My primary focus this week was on a series of 8 short guides about a variety of topics. I won’t get into detail because of the standard privacy stuff, but it was an eclectic mix of very interesting topics – needless to say I had fun with it.
About the time I reached the fifth or sixth guide, I realized that every single list I had created in these guides were either 3 or 7 items long.
At first, I thought it was a coincidence – the pointless kind you recognize when you’ve been staring at a computer screen for eight hours.
But, upon further review, I realized that I had in fact shortened some points, elongated others and in some cases, made up new ones to fit the 3 or 7 I had planned out. If you do much writing, you know how powerful those numbers are – people like them. They’re unique, they stand out – they have a certain amount of meaning.
Of course, four steps, five steps or six steps are just as useful, but when it comes to selling your list, it’s all about the packaging. I like 3 and 7 and, it turns out, it’s not hard to mold and tweak and squeeze the content to fit those numbers.
Form and Content
If you asked me on the street whether form or content was more important, I’d say content, hands down.
But, if I actually stopped to think about it (as I am doing right now), it’s a different story.
You have to ask yourself, what exactly IS content? How do you define what you’re writing, recording, or drawing for your audience? It’s an opinion, how-to piece, informative article or entertaining piece that fulfills a need or desire.
In short, it’s a product, and while some products can excel with suspect packaging (spam, seriously?) even the simplest ballpoint pen needs to capture attention.
You could write the most engaging article you’ve ever created but if it all runs together into a giant block of text, who will finish it? Some, sure, but everyone? Probably not.
So, in reality, I’m changing the content to fit the format of my work ALL THE TIME. I write outlines with subheaders designed to drive readers down the page, well before I write books. I make up numbers that I think are appealing for list pieces and then wrack my brain to fill out the list. I place images in articles for no other reason than to break up text and evoke a certain emotion.
Neither form nor content are MORE important than each other – it’s a symbiosis. All form and no content means a very dull, albeit pretty, article whereas all content and no form makes it hard for anyone to get through to the meat of your piece.
So, the next time you sit down to write, ask yourself three things:
- Is this visually appealing to my readers?
- Would I read something like this if I hadn’t written it?
- What emotions/responses do I want to evoke? Can I do more?
If you like your answers, you’re set. If not, consider what changes you can make to your article (or podcast or video) to better engage readers and evoke a full-page response. The look, feel and flow of the piece and not necessarily ONLY the words on paper.
I can turn just about any process on the planet into 7 steps – does that make it useful? Not necessarily, but it’s a lot easier to read and that’s equally important.