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In my last article, I talked about clarity—what it is and why it matters in content creation. I also provided five questions you can ask if you’re struggling with clarity or want to ensure your piece is as clear as possible.
The goal was to get you started in producing clear, influential content that educates, persuades, and leads to action.
You may be ready for even more clarity if you read that piece. I assure you— your readers are prepared for more clarity now.
To give them the clarity they’re hungry for, put the following 10 ideas to work. By doing so, you’ll create content that builds trust and spurs sales.
1. Define undefined terms and overloaded words
Understanding your audience is the first step to effective communication. Common jargon in one field may be completely foreign in another.
On the one hand, if you’re writing for a specialized audience, like gastroenterologists, you need not spell out or define industry-specific terms like EGD, or esophagogastroduodenoscopy. On the other hand, if you’re writing to patients undergoing an EGD, spell out the abbreviation, define it, and explain the procedure in layperson’s terms.
Several years ago, I worked as a development editor for a technical publishing house. That’s where I learned how overloaded words can be a minefield because, in programming languages, the same word can have different connotations.
If a term has multiple meanings that may confuse readers, tell them which meaning you’re referring to—and give yourself one point for content clarity.
2. Handle new topics as they come up
If you find yourself introducing a new topic while writing, handle it then or tell readers you’ll cover it later. Don’t leave readers hanging.
For instance, suppose you work for a cybersecurity firm and are writing a blog post about the importance of strong passwords. Midway through, you mention two-factor authentication (2FA) as another layer of security. Either explain what 2Fa is right there or say, “We’ll delve into the details of two-factor authentication in an upcoming post.”
When you take the time to handle new topics as they come up, the reader’s flow will remain unbroken. You want your content to flow so well that readers can read straight through, follow your thought processes, nod along with you, and be ready to say YES to the next step in the buying journey.
The alternative is that you don’t handle new topics. When that happens, the reader’s flow is broken, even if momentarily. If the question or gap in their understanding is too large, you risk readers leaving your content to search Google. They might get distracted and never return to your content.
3. Address prerequisites
Include content or pointers to content that readers should understand before they dig into your materials.
For instance, if you’re writing a technical blog post on machine learning algorithms, you might include a sentence in the introduction that says, “Before you proceed, make sure you’re familiar with basic Python programming and statistical concepts,” adding links so readers who need it can explore the prerequisite topics.
If you’re writing an ebook focused on sous-vide cooking, you might note, “This ebook assumes you have a sous-vide machine. If you’re new to sous-vide, here’s a guide to get you started.”
Prerequisites allow readers to get up to speed before digging into your content. Without prerequisites, you risk readers quickly becoming frustrated and clicking away.
4. Emphasize takeaways and key points
Imagine a busy reader scanning your document. What do you want them to stop at, be drawn to, or otherwise engage with? Emphasize those points with summaries, callouts, sidebars, and pull quotes to let readers know what’s most important in your content.
If you’re creating a business report on market trends, you might begin each section with a similar bulleted list or a one- or two-sentence summary of what the section will cover.
If you’re writing an ebook on personal finance, consider using sidebars to explain financial terms and concepts. You might also end each chapter with a summary and key takeaways to reinforce the material.
Throughout your ebooks and other documents, you can also use callouts to highlight key statistics or quotes from industry experts. For its content creators, North Carolina State University provides examples of a few different callout designs.
Emphasizing takeaways and key points lets readers know what to focus on. It’s as if you’re right there on the page with them saying, “Hey, check this out; it’s important.”
5. Provide a sense of forward flow
The next technique, forward flow, is about how you can help readers maintain a sense of momentum as they’re reading. There are four techniques: Segues, connectors, repeated words, and repeated graphics. Each helps readers transition between sections, ideas, and paragraphs and provides an ongoing sense of forward movement.
The word segue comes from the music tradition in the sense of a transition from one song or melody to another without interruption.
It’s pronounced like Segway®, the upright scooter.
In the writing world, segues are smooth transitions that link two different but related topics or sections. They serve as bridges to guide readers from one point to the next.
For example, in an academic journal article, a segue might look like this: “Having discussed the limitations of the previous study, let’s now explore the methodology of our research.”
In a business presentation, you might say, “Now that we’ve covered our Q2 performance, let’s look forward to Q3.”
Segues give your writing a sense of cohesiveness and let the readers know you’re moving from one point to another.
Connectors are words that serve as bridges, linking sentences and paragraphs to ensure the logical flow of your content. They’re critical for guiding readers through your ideas and helping them follow complex concepts.
Here are several standard connectors:
- To illustrate
- For example
Using connectors lets readers easily follow your thought process. Connectors also enhance readability—another plus.
