(Caveat: This one is mostly for freelance writers and those developing content aimed at professionals.)
Writing actionable content is a radically different thing than writing informational or narrative content. Narrative content can be languid and take its time getting where it’s going. Often, it is the slower pace and length that gives narrative its extraordinary power. Informational content is often, though not always by necessity, dry and slow. It aims to inform, to teach, to explicate and, mostly, to get factual content from the page to your brain. Actionable content, if it followed either of those approaches would fail spectacularly.
Tell Them to Do Something
If you’re writing for an online audience, you get exactly two paragraphs worth of tolerance. Your introductory paragraph and your conclusion can…note that I only say CAN…lack in a thing that the reader can do. After that, you must forgo narrative and pure information and tell the reader to do X, Y or Z. You notice that I just followed my own rule of actionable content. In the second paragraph, I tell you to tell your reader something they can do.
Make the Action Explicit
It’s not enough for you to just put a link into a sentence and assume the reader will click on it. Some will and some won’t. The link is an implicit call to action. If you want your reader to do something, make the call to action explicit. Say, “Click on this link to Basecamp to learn about their project management software,” or “Write out your top ten concerns on a piece of paper in order of importance.” The difference here is the same difference as your spouse saying, “Remember that the kids have practice after school tomorrow,” and “You need to pick the kids up from practice after school tomorrow.”
Keep It Simple
Unless you’re writing a tutorial for something, keep the actions simple. Giving someone 47 steps to follow is generally pointless, because odds are they won’t ever get past step five. Remember, you don’t need to detail everything and can’t ever really cover everything in a blog post or article that only runs 400-700 words. If you’re talking about complex processes, give the first step and then point them to a resource that details the more complex process or at least expands on it. For example, if you want more information about writing actionable content, you should read Amanda Gallucci’s excellent blog post – “Transforming Content from Lifeless to Actionable.”