For Stories That Give Advice: Be Concise, Actionable, and Targeted
Write something valuable. A common strategy for this is to share your own life lessons. There’s plenty of advice around. In books, online, and on Medium, you can find tips on everything. It’s a pretty generous collective gesture. Still, even with good intentions, not all stories will land well. What makes one article more compelling than another?
Jean-Luc Bouchard, platform editor at Marker, shares insights recently given to a contributing writer. Marker helps their readers make better business decisions. Presenting lessons in a compelling, original way is crucial.
Be concise, give actionable and practical advice, and have a clear audience. Don’t take this as a hard rule. It doesn’t apply to all writing. If you’re looking to share an experience and help a reader learn something new, this is for you.
“I’m always looking for clean language that isn’t redundant, and this piece more than others I think exemplifies cutting away what is unnecessary for the most important and interesting bits.”
An early draft may include filler like vague introductory paragraphs and repetitive topic sentences. These often serve as scaffolding to get ideas down in early drafts. Consider them vestigial. Removing these parts of the story will strengthen the piece. As you revise your piece, note the parts that convey your insights. See if there are any additional phrases that were added mechanically. These phrases don’t serve a purpose, and can be removed.
This doesn’t mean that your story should be one punchy point after another. Tie concepts together, move gracefully from one thought to another. Avoid providing this in a repetitive way. It can make the story tedious to read.
“This particular piece was laid out in such a way as to highlight really clear actions to take throughout a well-defined process. There wasn’t a missing element of ‘Why do I need to read this?’ or ‘Who is this for?’ One of the goals for each of these pieces should definitely be for readers to walk away with some knowledge they didn’t have before that they can now use to their benefit.”
The lessons you’re sharing should be clear and useful. Have you ever finished an article and realized you didn’t actually learn anything new? It can feel good to read, but the writing lacks substance. If readers finish your piece and they have a clear, compelling takeaway, they’ll connect more deeply with your writing. They’ll be more likely to recommend and share your stories.
“I liked that this piece had a clear target audience, while also appealing to a broader audience of anyone who is familiar to startups acquisition and would find this interesting. In particular I think this kind of piece appeals to would-be and aspirational entrepreneurs who are interested in one day getting to this stage, and in that case I think it broadens the scope of interest for your potential audience beyond just those in the day-to-day of it.”
The balance emphasized here is tough. How can you appeal to both a targeted audience and a more general interest one? Focus the advice toward a specific audience. The insights will be unique and valuable. Find that broader audience that is tangentially interested. While they may not apply the advice, they’ll still be curious to learn.
Consider the voice you use: “I also appreciated that a lot of the language in this piece was very candid-sounding without being overly authoritative or self-referential.” Be humble. Bring in lessons from other sources too. While you’ve found the answers, you didn’t always have them. Show that you yourself are learning. I know I couldn’t have written this alone.