3 Questions To Ask Before Pursuing an Article Topic
When there’s so much content online already, how do you make sure yours will reach the right people?
It’s a question we ask ourselves a lot, because our team’s job is to help position you as an expert and publish great content. The good news is that both of those goals start with the same person: The one reading your story. If you can make your target audience sit up and pay attention, then you’ve done something right.
But practically speaking, this isn’t easy, so I thought I’d boil all of the great advice out there down to three dead-simple questions you can ask about your potential topic. They are the same kinds of questions all editors ask, and they are the foundation of every piece of feedback we give our members, too.
If you’re looking to streamline the editing process and ensure your content resonates with the right people, here are three things to focus on:
1. Is this article useful to the reader?
If you run a marketing agency, one way to be useful is to write about the latest digital marketing developments and how they impact your potential customers. If you’re a technology expert who helps companies figure out how to outsource their technology needs, you might consider offering insider advice on vetting vendors.
Bottom line: Content is all about providing value upfront, not selling. When you can teach your audience something useful from your own experience, they’re more likely to give you their hard-won attention — and potentially, in the future, their business.
If you write a thinly veiled sales pitch or promote a client or service, no one will read past the first few sentences.
Readers don’t owe you their time — you have to earn it. Every time you write, remember this. It’s the key that unlocks everything else.
2. Is this article interesting and unique enough? Will it cut through all the noise?
This is where content goes from merely good to great.
Let’s look at two examples.
First, say you want to write about hiring in your industry. Hiring is an issue every company deals with, right? Which means that every senior-level professional, business owner, entrepreneur and manager knows that hiring is hard and often costly.
There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel and write a basics-of-hiring post — yours will just be 1 in 1,000. Instead, get specific. What is something unusual that your organization does, or that you’ve observed works really well in X or Y industry? What tactical advice can you offer that lifts the reader out of his or her assumptions and forces her to think clearly about this issue in a new way?
Consider these two headlines. Which would you read?
- 5 Hiring Tips for Small Business Owners
- 5 Unique Questions You Can Use to Weed Out Toxic Employees Before the Second Interview
Here’s another example: Let’s say you’re writing about a major new development or trend in your industry. How can you go beyond regurgitating news and offer readers highly targeted advice instead?
Try something like this: How You Can Use Instagram’s Newest Feature to Re-Engage Key Customers.
Alternatively, if you’ve got a strong opinion, why not make that the angle of your story? Think: Why Instagram’s Newest Feature Is a Waste of Time for Most Small Business Owners (And What You Should Do Instead).
(IMPORTANT: If you go this route, make sure your opinion is carefully researched and grounded in your expertise.)
That’s what we mean when we ask you for unique insights, personal anecdotes or “showing vs. telling” — we simply want to make sure your post stands on its own and demands attention.
3. Is the writing approachable?
Not everyone who reads your Expert Panel answer or article will have your level of expertise. Your job is to teach them, not the other way around.
That’s why we encourage you to write conversationally and address the publication’s entire audience, even if your ultimate target is a smaller group of people who fit a certain profile (potential hires, customers, investors, etc.). Too much industry jargon or overly complex language tends to alienate all but a very small group of readers, and you don’t want someone to miss out because they got impatient.
The wrong tone can have a similar effect. For instance, sarcasm can work in small doses, but if readers think they’re the butt of the joke, they’re not going to stick around.
Perhaps the simplest way to make your writing more approachable? Address the reader directly — the word “you” is very powerful, and using it often forces our writing minds to be more inclusive.
As for the rest, that’s what our team is here to help with. We look forward to reading your next submission!
This post is part of a series on how Fast Company Executive Board members can best utilize their personal branding and publishing benefits.
If you're not yet a member, see if you qualify.