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What are Bucket Brigades? How Do You Use Them in Article Writing?

When I used to work as a newspaper reporter I was always being told by the news desk to write copy ‘that can be cut from the bottom’.


There were two reasons for this. The first addresses the practical purpose of editing – if your allotted space on the page shrinks, sub editors can easily make it fit the new sized hole around the adverts.


Second, regardless of which point the readers loses interest in the article, they’ll know enough to feel that they’ve understood the issue at hand.


The art of article writing

It always struck me as odd that I was being asked to write something that could be easily dropped by the reader, rather than crafting a piece that keeps them engaged to the very end.


Yet in reality who was to know, or care, if a newspaper reader turned the page before getting to your closing paragraph?


However, when it comes to web-based writing, there are real benefits to keeping your reader engaged for longer.


And one of the tried and tested ways of doing that is through the use of bucket brigades. 


But just what are bucket brigades?

There are lots of definitions out there, but the best one I’ve seen is that a bucket brigade is a series of critical leading statements that pose a question, and then give an answer.


Like, for example, ‘But just what are bucket brigades?’ – see what I did there?!


Now for the history

The term comes from ye olden days of early firefighting, where a human chain would pass buckets of water up a line to the source of the fire, and empty buckets back down to the source of water.


Mind the gap

When it comes to content writing, bucket brigades get your reader hooked into the piece and thirsty for more information. 


When used well they can open up an information gap in your mind. A gap that can only be filled by reading on to the next paragraph, and the next.


Why do we need to engage readers?

Isn’t it enough that someone has found your blog post? Does it really matter if they don’t get to the end of the article?


In short, it does. For a start you’ve put a lot of effort into writing that post.


And you’ve not just written it for the fun of it – you’ve got a strategic plan as to why you’ve blogged on that topic, haven’t you? If you haven’t then you really must read this post: ‘Should my Business have a Blog’ .


Whether you’re showcasing a new product, positioning yourself as a thought leader, or flagging up your expertise in your field, you’ve written this for a tangible reason.


So it makes sense that you want someone to read as much as they can, so they can learn more about you and your product. But is that the only reason?


Google rankings

Of course, where would a blog on content writing be without a mention of Google analytics?!


We all know that there are a myriad of ways to boost your ranking, but anything you can do to keep people on your site, for longer, can only help.


The longer someone spends browsing your site, the more Google sees you as a trusted source of information. To put it simply, if those dreaded bounce rate stats start to improve, so could your ranking.


Reader experience

As well as helping your site ranking, bucket brigades are a great technique to enhance your readers’ experience. If they’ve enjoyed an article on your site they’re more likely to share it on social media or come back on another occasion.


When should I use bucket brigades?

The bucket brigade technique is great for blog writing, as it automatically lends a conversational tone to your piece. It can help you to build a quick and easy rapport with your reader, posing and answering the questions that matter most to them.


However, there’s no reason why you couldn’t use the approach in any form of article writing – we’ve all read corporate reports that would benefit from some more engaging content!


The approach is particularly useful when you need to transition to a key part of the story, if you need to introduce a new concept, or if your article starts to flag a little and needs a fresh injection of dynamism.


On reflection

If you’re keen to try the bucket brigade approach, a good starting point is to revisit some of your old blog posts. You’ve already taken the time to craft a piece and can see how well it performed thanks to Google analytics.


Take a couple of old articles that didn’t do so well and rewrite them using the bucket brigade technique. Be honest with yourself and try to pinpoint at which point the article fails to interest you. This could be the point at which to employ your first bucket brigade!


Once you’re happy with the piece re-post it to your website and favourite social media sites and check to see how it performs against the original version. Chances are the engagement levels will shoot up, and you’ll be hooked on the bucket brigade technique!


Top five bucket brigade tips

1.      They’re only a device – strong article writing is still key. Make sure your piece is interesting, relevant and well researched before worrying about bucket brigades

2.      They’re not the only device – you still need to pay attention to headings, sub headings, use of images and all those other elements that can make your content writing sing

3.      Keep it free and easy – bucket brigades bring a fresh, conversational tone to your writing. Make sure that tone is reflected throughout the whole piece, and not just sporadically

4.      Don’t be restricted – you can apply the technique at any point in your copy and with any frequency

5.      Play around – like any technique, this one can take time to perfect but don’t be scared of it! What harm can you come to playing around with words?!


Ian Manley is a freelance writer specialising in content writing and public relations.


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