The trouble with explainers—whether videos or articles or whatever—is that they’re written by people who know what they’re writing about. That sounds like a good thing, and it mostly is. But the challenge for many people is remembering what life was like before they knew so much about a topic. They don’t understand how little the rest of us actually grasp.
Whenever I write anything, I try to guess what questions a reader is likely to ask. For example: What are you talking about? Why do I care? Am I supposed to know that person you just name-dropped? What should I do next?
This also applies far beyond what you might consider an explainer. Really, any time you’re educating or sharing insights on something new, you need to make sure you bring your intended reader along for the ride. A great example of this is FATFREE creative superstar Dennis’ article about creating and selling NFTs. He asked me to take a look at his post and I was stumped by the first sentence. Because, as familiar as he was with NFTs after months of immersion, it never occurred to him that many of us didn’t know what NFT stands for and, even if we did, what that actually means.
In a nutshell, the key to writing a good explainer is making sure every bit of jargon, every acronym (short of, say R&D or LOL) is spelled out and given context. You have to rewind to your own “before” state, and take people along on your education journey—just in far fewer words.
In the case of Dennis’ article, we were able to keep everything he wanted to say, but we added enough background and definition that people didn’t have to be experts to understand his perspective. In fact, many of the comments he received were from folks who appreciated how the article brought them up to speed on the trend.
Breaking down complex ideas into simple language is an art. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at the brilliant Thing Explainer, a book that describes complicated technology and processes using only the one-thousand (or, actually, ten-hundred) most common words in the English language. An elevator becomes a “lifting room” and human cells are “tiny bags of water you’re made of.” You may not need to go to that level of simplicity, but you do have to scour your text for words and ideas normal people don’t use every day.
In addition to spelling out even the most basic terms, there are a few other things you can do to make your educational content more accessible and complete:
- Imagine three questions. Whenever I write anything, I try to guess what questions a reader is likely to ask. For example: What are you talking about? Why do I care? Am I supposed to know that person you just name-dropped? What should I do next? Incorporate the answers to obvious questions rather than leaving people to wonder.
- Cover the Ws. What it is. Why it exists. Who uses it. What that means for people. And don’t forget to explain hoW.
- Differentiate between concepts, brands and generic terms. Remember back when everyone wanted to know who owned the internet? It helps to distinguish general concepts from where and how they appear in the market.
- Don’t just define, provide context. In Dennis’ article, for example, it wasn’t enough to understand blockchain technology at a high level, we had to tie that to creating NFTs.
- Ask someone else to give it a read. If you’re trying to reach a broad audience, find someone outside the industry and ask them to highlight anything they don’t understand. You might be surprised at what’s hanging them up.
Clear communication that connects and motivates is at the core of our business. If you need help bringing your content to life, reach out to FATFREE any time.