Content comes in many forms, produced by many different people for many different reasons. But there's a commonality with all forms of modern content that allows it to be categorized, considered, and fine-tuned in mostly the same ways. You won't always write for the same reasons or create content in the same mediums, but you will find yourself asking the same questions as you try to ground and improve your ideas.
Understanding these questions and asking them of every piece of content will help you create better-structured, more concise work. The seven primary questions I outline here apply to all forms of content, for all purposes:
1. Who is my target audience? Your target audience is going to dictate much of your direction. It's going to define your tone (including how formal or informal your language is), your direction (including how in-detail or surface-level you go), and your vocabulary (including how advanced or basic you choose to go), among other factors. If you write a "general" piece of content with no audience in mind, chances are nobody will want to read it. The only way to create a successful piece of content is to cater specifically to a segment of your audience (and the more specific you go, the better).
2. What is my intention? Content has a variety of possible intentions, but it always has a goal. Understanding yours will help you structure, write, publish, and syndicate your piece in a proper context. For example, if your intention is to publish the findings of your original research, you'll need a hard data-driven piece with some method of aggregating and displaying complex findings. If your intention is to entertain your audience, you need to keep things light and simple. You'll also need to consider your goals for audience engagement -- are you interested in getting your readers to see you as an authority, or are you more interested in getting them to convert?
3. Why is this topic important? It's occasionally tempting to write about a topic that isn't very important, either because you think it's interesting or because it's easy to write. This question weeds out those poor topic choices. Think carefully about why your topic is important to your audience -- is it needed in order to prevent a possible disaster? Is it illuminating to a point where it can help people improve their approach to a certain topic? Is it just going to serve as a mental break for your readers? When you understand why your topic is important, you'll be able to write your piece in a much more significant, direct context.
4. What is my main point? Most topics aren't singular; rather than beginning and ending in a concise point, they branch off into separate subtopics, related topics, and background topics that all need to be explored (to some degree) in order to establish context. Unfortunately, some articles get bogged down by these branching paths, serving as distractions from the original point. This question helps you identify and explore that point specifically, making your article much more focused. Wandering or unfocused articles tend to get passed by or skimmed.
5. How will people want to consume this? This is an important question for two main applications; the first is the medium and format of the piece itself, and the second is the publication and syndication of the piece. Think carefully about how people will benefit most from the content's consumption; will they prefer written content or visual content? Would they prefer a static infographic or a short, interactive video? Then, think about how most people would want to encounter the piece for the first time. Is there a publication platform with a target audience that aligns with yours? Are there specific social media platforms that would appeal to those readers over others?
6. What are other people saying? No matter what your topic is, what your intentions are, or where you stand in the industry, I guarantee you that other people have something to say about your topic. Find out what they're saying and include it in the context of your article. Do people generally agree or disagree with your point? Are there statistics that align with or challenge yours? These are important points to explore, and will help give your audience a better-rounded view of your topic overall, plus it will make you appear as a greater authority (since you went out of your way to be thorough in your research).
7. What are the takeaways? This is almost an extension of the "main point" question. Here, you'll think about the key takeaways that you want to leave your readers with. Are there action items they should take? Insights they should absorb? Thoughts they should consider? Keep these takeaways in mind as you create your piece, and consider giving them their own section for added emphasis.
Before writing or creating any piece of content, take a few minutes to go over these questions. Some may be no-brainers, and some may be answered the same way every time, but running through the answers in your head will help you maintain your focus and vision for the piece; for example, reminding yourself of who your target audience really is can prevent you from veering off track. The bottom line is to understand your content better so you can produce better content.
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