How to turn interviews into engaging articles
You’re a sesquipedalianist. And you don’t even know it.
We all like to sound clever. Who doesn’t like to come across as though they understand stuff that other people don’t?
It’s a natural human impulse. It doesn’t make us bad people. But it does make us bad writers.
Take the heading above. Anyone who uses the word sesquipedalianist is clearly hugely annoying because most people obviously have no idea what it means.
A sesquipedalianist is someone given to using long words. And we are all sesquipedalianists. Some of us are just better at suppressing the urge.
As writers who often have to interview specialists to put together accessible, intelligent articles and blogs, we not only have to hold back our own desire to use long words and jargon, we have to hold back theirs too.
And that’s a lot of sesquipedalianism to deal with.
In the 1990s there was a shampoo ad on TV that promised to coat your hair in ‘nanosphere complex’. Which sounds amazing, right? Except that it isn’t a thing. It’s completely meaningless but sounds vaguely impressive (or did in the 1990s).
And that’s how most industry jargon comes across to people on the outside. Apply the nanosphere complex test to everything you write. Does it really mean anything? Do people actually know what you’re talking about? If not, rewrite and repeat the test.
There there are very few things that will kill a reader’s interest as quickly as the use of jargon. It is also a strong sign that the article isn’t very well written
If someone doesn’t understand a term immediately, it will break their concentration, frustrate them and probably make them think that the article isn’t one they’ll be interested in.
We live in a pretty brutal world – there are masses of articles out there vying for readers attention.
Even if you’ve managed to stop someone scrolling, tempted them to click and persuaded them to read, if they have to stop for even a second because they don’t understand something, you’ve lost them and they won’t come back.
Writing Business to Business blogs it can be tempting to just repeat the jargon used by an interviewee and hope that the reader will understand what is being said.
There are two problems with this.
Firstly, you may not understand the issue properly yourself and as such, you’ve basically got no idea what you’re talking about.
Secondly, even if you do understand it, you are limiting your readership to people who already know an awful lot about the subject. And most clients will want to extend the reach of their articles far beyond that.
There is very little art in writing a jargon-filled article. Translating a jargon-filled interview is something that takes imagination, patience and brain power.
Our job is to listen, understand and then translate so that the reader doesn’t tadalafil 5mg canada have to.
The Clapham Omnibus
In England, there has long been a notion of the ‘ordinary’ man. Often said to spend a great deal of time aboard the Clapham Omnibus, this chap is a model of intelligent reasonableness.
Journalists are often told to write for this guy. Would he know what they’re talking about?
I don’t spend much of my time mentally ‘shouting sentences’ at someone on the Clapham Omnibus but I do stop to think if my mum would follow what I’m writing. And if she wouldn’t, it gets rewritten until she would.
It doesn’t have to be Omnibus Man or my mum. But everyone needs someone to mentally test their copy against.
There are good reasons people use jargon.
It creates a unique mini-language around a particular field of expertise and that helps those within it communicate accurately and easily. But jargon doesn’t travel.
Some people enjoy the exclusivity of sounding knowledgeable about a particular subject. Others are so immersed in jargon they can no longer communicate without it.
Either way, we have to cut through.
When interviewing people as the basis for writing an article or blog post, ask them to explain their work, their view or their thesis to someone who doesn’t work in the industry.
If that’s not helping, ask them to summarise in two sentences or 10 seconds.
Don’t be afraid to politely ask for clarification – “what does that mean in simple terms?” or “talk to me as though you’re explaining it to a 6 year old”.
Trust your gut – if you don’t think you have grasped something, ask again. A small amount of awkwardness in the interview is worth it if it helps you write an article that is clear and readable.
If you’re not getting anywhere, change tack. Ask about something else and then re-ask the question you’re stuck on in a different way further down the line.
Ask the expert to list several elements to the answer – that way they’ll break it down and give you more digestible chunks.
Aim for accessible writing even when you’re covering very complex issues. Write to appeal to everyone interested in current affairs. Don’t assume insider knowledge and don’t patronise either.
And don’t use long words. Unless your audience is replete with sesquipedalianists…
Like this post? Read ‘Why you should be writing for an intelligent goldfish‘.
Keith Breene is a Senior Writer at Formative Content and has 20 years experience as a national journalist and corporate storyteller.
Extracting key information from specialists to create engaging stories and content is what our journalists do best. If you’d like us to help tell your corporate stories, get in touch.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call our team on 01494 672 122
Formative Content is a UK based content marketing agency producing high quality content, live event coverage and strategic communications support for clients around the world.
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