How to Close With Style

This week on The Lede, we take one more big step in our podcast journey through the essential elements of a blog post.

By the way, did you know that this podcast series is based on the most shared Copyblogger post of 2014?

It is — and if you haven’t checked out the infographic for yourself and shared it yet, rectify that here.
On this episode we analyze number ten: how to close with style.

And much to my delight, I got to kick off the festivities with a dramatic reading of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies.

In this episode, Demian and I discuss the following:

  • Why is the ending so important?
  • The primacy and recency effects and what they mean
  • What it means to “shrink the change” in your closing (and why it works)
  • The five ways to close a blog post (plus a bonus #6!)
  • How to use emotion in the close
  • How to nail the last line
  • Why your ending needs to bring your post full circle

And much more.

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The Show Notes

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Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.

The Lede Podcast: How to Close With Style

Jerod Morris: Welcome back to The Lede, a podcast about content marketing by Copyblogger Media. I’m your host, Jerod Morris.

If you want to get a content marketing education while you’re packing your bags to fly to Denver for Authority Intensive, or while you’re flying 30,000 feet in the air to Denver for Authority Intensive, this podcast is the way to do it.

On this week’s episode, Demian and I resume our series on the 11 essential ingredients of a blog post. And to do so, we start off by quoting one of the greatest screenplays ever written.

“Wow ’em” in the end

All right, Demian. One of my favorite movies of all time is Adaptation. Now I know you’re not a big movie or pop culture guy, but have you ever seen it?

Demian Farnworth: Is that a…Nicholas Cage movie?

Jerod: Yes, it is.

Demian: That’s a Charlie Kauffman movie?

Jerod: Yes, it is.

Demian: Yes, I’ve seen it.

Jerod: Okay! You have seen it.

Demian: Yes.

Jerod: So, okay. The movie follows the screenplay writer, Charlie Kauffman…

Demian: Right.

Jerod: …who, of course, also happens to be the actual screenplay writer, because it’s a very meta movie like that.

Demian: (Laughs)

Jerod: And so he’s struggling to adapt this book, and he gets so desperate for ideas that he goes to a screenwriters’ conference hosted by the great Robert McKee, played brilliantly in the film by Brian Cox. And here’s the catalytic piece of advice that McKee gives to Kauffman:

I’ll tell you a secret. The last act makes a film. Wow ’em in the end, and you’ve got a hit. You can have flaws, problems; but wow them in the end, and you’ve got a hit. Find an ending, but don’t cheat, and don’t you dare bring in a deus ex machina. Your characters must change, and the change must come from them. Do that, and you’ll be fine.

Now, McKee is speaking specifically about a movie here, but it’s really not that much different for a blog post. Wow them in the end. Close in style. It’s the key to driving comments, to getting a post shared, convincing people to sign up, or simply just leaving a lasting impression on a reader.

Why, is my question to you, Demian. Why is the closing so, so, so important?

Why is the ending so important?

Demian: That was a great movie. Yeah. Just so, side note, I’ve seen all Charlie Kauffman’s movies.

Jerod: He’s my favorite writer.

Demian: Yes.

Jerod: By far.

Demian: So — and the Philip Seymour one was, I think, among my favorites.

Jerod: Yeah.

Demian: But anyway. Yeah. So, just like with the movies, though, this is equally true for whatever you write — books, articles. And this comes to an idea, too, that we talk about psychology a lot, like in writing and copywriting, so it’s just only natural to speak about it again.

There are two effects that get thrown around a lot, and you’ve probably heard of them. One is called the primacy effect, and it’s basically just this idea that people tend to remember beginnings better than the middle. They remember the beginnings of lists, you know, lists of numbers, rather than the middle of lists of numbers. And the other one is the recency effect, meaning people tend to remember endings more than the middle.

