How to Write Engaging Content About “Boring” Subject Matter

yawning-349753_1920This is a guest contribution from Anna Johansson.

Unfortunately, if you’re an industry expert in construction, finance, software development, or other similar “dry” field, you’ve already been handed the short end of the content stick. Your industry is important, and the subject matter is interesting to you and other industry gurus, but it just isn’t that exciting to the average web user. 

Of course, this only matters if you’re trying to write content that’s accessible to the average reader. However, if your goal is to give your audience an “in,” it’s time to kick up the engagement factor. Consider the following tips for rousing interest in your topic.

1. Give It Your Best Writing

When boring topics come across your desk, especially as a freelancer, it can be tempting to do a half-hearted job because you feel only lukewarm about the subject. After all, if it’s that boring, why waste your time on it? Resist this impulse. Poor writers create poor content, but a great writer can turn even the most boring topic into a compelling one.

How do good writers do it? The best content writers know how to create an unexpected angle on even the most mundane topic. They know what’s out there, so they aren’t repeating the same dull line. Instead, they push limits or create surprising connections. Great writers resist the expected.

Take for example, a post about installing drywall. While a weak writer will hand you a step-by-step explanation of the process and a list of necessary materials, a great content writer can turn this type of topic into an adventure. They provide readers with the needed information, but they’ll also show off incredible room transformations or offer anecdotes about what we used before drywall was invented. The difference is night and day.

2. Be Helpful

This is one of the primary rules of content creation. Useful content isn’t boring to the people who need it, according to the experts at HubSpot. Taxes, for example, are pretty objectively boring – but when tax season rolls around, everyone’s looking for information on how to properly document deductions and contributions to their retirement funds. The same applies to people looking for tips on how to negotiate a lower medical bill or unclog their kitchen sink.

Whatever your industry, it’s likely you can offer help to someone who needs it. You don’t have to make your boring topic more interesting. If the blog post you write is genuinely helpful and provides an actionable answer to the person who searched for it, you’ve already got an audience – and they’re reading with rapt attention.

3. Dumb It Down

“Boring” is a pretty broad category, and the term is often used to describe content that the average layperson doesn’t understand. Maybe your industry is extremely complex, but you’re trying to market your products or services to people who don’t understand all the intricacies or have access to the jargon you do. Your blog is a great opportunity for you to get on their level by offering introductory insights or tidbits about the field.

If you’re stuck on how to explain a complicated topic, the bloggers at web marketing firm AudienceBloom advise using a metaphor to break it down into more understandable information. People don’t respond emotionally to facts and figures; they want to see how they personally relate to the information.

Find a normal occurrence to compare to your idea. One popular analogy is that “blogging is like jogging” – it takes some time to gain momentum, and it’s hard to get started, but it eventually becomes second nature.

4. Dig Deeper

If you’re not interested in dumbing down your content to engage a broader reader base, the alternative is to go deep. And not just in the sense that you’re appealing to those with years of experience – no, this is your chance to become an expert on a highly specific topic. If you can become the smartest person around on a niche topic, you’ll attract a devoted, though often small, following.

As noted before, sometimes boring is code for a lack of reader understanding, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes boring means that you’re skimming the surface too lightly and it’s time to go deeper. Every topic has its devotees who find even the smallest detail of a topic interesting and creating expert content is the best way to draw them to your site.

Expert content will bring the people who are thrilled by the intricacies of home plumbing fixtures or self-employment taxes to your page. There may not be a lot of them, but they love to encounter someone who knows more than they do.

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5. The Secret’s in the Story

The most important thing you should take away is this: People relate to stories. Facts about your industry may be informative, but without a story to back up the information, your readers aren’t going to care. And if you can offer a first person tale inflected with a little humor, all the better. Readers love to see the expert taken down a notch or otherwise humanized.

As for the story, remember the old fiction pyramid from grade school? It’s time to dust it off, bring it back to life – and apply it to your blog. Here’s a breakdown.

  1. Introduction. Headlines are important. The title of your blog entry should pique the reader’s interest. Then, where the beginning of a novel introduces the characters and setting, the first few lines of your blog post will reveal a problem or conflict – bonus points if you reveal that you’re mired in this particular problem yourself. The reader should be curious about how you intend to solve or address the issue. 
  2. Rising action. It’s time to flesh out the information you want your readers to know. Now that they have some context, provide the supporting facts, quotes, links, and charts. Don’t overdo it, though. You’re trying to build a case, not bore them to tears.
  3. Climax. Here’s where you propose your solution. You’ve laid out a case for them, and this is the pinnacle of your argument – the idea you’ve been getting at. Depending on your topic, this could look a few different ways. For example, explain that they should take your advice because the alternative will have negative consequences – long term plumbing problems, tax penalties, or lost income are all compelling consequences of boring issues and these will spur readers to action.
  4. Falling action. For the most part, this is a short section both in storytelling and in blogging. Close out your argument and wrap up any loose ends. This is a good spot to mention any difficulties you encountered when acting on the solution.
  5. Resolution. Finally, present the solution to the problem. Your reader should arrive with a sense of both relief and interest. A call-to-action is a great wrap-up. If it’s an onsite blog, provide a link for where they can find more information. If you’re blogging for an external publisher, a good call-to-action is a request for comments. You’re opening up the discussion, allowing them to provide input and experience – as well as to ask questions or, in some cases, to contest what you’re saying. That’s okay, too. Discussion – even in conflict – is true engagement.

6. Go Multimedia

It’s now well documented that users are more likely to stay on a page that includes pictures or video content – or the now popular infographic. Why? For many people, visual content is easier to understand than written material, especially on technical or abstract concepts. If you can show instead of tell, go with it. People would far rather watch someone explain how to unclog a toilet while also watching clips of the process than simply read a step-by-step description.

As for content that’s less visual in nature, don’t be afraid to get personal. You may not have a great video or diagram to explain how trading stock options works, but pair a “How To” article with a video where you talk about why you started trading options and you’ve got a much more compelling piece of content.

If all else fails, try a slideshow. Slideshows are less interesting than a video or even great, instructive pictures. But what slideshows offer is physical engagement. When readers have to click from slide to slide, they become participants in your post. User propelled slideshows are also a great way to walk readers through a task by suggesting that they complete each phase before they click to the next slide.

7. Enter The Quizbowl

Nobody wants to start reading a boring blog post, only to find out that they’ll be quizzed, but that doesn’t mean quizzes have no place in the content industry. Rather, quizzes are a great way to draw reader attention back to your content.

Create engaging, topic-related quizzes for your content by digging up interesting or obscure trivia. In a post about day trading, for example, you might offer semi-related quiz questions such as “what year was the stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression?” or “who was the first female broker?” Just be sure to stick to the trivia and leave content quizzes to company trainings or other mandatory learning exercises. You don’t want your content to become a chore.

8. Keep It Brief

Finally, when writing boring content, make sure to keep it brief. Readers are likely to lose interest, even when they need the information at hand. Instead of droning on for pages, cut your language to the necessities. If you can, break the topic down into its component parts and present them as separate posts. This allows readers to take a break and absorb the first segment, and can actually prevent readers from drifting away without finishing the full post.

Final Thoughts: Your Blog, Your Industry

You can try a number of other strategies to spice up content that would otherwise be boring, but across the board, the answer is the same. It comes down to publishing good writing – which means understandable, engaging, and useful writing produced by skilled content professionals. No matter what your topic, there’s ample opportunity to make this happen. Just remember that no topic is a throwaway. Treat even the most boring content like its important and engaging and you’ll get the best results.

Anna Johannson is a freelance writer specializing in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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