I’ll say it upfront. I am not fond of the word “expert.” The only term I detest more is “thought leader.” It’s pompous and exclusive and condescending. As if an elite set of people have been crowned to guide the clueless masses, who don’t know how to think for ourselves.
So why, then, am I talking about how to write a think piece on your blog? Because blog posts that show how you think about things—and encourage your audience to do their own thinking about an issue or trend— can help you reach more readers.
Jayson DeMers, a contributor at Forbes, sums up the reason well in his article on expected 2016 trends in content consumers’ demands and behavior:
By 2016, user appetites for content will be more discerning. That means general listicle-style articles and clickbait articles will start to disappear entirely. Search engines, too, are getting better at identifying low-quality content and are doing a better job at filtering that content out.
As we move forward, in order to survive as online content producers, we will have to develop and publish blog posts that help readers not just learn new information, but make sense of it all in terms of their own businesses and their lives.
We will need to produce content that challenges people to understand problems and imagine their solutions.
These posts, I call them think pieces, have done all the work for the reader, researching, summarizing, and most importantly, giving our personal take on the issue.
Why should you add think pieces to the mix?
A think piece gets your readers to consider their problems in new ways. It builds on the knowledge you already have to not only report on an industry trend, but put your own spin on it.
In some cases, you may even be in a position to identify a new trend yourself—or take a trend or topic from another field, modify it and apply it to problems in your own industry.
If you like to mix up your posts (by the way, that’s a good idea), a think piece can give your readers a refreshing look at a topic or offer them a fresh angle on an old story.
How to write a think piece
1. Research to find new topics and trends.
Cast a wide net. Don’t just look at your own industry. Forbes, Small Business Trends, and other blogs and forums found on google will give you lots of ideas.
2. Write the post first with just the bare facts.
In your rough draft, identify the trend and why it’s relevant to your readers. Using your research, include quotes from a person or two that will give readers the big picture.
3. Go back and put your own spin on it.
Consider including: a personal experience, takeaways and applications for readers—and how you see this trend might evolve. Tell us what you believe, what your opinion is.
4. Break up your post for easy reading.
Use short quotes, images and sub-heads that move your reader through the major points. That way, your reader can scan if she is in a hurry and she will still be able to digest the main ideas of your post.
5. Ask your readers for their thoughts.
If you engage your readers by asking an interesting question or two, the thinking—and conversations—will continue. Ask them things like whether or how they see this trend playing out in their own business.
A few different ways to write a think piece
The posts I use as examples here have one thing in common. They upend a typical facts-only piece by adding the blogger’s personal experience and thoughts to create a rich, multilayered post with actionable points for the reader to implement. Some examples:
1. Take an existing concept or trend and transfer it to your business or industry.
In a past post, I looked at a not-so-new idea from another industry, education, and applied it to the content development arena.
This post started with a personal story about confronting fear as a first-year teacher. It had quotes on the value of empathy and connecting emotionally with people, followed by a summary of the research on emotional intelligence. Finally, it ended with how this theory from education can be used to make us better bloggers.
2. Modify and adapt an existing tool to help your readers solve a problem.
Sometimes, it can be as simple as taking a second look at a tool that has been around for years but hasn’t been talked about or used extensively in the content areas your blog focuses on.
In How to Generate Blog Content Faster with Mind Mapping, I dusted off a creative thinking tool made popular by a British psychologist to get my readers thinking about how they could use it to trigger more unique topics for blog posts.
3. Start or extend a new trend.
If you watch and listen, you just might identify something that could be a trend of the future.
In The Changing Face of Blogging, my goal was to dig deeper into the superficial advice people give to “tell stories on your blog” and focus on the why and how. I wanted to express my opinion on this trend and where I think it might be taking us.
My goal with A Tale of Three Little Content Consumers was to take the research on how people’s learning styles affect the way they think and take in information and apply it to the task of creating online content. It isn’t something that is being talked about a lot in content producers’ circles and I wanted to get my readers thinking about ways to use it to communicate better with their audiences.
So, if you are thinking about writing a trends post, or even a “Best Industry Picks” post, consider taking that extra step to make it a think piece. Your readers will thank you for it.