For copywriters and content marketers, one of the most important tools in our writing toolbox is the ability to take a complex and heavy-going piece of research or technical information, and to turn it into an engaging and easy-to-read bit of content that sacrifices none of the vital messaging or substance of the original.
Sometimes it’s easy to do, but more often than not, to make a piece of complex information simple to digest is a task that requires a good bit of planning and focus to guarantee success. In this blog, we’re going to take a quick look at the content tips and ideas that can help you concisely and effectively transform hefty subject matter into something more palatable for new audiences.
Do your research
Whenever you find yourself tasked with explaining something complicated in layman’s terms, in-depth research is essential for getting your point across concisely and effectively.
Richard Feynman, in a quote occasionally misattributed to Einstein, famously said ‘If you can’t explain something in simple terms, you don’t understand it.’ If we reverse engineer this idea for the purpose of this blog, if you don’t understand something, you won’t be able to explain it in simple terms. Before you set out to turn dense and hard-to-read information into an engaging piece of content, get yourself off on the right foot by ensuring you’ve read up on the subject yourself.
This means going beyond just scanning a Wikipedia page. Check out what competitor brands have to say, access academic writings and scour the recent news stories on the Google News tab – do whatever you need to do to ensure you have the full picture yourself before explaining it to others.
If you’re introducing a brand new subject to a brand new audience, stay away from acronyms.
Used in the right circumstances, acronyms can prove useful for keeping things short and snappy, but having them in content that is designed to inform people about something they know nothing about is frustrating and confusing. This is especially true for science, technology and research pieces where clarity is paramount. Always assume that your audience don’t know what an acronym stands for.
If you think acronyms are a must-have for your content, when you find yourself referring back to things often for example, then make a point of explaining what the acronym stands for right at the start of piece. You could also put the full title and acronym in a bold or highlighted typeface to bring it out in the text.
If you find you’re spending too much of your wordcount explaining something in detail, provide a link in your content to another website that can provide the explanation for you.
When we write something for a new audience, chances are there’s going to be an awful lot you’ll need to explain, and it can be easy for the overall objective of the piece to get lost in all the context. If you’re trying to teach a beginner how to sail, you can’t spend ages going through all the different parts of a boat – unless the point is very relevant, add links to reliable websites that can adequately explain the different parts while you focus on the overall aim of the content.
Links also have the added bonus of backing up your content as an authority, unofficially associating the brand you’re writing for with other authoritative sources to reinforce your own material.
Make use of videos, animation and graphics
If you have access to designers, adding animations, graphics, videos and photos can go an awful long way in helping explain a dense subject.
It may sound blasphemous from a copywriter’s perspective, but it’s no surprise that our eyes are naturally more drawn to images and video than they are to written content. Lines of text don’t tend to have as much colour or animation and it’s worth bearing this in mind when you’re trying to capture a reader’s attention with heavy-going topics. A simple video or graphic can do wonders to quite literally illustrate the point you’re trying to make – even if you can’t produce original material, you can always link or embed someone else’s, with proper acknowledgement of course.
Finally, try to use your video or graphics to complement your writing and to highlight what you’re saying with your text, rather than re-treading old ground or using them to explain the subject in its entirety. Visual additions to written content should always be relevant to what the written content has to say.
Ask someone to proofread
While most people tend to ask for a second opinion about their content before it gets sent out, it’s especially important to do so when your work is explaining the complex to everyday readers.
Having an extra pair of eyes go over your content is an excellent way to test the waters, to see whether you’ve managed to explain things properly or whether things get a bit muddy or confusing along the way. It can be all too easy to get lost in a subject, forgetting along the way that many of your readers will be new to the ideas your trying to describe, and asking for external input can inspire crucial suggestions and feedback.
If you can, try to find someone with no, or at least limited knowledge of the material you’re trying to translate from complex to simple. That way, they’ll be in the exact same position as your readers, able to point out potential pitfalls that you haven’t spotted yourself.
Those are just some ways you can help your readers get stuck into new and hefty topics – for more ways you can refine your content to suit a wide range of audiences at all levels, keep an eye out for content blogs and other digital insights on the 26 blog here
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