Repeated words and phrases
Repeated words and phrases are another way to maintain forward flow.
For example, in an article on remote work productivity, you might write these two paragraphs, with connectors italicized:
Paragraph 1: Flexibility is one of the key advantages of remote work. Employees can set their schedules, allowing them to work during their most productive hours. This flexibility can lead to increased job satisfaction and better work-life balance.
Paragraph 2: But flexibility can also be a double-edged sword.
Repeated graphics prevent readers from having to look backward.
Suppose your ebook presents a complex graphic on page 6. Then, on page 10, you refer to the graphic again. Instead of making readers turn back to page 6 to see what the graphic looked like, why not present it again on page 10, right when readers need to see it?
Then, on pages 9 and 10, the authors refer to the graphic again. But instead of making readers turn back to page 5, they repeat the relevant portion of the graphic, making only tiny tweaks to adapt it to the new context.
This technique works not just in books. You can use it in course content, cornerstone blog posts, ebooks, and other in-depth content.
No matter the content, the more you can do to maintain a reader’s forward flow, the more clarity you bring.
6. Use concrete examples and real-life stories
Use concrete, simple, real-world examples and practical stories to illustrate to readers why what they’re reading is worthwhile.
For instance, in the article on cybersecurity for small businesses, you might share the story of a local bakery that lost thousands of dollars in revenue when hackers broke into its online ordering system.
In a business report on employee engagement, you might talk about a company that saw a 15% increase in productivity after implementing the employee engagement program, translating to an extra $2 million in annual revenue.
If you’re teaching a technical topic, as my authors did at the technical publishing house, open each section with a concrete example—before you dive into the training. The example lets readers know that the teaching to come is essential and will result in an outcome like the opening example.
Real-life examples and concrete examples help readers feel trust in your content. Use them whenever you can.
7. Ask yourself “why?” and “so what?”
By asking “why” and “so what” about your content, you can make sure to answer those questions for readers, too.
For instance, if you’re writing an article on time management, the “why” might be to help people become more productive. The “so what” might be so readers know techniques that can save them several hours each week.
Share the “why” and “so what” with your readers by bringing those elements into your content. Here’s an example for an article on the Pomodoro technique:
“By adopting the Pomodoro technique, you can break your work into intervals to improve focus. Intervals are important because they maximize your productivity. You’ll find yourself completing tasks faster and having more free time.”
When you take the time to ask high-level questions about your content—preferably before you begin writing—you ensure that what you’re writing is relevant to readers.
8. Ask what transformation you want readers to experience
Knowing the transformation you want readers to experience also serves as a guiding light for your content. Ask about the transformation before you begin writing so you can design your content to carry readers from their current state to the state they want to be in.
For instance, if you’re planning a webinar on thought-leadership writing, your transformation statements might read as follows.
Many executives publish generic content that blends into the sea of online sameness; such content fails to establish them as industry experts.
The best executive thought-leaders post insightful, data-driven content that addresses pressing issues and trends in their industry, offers unique perspectives backed by data and research, provides actionable insights and solutions for readers, and is frequently cited or shared, further establishing their authority.
The webinar will guide executives from a state of producing generic, forgettable content to a state where they’re recognized thought leaders. To achieve this transformation involves
- Identifying niche topics where they can offer unique insights.
- Learning how to conduct and incorporate research into their content.
- Understanding the art of storytelling to make complex ideas relatable.
- Learning best practices for promoting their content to a wider, targeted audience.
Building those thoughts into your content will help readers understand and look forward to the promised transformation.
9. Identify your content’s top three takeaways
Takeaways are another guiding framework for your content. They ensure readers leave with the big ideas you want them to have.
For example, the top three takeaways for a white paper on AI in healthcare might be:
- Understanding the potential applications of AI in healthcare.
- Recognizing the ethical considerations involved.
- Identifying steps for healthcare organizations to implement AI solutions.
Just like asking “why” and “so what,” identifying your key takeaways helps you to help readers get what they need and what the content promises.
10. Identify a single top takeaway
Zeroing in on the most critical takeaway can help you sharpen the focus of your content even further.
For instance, the top takeaway for the white paper on AI in healthcare might be to understand the transformative potential of AI in healthcare.
To ensure the paper delivers on its promise, you could open and close with real-world examples demonstrating how AI revolutionizes healthcare.
Can you guess the single top takeaway from this article?
The takeaway is this: Your readers are hungry for clarity. Use the 10 techniques in this article to infuse your content with clarity, build trust with readers, and publish content that sells.
Now it’s your turn. Go forth and produce clear content!