The Leff team regularly conducts thought-leadership content audits to better understand conversations around topics that are important to our clients and to identify white space. While just about every field develops tropes, poorly edited thought leadership can fall victim to jargon, repetition, and vague (or blanket) declarations. Fully aware of Poe’s law, we want to give you a heads-up that what comes after these first two paragraphs is a piece of good-natured satire that’s meant to highlight some of those tropes. With any luck, you’ll be a little entertained as you recognize some of the common pitfalls we’re about to reenact.
May your research be rigorous and focused, and may your language be clear and precise. Your thought leadership will be sharper and easier to read as a result. Your audience, be they technical specialists or the C-suite, will be relieved and appreciative.
The future of this topic: An update
This topic is changing everything, especially if it’s technology. More than ever, organizations have access to platforms that can amplify their views on their areas of expertise. Here we have an illustrative example of a hypothetical customer. There’s no use for details that would help set up the topic. We can simply lift language and ideas from a customer-persona profile to describe client Kara or customer Jerry.
The reader is familiar with business trends and the macroeconomic landscape, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need ample space and word count to set the context. We’ll now repeat information on macroeconomic trends that the general press has covered extensively. Bear with us for another few paragraphs before we relate the context-setting to the central ideas or research. In a piece that touches on technology, we will be using “digital” and “mobile” as nouns. If we’re feeling especially bold, we might even include a throwback reference to the internet as the cause of changes that could upend—disrupt—industries and change the nature of work.
The core idea, when we get to it, will be at the intersection of something and something else. Thing one is likely technology, but thing two is a wild card. Options include: efficiency, transformations, and millennials. We’re likely to forget about Gen Zers, the first batch of which graduated from college in 2019.
What are the changes that make the focus of this thought-leadership piece timely, distinctive, and specific to us? No matter. We’ll skip all that to go to . . .
The recommendations. We don’t have specifics, but that’s okay. Big-picture guidelines will do—maybe just a bulleted list or questions to consider. After all, many established organizations have given vague, generic, and (accidentally?) no-duh guidelines. We’ll end it all abruptly here if the mood strikes.
Or we may add some detail to the recommendations, which pleases editors and marketers. We’ll experiment with suggesting “truly [adjective] [noun],” as in “truly innovative solutions,” “truly transparent communications,” and “truly de-siloed operations.” We won’t go into how to know if something is “truly” innovative or transparent or de-siloed or better than what came before. The “truly” is doing the work.
Should we use rhetorical questions in thought leadership? Unclear. Should we set up straw-man questions for ourselves to knock down? Let’s move on.
We won’t worry about concise, clean language, especially if we’re working in prose. Why use one word when nine would do? Between “in terms of the geographic focus of our study” and “geographically,” the choice is clear.
We’re experts in our field, so we’ve probably published on this topic before. A bit of copying and pasting and a splash of paraphrasing will be fine. It’s like that saying “physician, heal thyself.” Well, thought leader, quote thyself. (Did you know that it’s possible to plagiarize yourself?)
How can we wrap this piece up? We could put together an ordinary conclusion that restates (or states for the first time) why our argument is important or timely and what the stakes are. That seems a bit basic. Here’s an ingenious way to do it: plug the business.
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