There isn’t a secret formula for writing great thought leadership articles, just like there isn’t one type of barbecue sauce that satisfies every set of taste buds.
Writing an effective thought leadership article that woos an editor, and hooks the lips of your customers or colleagues, is largely determined by a few things.
Is the piece relevant to the publication or platform’s audience?
Does it help your customers or colleagues solve common pain points by shifting their thought process?
Is the topic timely, or — on the other end of the spectrum — so evergreen that it will still be helpful in five years?
Is the piece well-written and backed by reputable sources?
If you’ve never written thought leadership content, brainstorm focus topics with these 16 questions, then boomerang back here when you’re ready to write.
Ready to go? Okay. Here’s a list of tips for writing captivating thought leadership content that will make the stuff of content farms shudder in your wake.
1 — Use Wordnik to find synonyms for overused words.
If you work in tech or for a startup of any kind, you are no stranger to “innovative” companies that are “obsessed” with solving problems and dead set on “transforming” or “reimagining” their industries. Every industry has its own jargon, some of which is useful; but niche terminology can be a turnoff in thought leadership content when it’s overused.
In a Google Doc, create a table with two columns. In the first column, list the words you find yourself and those within your industry overusing (perhaps to an annoying degree). Use Wordnik to populate the second column with alternatives you can sprinkle into your writing, so you don’t tire eyes before you’ve hooked their attention.
2 — Learn to recognize the differences between quick-churn blog content and thought leadership content.
Say you work for a marketing agency focused on food and beverage clients. You write a roundup-style article about the top foodie influencers for 2019, including their engagement numbers and contact info. You may have written strong blog content, but I wouldn’t call this thought leadership.
If you write about how food and beverage companies should be thinking about influencer marketing to ensure their advertising dollars are effectively spent, and you’ve included data and perspective-driven insights to back it up, you’ve crossed into the realm of thought leadership.
When you learn to recognize these differences, you’ll become more empowered to write thought-provoking content.
Thought leadership must = thought provoking.
3 — Write at least a handful of headlines and use a tool to analyze their stickiness.
I personally like to brainstorm 5–7 headlines for any given article. From there, it’s easy to cut sub-par contenders and whittle down to top options.
Once you’ve written a few headlines you like, plug them into a headline analysis tool like CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer to see how they stack up. The tool rates headlines on a scale of 1-100 based on variables such as length, sentiment, and word balance.
4 — Be consistent with headline capitalization.
If you’re writing on behalf of a brand, for instance a corporate or startup blog, consult your company’s voice guidelines to learn the writing style your organization prefers. Whichever style you follow, make sure your thought leadership article title follows those rules.
If you don’t have a set of voice guidelines or a copy of, say, the most recent Associated Press Stylebook to consult, use one of the handy headline capitalization tools on the web, which automatically correct title capitalization for you.
If you’re writing contributed content that will appear in a magazine or news outlet, be sure to follow their style rules, as these vary by publication. Forbes, for example, likes the first letter of every word in contributed content headlines to be capitalized.
5 — Write simple sentences.
Writing doesn’t have to be complex to be compelling. When writing thought leadership content, or any content for that matter, choose simple sentences. While long sentences are sometimes required to explain complicated ideas, they are usually more difficult to understand than they need to be.
Author and editor Verlyn Klinkenborg’s entire book Several Short Sentences About Writing suggests that strength lies in short, simply structured sentences. In fact, every sentence in the book is placed on a new line so the reader is forced to study sentence length.
Consider this question proposed by Klinkenborg the next time you revise an article with tediously long sentences: “Does it become less good if it’s expressed in two sentences instead of one?”
Shorter sentences are also more share-worthy on social media. Use pull-quotes like this to highlight star snippets.
6— If it’s been said before, say it in a new way or from a different perspective.
How many thought leadership articles have you read that cite Netflix’s famous company culture deck? Granted, the content is legendary among certain groups, but citing it, at least today, doesn’t feed readers anew.
When writing thought leadership content, consider which parts of the article are truly thought-leading and support those sections with current research your audience might not be aware of yet. The goal is for your piece to be so new, exciting, and relevant, your readers will eagerly ping it to their colleagues.
7 — “Show, don’t tell” with anecdotes.
Teaching a teenager not to text while driving can be communicated with a billboard broadcasting “Don’t Text and Drive” in a big, bold font.
Teaching a teenager not to text while driving by telling them that your nextdoor neighbor totalled a new Prius by doing so will likely have more impact.
Layer real-life stories into your writing to colorfully illustrate key points.
8 — Link to other articles appearing in the publication you’re targeting.
If your plan is to pitch your thought leadership content to a news outlet or publication, search said site for topically relevant content you can link to within your piece.
For example, if you’re writing a contributed article about the future of work for Fast Company, see what else the outlet has published on that topic. Add a few links to your piece to help drive traffic to their articles. It does some of the editor’s work for them and shows you’ve done your homework.
9 — Use a digital transcription service for interviews.
A few colleagues of mine shared these digital transcription tools with me, and it’s cut the time I usually spend cleaning up sloppy interview notes in half, if not more.
10 — Don’t forget to fact-check.
Udemy offers a helpful fact-checking course for content creators, bloggers, authors, or anyone who wants to ensure their written communications are accurate. If you have a journalism background, this course may be redundant. But it’s great for content newbies who haven’t been professionally trained.
Craving more content tips? Read “How Brand Journalism Is Building Brand Equity in Lukewarm Industries” or follow me here on Medium.