And professors can probably speak to this a lot, too. Professors in college courses who will tell you that they save the best for the last, because they know that the beginning, they have the students’ attention, but throughout the middle they lose their attention simply because of distractions like the laptop, or just exhaustion. But they know that as the students are paying attention to the clock and seeing that their 45 minutes is about to end, the professor now has their attention, so he lays something well on them.

You want to end well. Like Robert McKee said. Movie companies know this, and when they actually have these private screenings to test the movies, they don’t care about the beginning or the middle of the movie. All they care about is the ending. If people don’t like the ending, they’ll go re-shoot that. Nothing more. And this speaks well, too, like Sacha Molitorisz said this in an article back in 2003 called “Now That’s an Ending.” She says, “When a film resolves itself well audiences leave satisfied and content even if the preceding 90 minutes have been uninspiring. If, however, the climax is forced or implausible, the preceding scenes will be stripped of any poignancy.” In other words, a terrific ending can make an excellent film a masterpiece. A dud ending can ruin an otherwise intriguing offering. And the same advice applies to blog post endings as well.

What it means to “shrink the change” in your closing (and why it works)

Jerod: Yeah, and of course, this is the tenth episode in our eleven-part series, and so certainly we hope that the rest of your blog post is going to be good if you’ve included these other essential elements. And the ending can really put that capper on it and make it outstanding.

Brian Clark wrote a great post where he listed out these five great ways to end a post. Another great post on Copyblogger that we have on this subject was written by Henneke called “The Rabble Rouser’s Rules for Writing Kick-Ass Closing Paragraphs,” which of course, we’ll link to in the show notes. But you know, to me, when I look at a closing, again, it’s a place where you have to focus, I think.

So often we can get into writing, and you write a long blog post, maybe you’re tired at the end and you just kind of slap something on there, and you’re really missing an opportunity. And I think to me, one of the greatest tips that I have ever heard about a closing is what Henneke wrote in that post, which is “shrink the change.” Which is kind of this idea of one small step can change your life. I’ll see a lot of blog posts where it’s some big, grand ending like, “Now, go out there and change the world!” Or, you know, just kind of something big and vague and nebulous, but it’s much better, as she says, to shrink the change, give people a small, specific step that they can take from the post.

Is the goal of your post to inspire people to rid the world of hunger? Start buying an extra canned good every time you go shopping and take it to your nearest food drive. Right? Give people something specific so they walk away and say, “Hey, I can do something. I feel empowered.” You know, “You’ve inspired me to do this one thing, and now maybe this will lead to steps B and C and D.” Think about that. Think about what you want people to take away from it.

And this can kind of lead us into Brian’s post, because he starts it out talking about how you need to begin with the ending in mind. So if you want someone to take a specific action offline, have that in mind. If it’s a call to action on your website, have that in mind and make sure that your closing fits into that.

The five ways to close a blog post (plus a bonus #6!)

Demian: Right. And so I think, you know, sort of, as you notice what we pay attention to when we’re developing blog posts, the 11 essential ingredients, we put a lot of effort into the openings, and we put some effort into the middle, but not nearly as much as the beginning and the ending because when it comes to people walking away with something, you want them to remember it. You want them to have something. I think he said it well. He says it’s a missed opportunity if you forget about the ending.

So talking about Brian’s ways to close a blog post, he talks about summary. And this is just simply telling people what they just read, but doing in a succinct manner. You’ll see this a lot. The summary’s been updated for the Internet with the TL:DR — “Too long, didn’t read.” We’ve sort of made an improvement, an innovation on this by putting this, a lot of time, in articles to sort of warn people, this is a long article. Here is the summary. But the idea is you can do it at the end. The summary is just telling them what happened so that they know it.

Here’s the deal: When people read — we know this again from just eye tracking studies — that people will read the headline, and then people will scan it, and then read the ending because they’re looking and hoping for that summary. They want to know, so what’s the point? What’s the conclusion? I’m sure you do this, Jerod. I do this. We all do this.

