This article will show you how to construct a thought leadership article.
If you read to the end, you will:
- Understand the implications, benefits and outcomes of a thought leadership article.
- Know the technical steps required to effectively construct a thought leadership article.
- Understand the "levels of resolution" your article needs to function on to ensure maximum success.
Why should you construct a thought leadership article?
We’ll start with the implications.
By definition, this type of content implies you are an authority in your niche with something interesting to say. It implies that your thoughts and insights are valuable and worth sharing and that people want to engage with, discuss and share your ideas.
A thought leadership article is an opportunity for you to leverage your position within an industry to demonstrate your expertise and credibility, to share your insights with engaged voices, and to provide them with real value.
The difference between a thought leadership article and a run of the mill blog article, therefore, is that the former communicates a much deeper level of insight and value.
Used properly, a thought leadership article can generate tangible metrics. A well written and genuinely insightful piece of content has the potential to procure traffic and shares alongside huge contributions to brand visibility. If you are able to spare the time and resource to do it properly, they are a cornerstone of any successful B2B content strategy.
Next, the benefits.
The very act of writing a thought leadership article has personal benefits, as well as organisational ones. As you write the piece, you are refining and strengthening your ideas. You have the power to edit before publishing, meaning that you can reject weak ideas and make your insights as strong and clear as possible before sharing.
If you properly engage with this format, you have a real opportunity to refine your thought processes.
And finally, the outcomes.
By providing insights that are important, useful, and current, you demonstrate credibility and knowledge. If promoted correctly, this type of content will help increase your personal online visibility and your businesses. It may also lead to a potential increase in connections and customers.
It is important to invest time and resource into a thought leadership article because if you don't, it will be immediately obvious. People won't engage with half-baked ideas. If these are attached to your name and brand, it can be damaging.
What are the technical steps to create a thought leadership article?
The first step is to choose a topic that ticks the boxes we've outlined above. Will your article be important, useful, insightful, and/or current?
For this stage, brainstorm potential topics in question form and prioritise those which spark your own sense of intrigue or imbues excitement. Think about questions you get asked often, epiphanies you have had, or decisions you have made where the outcomes have been particularly effective.
Try to identify the things you would share with yourself in the early stages of your career if you had the opportunity.
With a topic in mind, construction of your article can begin.
How to write a thought leadership article (with help from Jordan Peterson)
He may be a divisive figure; but, when it comes to writing polemic and thought-provoking essays, Jordan Peterson is second to none. To this end, we've chosen to use his 10 Step Guide to Essay Writing as the basis of our writing guide.
There are many ideas explored and noted within his 10-step guide that are directly applicable to constructing a thought leadership article; and, although a thought leadership article functions slightly differently to an essay, there is a lot of useful information we can use here.
Some of the tips are obvious (“all of the paragraphs have to be arranged in a logical progression”); however, his level of explanation and exploration of how an essay should fulfil its purpose provide true value.
We'll only briefly touch upon the most relevant information outlined in Peterson's document, so we advise giving the whole thing a read.
A section at the end of this piece explores the similarities and differences between the formats, and how to factor these into your writing.
Peterson's levels of resolution
The most standout section is number two: Levels of Resolution.
These are seven individual levels on which a piece of writing should work, in order for the whole to be effective.
As Peterson notes, levels one to three are words, sentences and paragraphs. Each should be constructed well. The right words should be used within sentences, so they effectively communicate thoughts. Sentences together will communicate ideas. Each paragraph should contain one idea.
Level four is logical progression. Do your paragraphs work together towards communicating a coherent concept?
The essay (or article in our case) as a whole is the fifth level of resolution. Does yours successfully deliver its message? A lack of creativity, original thought, or grammatical know-how may be detrimental here.
Beyond the piece of writing itself are the reader and the culture it will function within, levels six and seven respectively. Each carries their own assumptions and each requires the writing to be pitched slightly differently.
We will approach these levels of resolution in reverse. Consider these tips applicable as a wider scale guide for writing online, too.
Who are your readers and what culture do they exist within?
Your article must resonate with the reader. It must provide value and be engaging enough to make someone read the entire thing and share it with their friends, family or colleagues. The insights within must not be banal.
When constructing your article, consider the following:
- Who are you trying to help and what value can you provide?
- What assumptions will your readers bring with them into your article? Should these be challenged or are you supporting an existing opinion?
- Which platform(s) will you promote your article through? Do these have specific guidelines that must be taken into account while writing?
What is the logical progression of your article?
This section is to ensure you have a clear idea of what you want to say and how you want to say it before putting pen properly to paper (or finger to key).
