by Karen Langhauser, chief content director, and Meagan Parrish, senior editor, Pharma Manufacturing
Writing great articles takes preparation, planning and a bit of inspiration.
If you’re resourceful, you can keep your publication interesting and valuable for your readers. By keeping a list of ideas nearby and doing careful research, you can stay prepared for the writing task and simplify your work as an editor.
Creating a list of ideas helps you generate new articles quickly whenever you need to fill a gap in coverage. Here’s how you can generate new articles on a regular basis:
- Plan features ahead: During day-to day reporting, keep a running list of potential feature ideas
- Stay in-touch with your industry’s content: See what stories other industry publications are producing, and see if you can generate similar (but perhaps more targeted) ideas, or rule out angles that are already well-covered
- Ask interviewees for ideas: At the end of interviews, ask experts what they’re seeing/hearing that’s being overlooked to see if they have ideas
- Invite input from readers: Ask readers for input! Add a link to your website that lets them submit ideas, or solicit ideas on social media or through surveys
- Use your editorial board: If they aren’t responsive, find people who are.
- Become an Azbee judge: Volunteer judges can see what other publications are doing, helping them see the best of B2B publishing and find ideas for their own publications.
Choosing a topic and early research
To decide if a topic is worth pursuing, binge-research all the literature you can find on it. Understand the angles that have already been explored. This helps you find your industry’s latest discussions and most relevant coverage.
Good questions to decide whether to pursue a topic/angle include:
- Can you provide a fresh angle? A great way to approach this question is by looking for perspectives that are missing or haven’t had recent coverage.
- Is the topic timely? Newsworthy topics are top-of-mind right now for your audience.
- Is it relevant? Does the topic help your audience?
- How much impact does it have? Is this the most important topic right now?
- What can you readers learn? What takeaways are the most beneficial for your readership?
- What’s the likely takeaway?
- Who will you interview?
- How difficult will it be to secure interviews given your deadline?
- Perhaps most importantly: Can you move the needle on the available literature and provide new information?
Don’t be afraid to tackle a well-covered topic if you can find a specific angle that’s more relevant to your audience. It’s also a smart best practice to look for mass media headlines people connect with, and research ways they may apply to your industry.
With ideas prepared, you’re now ready to start writing. Generate headline and cover concepts early to focus research on one angle. Then, create an outline to decide what sources you need, but stay open to changing direction if a new or better angle comes up.
From there, find sources that represent the sides of your topic. Look for experts who can provide a bird’s eye view and others who can give a boots-on-the-ground perspective. Prepare to be rejected for many interviews— reach out to more sources than you’ll likely need.
Before the interview, be sure to do your homework! Research the person you’re interviewing and who they work for. Sources will be more open to a journalist who they believe understands what they do. Think about what they’re likely to tell you (and what role this interview will play in the article) to craft better questions and have follow-up questions in mind. Always have at least ten burning questions to ask.
Ask for anecdotes — specific stories pull readers in. Real-life experiences are interesting and can create a personal connection between interviewees and readers. Expert sources can also be part of the story.
The writing process
As you write, read your interviews and note which parts of the article the quotes fit into best. Assemble the puzzle with an outline of the main points and decide whose quotes you’ll use in those sections.
To prepare yourself for success, understand what environment you write best in (for example, if you need background noise or quiet).
If you get stuck while writing, take a break. Or skip that section and come back later. Trust you’ll be able to write your way out of a jam. If you’re still stuck, say out loud what you’re trying to convey — you can usually write in the same way you converse.
You may not be able to use your “darlings,” but you don’t have to kill them. Write down every compelling thought that comes into your head, even if it doesn’t fit with what you’re writing at the moment. Keep a running list of “notes” at the bottom of your document, then use them to generate additional sections, subheads, column ideas, etc.
Tone matters. We write in an accessible, digestible tone reminiscent of real conversations; you’ll find people respond better to it.
Don’t be afraid to be funny. People respond to humor. A clever, well-placed remark or subhead can be very powerful in connecting with readers. In small doses, humor can lighten heavy B2B topics.
If you have a draft finished that you’re unsure about, consider asking a colleague to read it and offer their suggestions. Remember that B2B writing is a craft – it’s never too late to apply new tactics, improve your writing, or strengthen your skillset.