You don’t have to be a great writer to turn dull topics into compelling articles. You just have to know what to do.
Exhibit A …
Robert Smith (not the lead singer of The Cure) has some serious programming chops. He’s also a mathematician, so naturally not your ideal candidate when it comes to writing readable and interesting content.
But he proved me wrong last week.
I found his piece in The Daily Digg email of August 23. The headline says it all: “The Wretched Google Interview Experience.”
Since he’s not a professional writer, the writing can be clunky … the chronology confusing … and the mathematical examples arcane.
But who cares. His article was fascinating. Here’s why.
- Zeal — Robert was irritated by his experience interviewing with Google. And he steered that irritation into his article. Most of us, however, would have simply vented … and been done with it. But zeal alone doesn’t a good rant post make. It has to be sculpted.
- Story — Robert tells a story … and allows us to think for ourselves about the outcome. Sure, he shares his feelings, but he makes it clear in the first line that he’d prefer his reader to draw their own conclusions. In other words, he respects their intelligence. And he does it with a narrative.
- Specific details — Robert provides specific details about the interview test examples. He doesn’t say it but his examples amount to proofs. People can use those examples to verify if his story is true. The examples bog down the non-mathematical reader, but it doesn’t matter. The narrative flow — the anticipation of wondering what ultimately happens next — keeps pushing. Besides, understanding the story doesn’t hinge on understanding the examples. And furthermore, his core readers probably do have the background.
- Conflict — During the story Robert was being courted by other brand name companies. And he let Google know. In other words, this interview process wasn’t occurring in isolation. Companies were competing for Robert. And significant companies extended Robert significant offers … and Robert had to choose between them and Google. It wasn’t easy.
Two reasons why I wanted to point this article out:
1. Unless you are famous, everybody will ignore what you write. You have to give them a reason to listen to your ideas. You need to be clear, concise, and compelling. This is why it won’t hurt — especially if you are an expert — to learn some basic direct copywriting skills.
2. Super busy people don’t have to hire ghost writers. People will forgive your average skills if you learn a few basics like storytelling. We want your passion for your industry … not some mercenary’s faked emotions.
Popularizers of difficult subjects like economics, astronomy, and mathematics understand these two principles. This is why Carl Sagan, Freakonomics, Richard Feynman, and Paul Krugman are household names. They turned abstract concepts into seductive stories.