Moving into this next one: the call to action. And we’ll also speak about this, too, when we talk about the P.S. and postscript. People, direct marketers, print direct marketers knew this way back before the Internet, that people did two things: They looked at the headline first, and then they looked at who wrote the letter. Who wrote the sales letter? And that’s why we have the encouragement, we always encourage people. That’s why the P.S. is so important, because the P.S. is right underneath the signature, right underneath the name, so you have that “P.S.” there.

But the call to action — so you end a post with a call to action. This is simply, like you said, in a sense, sort of “shrink the change.” But telling people what to do. You spent just an enormous amount of energy getting them there, painting sort of a promise and a lifestyle that they might like, right? Creating some sort of picture. Giving them the arguments and the proof to make that believable, what you’ve just said, and then you’ve got their attention, so now you tell them what to do. Tell them to donate, to go and vote, to go and walk into a store and buy something. Maybe it’s some sort of inspiring thing, which moves into our next point: this inspiration.

Like Jon Morrow. He does this really well. He creates these posts that sort of get into the heart of readers. Identifies with their pain, relates to their anxieties, and then he sort of says, “Here’s what you need to do next,” and again, it’s like Henneke said. It’s that shrink the change. So Jon Morrow inspires people to do something because he relates to their pain, and the P.S. is something like — I knew the P.S. back in the direct marketing print sales world, where this was that thing where you said, “Oh by the way, don’t forget to do X, Y, and Z,” and in that is what you were bringing to attention, something that happened in the middle. And the reason that’s important is because they probably didn’t read the middle. But you’re saying here’s something you don’t want to miss, right? That’s the P.S.

And the cliffhanger is, of course, what we’ve talked about in the past just in the podcast, with internal cliffhangers — the cliffhanger is that thing where you’re ending, you’re keeping something away from the reader. You initiate an action, like you know, you drive the car off the cliff. But then you end the episode right there. And in order to relieve that tension, they have to see the next episode.

And finally … I added to Brian’s list, “end with a question.” And this could equally kind of go with any one of those five, but I wanted to sort of isolate this one. Because a lot of times, you know, we look at — and I’ll even mention this when I talk about my last tip. But we look to try and tie a really clean knot with a closing. That’s not always the case or what you need to do. You may write something sort of compelling — like the post you wrote Jerod, recently on net neutrality. You ended it with very firm action: “Here’s what you need to do.” Well, let’s say you went more contemplative toward it, sort of more meditative to it, and “Here are the issues at hand,” and then you sort of challenged a notion by saying, “Is this really as important as we think it is,” or something like that, where you’re sending people away chewing on a idea. Does that make sense?

Jerod: Yeah, absolutely.

Demian: Yeah. So ending with that question, like…

Jerod: And I think again, Demian, it all goes back to what do you want people to do, right? Do you want people to walk away contemplating, or do you want them walking away acting?

Demian: Right.

How to use emotion in the close

Jerod: Like with Sonia’s post today that she wrote on net neutrality. I thought she has a great ending, where she actually uses kind of some visual design elements in the closing, which you can do with a box to kind of separate it out, that says “what you can do today to help,” and I think it’s great because she imparts a little bit of the emotion in it, where she says “the erosion of net neutrality could materially harm your ability to market your business, as well as your interest as a citizen.” I mean, that’s — you know, you’re playing on a little bit of fear there. You’re kind of stirring some emotion, and then boom, right after that, “make a few minutes before lunch today,” shrinking the change, “to e-mail the FCC chair Tom Wheeler and get an e-mail, phone call, or fax off to your senator and congressman,” with a link there for how to e-mail, and a link there for how to figure out who their congressman is.

So it’s a great way to end because you’ve got the emotional part of it. You shrink the change down. And that was her goal from the beginning, and the entire post was leading to that. And that’s what you want that conclusion, that closing, to do.

Demian: Absolutely. That’s right. So you’ve got a tip, man? What’s your one tip?

