Expanding Short-Form Into Long-Form Content: 5 Easy Steps

Dickie Bush & Nicolas Cole

Ultimate Guide Table of Contents

One of the core frameworks we talk about a lot in Ship 30 for 30 is our Lean Writing framework.

Because most people don’t know that…

  • Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is The Way is based on his blog post titled Stoicism 101.
  • Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fck* is based on his blog post with the same exact title.
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point is based on a column he wrote for The New Yorker in 1996.

And so on.

Lean Writing means starting small, writing about an idea in a low-friction way to gather objective insight and data around whether or not this is something readers want to read. Ryan Holiday wrote The Obstacle Is The Way because his blog post, Stoicism 101, went viral. Mark Manson got offered a book deal and the first question the publisher asked him was, “What’s your most popular article?” He said it was one called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fck*, and so he turned it into a book. And Malcolm Gladwell’s best-seller, The Tipping Point, is essentially just an expanded version of the column he wrote a few years prior.

These writers didn’t just wake up one day with a “brilliant idea.”

They wrote about their ideas online, in public. And then they waited to see which one of their ideas readers resonated with the most.

And turned their proven ideas into expanded versions.

(No wonder they sold so well!)

How To Expand Short-Form Content Into Long-Form Content

Whenever we explain this mental model, one of the questions we get asked most often is, “OK that makes sense—but how?”

Which is what this Deep Dive is all about.

  • How to expand proven short-form content into a longer-form asset
  • How to expand your work without being repetitive
  • And 5 simple mechanisms you can use to expand sections, over and over again, without the reader noticing the “magic trick.”


Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Look through your library of content and extract a high-performing piece of short-form content.

This is the biggest benefit of digital writing.

The hardest part is literally the very first thing you write. You have no library. But once you write something, anything, your library begins to grow. And grow. And grow. Until eventually, you no longer need to ask yourself, “Hmmm… what should I write?” Just go through your library, look for topics that stand out as high-performers, and write about those topics again and again.

This is how some digital writers and creators give the illusion of being “prolific.”

They are just doing more of “what works.”

(And the audience is amazed!)

For example, here’s an individual Tweet that performed pretty well recently:

Look closely, and this stand-alone Tweet is basically the outline of an article. Or an email course. Or an Ultimate Guide. Or even a book. And that’s the purpose of short-form content: to test your ideas, in public, before you go invest 10, 100, or even 1,000 hours into building something you aren’t sure readers actually want.

So let’s take this proven 280-character Tweet and expand it.

Step 2: Use the structure of your short-form content as the outline for your long-form content.

Don’t overthink it.

Your Tweet, or Atomic Essay, or LinkedIn post, or even TikTok video should basically be the outline of the longer thing you want to create.

For example, let’s take the above Tweet and break the sections apart.

People think starting a business is:

Main Point #1: Writing A Business Plan

Main Point #2: Taking Out A Loan/Raising Money

Main Point #3: Hiring A Team Full Of Professionals

Now, here’s what this would look like inside of a word editor (here we’re using Typeshare).

Your outline is done! You now know exactly what Main Points you need to cover (which are the same as the bullets in your short-form content).

All you have to do is fill them in.

Step 3: Fill in your Main Points using the 5 core content sections.

Ah, but how do you expand each of these sections?

  • Reasons
  • Mistakes
  • Action Steps
  • Personal Story Examples
  • Curated Story Examples

Every single section, of any type of content, can be expanded using these 5 core sections.

To give the reader more context, give them more reasons why (or why not).

To give the reader a “heads up” for what to look for, tell them what mistakes to avoid.

To give the reader a clear path forward, provide them with some action steps.

To help the reader understand you are a good source of truth, tell them a time this same thing happened to you.

And to help the reader see this isn’t an isolated incident, tell them a time someone else (noteworthy) did the same thing and was also successful.

For example:

Now, here’s the craziest part: you can literally use these words—reasons, mistakes, action steps, etc.—and the reader will have no idea that you’re following a proven formula. All the reader will think is, “Wow, this is really good. I love how I can follow the writer’s logic from start to finish. And they told me a personal story!”

It’s then your decision how much you want to expand (or not expand) each one of these sub-sections within your Main Points. For example, a good rule of thumb is to make sure you give equal weight to each one of these core content sections. You don’t want to give the reader 1,001 reasons “why,” and then only give them 1 or 2 action steps to take. That feels imbalanced.

Instead, you want to give the reader a few reasons why, and help them avoid a few mistakes, and then give them a few action steps, etc. The same goes for stories. You don’t want to tell them a big, long story, and then give them nothing actionable to hold onto afterwards. Your goal should be to make each one of these sub-sections a little equal in weight.

That’s how you make the reader feel like they got “a ton of value,” without feeling overwhelmed by any of the individual ingredients.

You can use this framework for anything: eBooks, Ultimate Guides, newsletters, courses, etc.

  • Reasons
  • Mistakes
  • Action Steps
  • Personal Stories
  • Curated Stories

These 5 content sections can be used over and over again in just about every context you can imagine. Which is how savvy digital writers and creators are able to take a single Tweet and turn that Tweet into a 300 page book, if they wanted to. Because all they’re doing is keeping the Main Points (essentially) the same, and expanding within each one using the above content sections.

Expansion of proven content is the whole secret to being “prolific.”

Enjoyed this edition? Click here to share it on Twitter!

You might also like...