After choosing your topic and considering the audience of your article, write a scaffold of the points required to answer the question you have chosen to write about.
Initially, the scaffold should be a list of 10-15 bullet points which, when combined, convey the full answer to the topic question. Spoken aloud, these should pique someone’s interest and let them know what they can expect to learn from your article.
The next stage is adding notes to each bullet point. This doesn’t need to be polished prose at this stage, just add words and ideas that contribute to the logical progression. These notes will be refined and added throughout the process as you edit.
Peterson says a stock introduction and conclusion can be useful tools for ensuring the logic works, but they should not be included in the final piece. Respectively, they should answer the questions "what is/was the purpose of this writing?" and "how will/did it proceed?".
How to construct your article
Levels one to three "words, sentences and paragraphs" should function perfectly.
Brevity and beauty are factors you must consider. Deep insights do not need jargon to be communicated effectively; quite the opposite. As a thought leader, you should be able to communicate your insights simply and effectively to people who are still working toward your level of understanding.
The values Jordan Peterson prioritises in essays are worth, beauty and elegance.
A long piece may require subheadings; spend time and effort on these. They offer concise and brief explanations of what each section will entail (they'll also be useful from an SEO perspective). These are most effective when posed as a question or an action.
We recommend writing and editing your article until it is as good as you can make it. This may take several revisions and longer than you first anticipated, but the outcome will be worth it in the end.
Advice only goes so far. To achieve a successful thought leadership article you must write, edit and repeat. Peterson recommends rewriting each sentence and choosing the better one, and to keep doing this until they can't be improved any more.
It may be hard, time-consuming work, but eventually, your ideas will be communicated as strongly as possible.
Where is Peterson’s advice most relevant?
Peterson notes that the word 'essay' means 'to try'. He says the medium is a way to try and articulate your thoughts, refine your ideas, clarify your concepts, and eventually increase your knowledge and eloquence. This, he argues, has far-reaching implications and benefits.
We think a thought leadership article provides a similar opportunity for a professional within an industry; it allows you to articulate your thoughts, refine your ideas, clarify your concepts, and increase your knowledge and eloquence.
In both, you must avoid jargon and technical terminology. It doesn't make you sound clever or like an expert, it simply confuses people. Peterson described such language as “camouflage” which professors marking essays can see straight through.
In an article, you will need to reference quotes, data, ideas. The method of referencing will be less stringent than in an academic essay, though, which segues us nicely onto the next section.
Where is Peterson’s advice less relevant?
From execs to directors, your readers will often be those in your given industry. As such, their needs are slightly different to readers of academic essays. Your readers want actionable tips, where essay readers want ideas. Your article should start with a problem and deliver a solution. The problem and solution must both be real and relatable, otherwise, the reader will not care.
You have the privilege of being able to ask for input, which isn't afforded in academic essays. Pass the piece, or sections of it, around the relevant department(s) at your workplace. Get feedback; field test the ideas. Perhaps present the scaffold to your employees and see whether it resonates or generates enthusiasm and questions. If not, go back to the drawing board.
You also have some flexibility in methodology; personal anecdotes and stories may not resonate as effectively in essay format, but they can contribute to readers' alignment with your values and insights as well as making the piece seem more personable.
And finally, the number of edits and rewrites may be lower for an industry thought leadership piece.
Bonus section: How to write an actionable tip
We said that readers of a thought leadership article will be looking for actionable tips. This is to ensure they can draw benefit from your insights.
Here are some for this piece.
- Read your article aloud at various stages of its construction.
Read the scaffold out loud to test the underlying logic flows. Read the draft aloud to identify particularly good or bad sentences. Read the updated scaffold aloud. Read the final version aloud. Your mind is organised verbally, so reading aloud helps to make sure everything flows properly.
- Write about something that generates an emotional response within you.
If you are in the position in your industry where you can provide thought leadership, hopefully, you have some enthusiasm as a whole. Run through a list of potential topics and imagine speaking to your friend in the pub about them; which would be most engaging? Write about that.
- Mimic, but don't follow, the industry.
Contribute to discussions that are in vogue, but don’t just echo what everyone else is saying. Provide original insights. In fast-moving industries like tech, timely thought pieces can really set the author and their organisation apart from the competition.
- Don't be afraid to trim words, sentences, or even entire ideas from your piece.
Not everything you initially think is relevant or valuable will be included in the final draft
So what are you waiting for?
This article balances the technical aspects of construction with the considerations you must make to ensure your thought leadership article is interesting and valuable.
If you're stuck for ideas when it comes to putting together great pieces of content, why not get in touch with us today! We'll be happy to lend a helping hand!