Set yourself apart: Look to the future and make strong statements
The Internet has become an unstoppable force, one capable of producing an unreadable amount of content on any given subject in just a short period of time. That ridiculous accumulation of articles makes it tougher to stand out, but it’s by no means impossible.
During my time as a Feedback Editor for Bleacher Report’s Advanced Program in Sports Media, each week, without fail, I’ve encountered questions about how to break through that bulk of content.
How can I find my voice? What can I add to the discussion that’s new?
In order to separate yourself from the backdrop of discussion, you simply have to focus on forward-looking analysis, and you have to make strong, definitive statements. The fastest way to lose your audience is by telling them something they already know or not telling them anything at all.
Think about your reaction whenever you watch a sporting event. The final buzzer sounds, and you might take a few minutes (or hours, depending on the significance) to express your feelings of jubilance or depression. But after that passes, your focus inevitably shifts.
The past doesn’t matter as much, and it’s on to the next one. We products of the short-attention-span era can’t help trying to figure out how the results of the game we just watched might affect the future.
And that’s the first key to holding the attention of your readers and differentiating yourself from the masses.
Anyone can talk about what just happened. Anyone can look at a box score or relay a quote from the postgame presser. It’s what you can do with that information that allows you to be, well, you.
No one else in the world has the exact same take on the events of the future. Literally no one.
Playing up that unique aspect of your article really does help it stand out, and it also holds readers’ attention with much more ease. Predictions, compelling questions about the future and takes on the events yet to come are more interesting than recaps.
So, what does this mean?
I’m in no way advocating for you to abandon describing anything that involves the use of past tense. Backstory and background information are crucial parts of any narrative, even if they can’t be the only things set forth when you write.
Regardless of whether the overall topic of your piece focuses solely on peering into the crystal ball, make sure to at least include a forward-looking conclusion that leaves readers with your unique spin on what’s to come. Either make a prediction or ask a compelling question.
And don’t ruin your well-reasoned predictions by using weasel words, which is like pulling punches.
To show you what I mean, which statement sounds stronger?
- Based on their offseason acquisitions, the Brooklyn Nets look like they could be strong contenders in the Eastern Conference.
- Based on their offseason acquisitions, the Brooklyn Nets will be strong contenders in the Eastern Conference.
Is the first sentence really saying anything different than the second?
No, but the second sounds more definitive, even though it’s giving the exact same message. That’s because we’re eliminating the weasel words like “I think,” “could,” “might,” “probably” etc. In other words, they’re the phrases that give you an easy out as a writer.
Try to be decisive in your wording. State your thoughts in clear, concise fashion and your writing will inevitably be much stronger.
At this point, I suppose I should go ahead and apply my own rules.
If you start to place more of an emphasis on forward-looking analysis while maintaining a definitive tone, you will become a better writer, and you will stand out from the crowd.
See? No weasel words, and I’m sure you’re intrigued by the prospect of your future.
* * *
One Thing You Need to Know is a series in which we ask members of the Bleacher Report Advanced Program in Sports Media to write about just that: One thing they’ve learned that they would pass along to other aspiring writers.