with the topic or sub-topics, but it's not an earth-shattering task. For instance, I still don't know a lot about layer masks, and that list I got from the Lynda.com site.

If I wanted to move deeper into the world of layer masks, I'd have to have access to the site (which I do) and about 43 minutes of learning. Even if I were to go over the videos thrice over, that would still require fewer than two hours of work. But that scenario only arises if you're a complete newbie.

If you've been creating content for a while, it's really a matter of collation, some tea or coffee-drinking and you've got yourself a report that's pretty single-minded. It's no army but you don't need an army do you? You don't even need a corps or division, no brigade, regiment, battalion or company. Not even a platoon, squad. Just a section—just 3 or 4 little foot soldiers will do the job just fine, don't you agree?

And that brings us to the end of “how to create a report”. Let's review what we've just learned.


There are three ways to cook up a quick report. 1) Report that goes from C-A 2) Diverse, Disconnected Topic Report 3) One Topic, Many Angles Report

The report that goes from C-A starts at the very end—and yes, three steps are usually enough of a journey for the client. Start with C and work your way back to A because it ensure a result. Anything that you can achieve in three quick steps is a good enough target. Ideally it needs to pertain to something you're selling.

For example, if you're in the business of gardening then your report would consist of three steps to get something done quickly and effectively in the garden. You don't want to name the report: “3 steps to a better blah-blah-blah”. It's better to give it a curious title, instead. E.g. The title of the headline report on the Psychotactics site is “Why Headlines Fail” and then it goes on to give three steps within the report, anyway. The C-A report is powerful because it has an end point.

However, the diverse, disconnected report seeks no such end-point clarity

If anything, it's a bit of a potluck party. You put in various pieces of content that seemingly don't have any sequence or relation to each other, but come under the broad umbrella of a topic. For instance, the podcast series at Psychotactics is called the “Three Month Vacation”. One episode of the podcast can be about pricing, the second about productivity and the third about software. Even though they're quite diverse topics, they're still bound under the topic of “marketing and business”. The concept of potluck that you hear on the podcast can just as easily be a sure-fire method of creating reports.

Finally we looked at one topic and many angles

Or let's call it topics and sub-topics. Or even sub-sub-topics. A bit of a brainstorm session, and time away from the office can do wonders. Even if you're no pro at the topics or sub-topics, you can quickly spot where you're weak. You can then learn and master the topics, and pass on the knowledge in your own style, tone and language to someone else. In case you're wondering, this isn't plagiarism.

Plagiarism is when you simply “photocopy” someone's work and pass it off as your own. This method of learning and teaching is what everyone needs to follow, and it's simply a form of “tracing” or “copying” and then using your own method to get it to your eventual client. It's why yoga teaching aspirants go to yoga training centres, or why we attend workshops and seminars. We learn, so we can teach.

Which brings us right back to the yoghurt rice. Remember the recipe?

Step 1: Take a cup of cooked rice. Step 2: In a frying pan, pop a teaspoon of mustard seeds and some dry red chillies in oil. Step 3: Pour the oil, mustard seeds and red chillies over the rice and add 1 ½ cup of natural yoghurt.

Go try it. You'll love it. Oh, and if you like, keep it in the fridge for an hour or so. It's delicious when it's cold.

Bon appétit!

Next Step: With tens of thousands of similar products or services in the market, it seems impossible to make your product stand out.But is there a way to make your product/service irresistible—and without looking cheesy? Find out how here: The Two Psychological Techniques To Creating An Irresistible Product/Service (And Increased Sales)

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