The importance of nailing the last line

Jerod: My one tip is to nail the last line, and really I’m stealing that from Henneke, but I love it.

I think to nail the last line you’ve got to read the last line out loud. You know, when I’m doing my final edit, especially the beginning and the end, I’m reading that not just to myself, but also out loud to see how it sounds, to see how it flows. The last thing you want is for it to end with a thud.

Demian: Mmm-hmm.

Jerod: You want that flow, whatever flow that you’ve developed through the post. It’s got to end on a crescendo. You want to end on that high note. So really nail the last line. Put some thought into it, and put some effort into reading it, just how it sounds in addition to what it says.

Why your ending needs to bring your post full circle

Demian: Right. That’s a lot of work, too. And I think as we just sort of stressed throughout this podcast, is that you can’t just let your ending go limp. That’s the worst thing in the world.

So I’m going to close with the one tip that I would share, and it’s like, you know, when you’re closing an article, I always feel like the ending of a good article feels like the click of a box shutting, so that there’s closure to it. And what I mean by that is they’ve referred back to something they mentioned in the beginning. So you’ve kind of come full circle. There is closure and a satisfying feeling because it makes you feel like the writer is actually kind of paying attention. Like they mention something in the beginning, and they’ve come back to it.

So what they said in the beginning, and you see this superficially done when people just use some sort of beginning, and they just use it to get attention, and they never come back to it, and it’s sort of left lying there. That’s poor writing. Good writing has a great opening, but pulls it in and closes it like — the reader doesn’t feel like the writer fell asleep at the wheel with that particular article.

One of my favorite endings comes from a blog post I wrote called “The Dirty Little Secret to Seducing Your Readers,” and I open with the story of Ingrid, who is a married woman who wants to get pregnant, and all this sort of tension. And so she has to tease her husband into getting pregnant. But then I go into the technical details about it. And this is really an article about fascination. About tease. How do you tease your readers? How do you seduce your readers, right? But then I go into this technical portion of the article, and I close it. But when I close it, I bring it back to Ingrid and just sort of like Henneke said, it was the very last sentence, and all I said was, “Just ask Ingrid.” And so it brings the whole story full-circle. People feel the sort of satisfying click to the box. They feel like I’m paying attention, I’ve delivered on what I’ve said, and I’m not just out to suck them in and leave them hanging.

But it’s that idea of trying to tie in something you said in the opening at the ending works really, really well. Makes the article feel complete.

Jerod: I agree. So let me ask you really quickly as we close here: Do you relate at all to the struggles of Charlie Kauffman in Adaptation?

Demian: (Laughs) Yeah, absolutely. Probably not to the extreme, but you know…

Jerod: (Laughing) Yeah. I think we all do. So here’s what I will say in closing: If you’ve never seen Adaptation, go see it. Because if you want to see a movie that just will absolutely blow your mind with its closing, that movie will do it. And also check out the show notes for the link to Brian’s article, because the way that he closes that article will be both instructive and it will leave you laughing as well.

Demian: That’s right.

Jerod: All right, everybody. Thank you for listening to this episode of The Lede. Demian, we get to see each other! Next week we’ll be in Denver for Authority Intensive. That’s exciting.

Demian: Looking forward to it, Jerod.

Jerod: I’m looking forward to it as well. All right, everybody. We will talk to you next week.

Thank you for listening to The Lede. If you’re enjoying these episodes please consider giving the show a rating or a review on iTunes. We’d very much appreciate it.

Next week, Demian and I will close out our series on the eleven essential ingredients of a blog post, followed sometime soon thereafter by our Hangout HotSeat with Sonia Simone. Talk to you soon, everybody.

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*Credits: Both the intro (“Bridge to Nowhere” by Sam Roberts Band) and outro songs (“Down in the Valley” by The Head and the Heart) are graciously provided by express written consent from the rights owners.