Storytelling Content Creation

4 Tips on How to Write Content about Serious Stories

I recently had a birthday, and in my annual yet increasingly shorter period of reflection, it occurred to me that life is hard. Really hard. Another year of life is another year of responsibility on a freeway of priorities that between bills and work (and for us, learning how to write content), we somehow all manage to juggle. It’s hard enough that we use just 10 percent of our brains on it (apparently) and, according to a recent study from the University of Hamburg, our attention spans are two-thirds of what they were fifteen years ago—now empirically less than that of a goldfish.

Bear with me; I realize this article is no exception.

Attention Span Statistics

Our decreasing attention spans are a result of “infobesity,” or the excess of convenient information, which would explain why today’s brands are bent on learning how to write content that wins people over in just eight seconds—a number most marketers know as a website’s average bounce rate. Unfortunately, quick recognition comes with a caveat: You don’t do serious subjects justice when packaging them into remarks designed for the busy consumer. Some would say this permeates US presidential campaigns, but that’s neither here nor there.

Still, many media sites thrive on tackling complex or otherwise important issues without making light of them. Here are four content creation tips to help you do so as well.

1. Make it Sugar-Free, Please

Often the bane of a divisive topic is beating around the bush to spare the brand from negativity. Pharmaceutical firms occasionally go overboard in this way when addressing medicinal health; automakers sometimes do the same with car safety ratings. But when you smother an idea with pretty euphemism, you don’t give it the weight it deserves, and the content lacks focus and transparency.

Barring legal censorship, flowery messaging is a waste of time because all the effort you spend tiptoeing around the topic excludes you from the valuable conversation happening inside it. Before covering a tough idea, ask yourself: Is it difficult, or is it just trying to be?

2. Remember that Nothing Is Sacred

The Onion knows how to write content that confronts any social issue—not just because it’s delivered satirically, but also because it treats each story equally. It says things (most) people are already thinking, and therefore, everything is fair game. Storytellers can learn from this confidence, but they need to be careful.

Facetious comments on race and sex are generally taboo for a marketing team, but what if you stripped these things down? Human culture is a goldmine for provocative discussions the Internet just can’t get enough of, and some of the best infographics cut right to the chase:

Serious issues like race can make for compelling content.

As long as your content is rooted in reality, it can trip pretty much any emotional wire without being disrespectful.

3. Location, Location, Location

Last summer I traveled to South Korea to visit my sister, an English teacher, and on the way there the airline took a creative approach to its safety video: Each instruction was built into Web memes everyone now recognizes, and for the most part, it held your attention better than the traditional in-person performance.

That strategy is no longer unusual, with respect to Air New Zealand’s recent homage to Lord of the Rings (shown below), but this one wasn’t as charming as its Kiwi competition. It felt fake. Arbitrary. Unlike Peter Jackson’s famous filming location, a piece of collateral that brushes up against various viral videos has no natural place in a flight to Asia. I was clearly being marketed to, and that was the problem.

In order to entertain customers through a normally humorless situation, your material can’t just “do” something, suggests digital specialist Rob Toledo on the Moz Blog; it needs to “be” something. Witty content reflects its context, and if it isn’t consistent across the brand, it falls flat.

4. Analogize

Ultimately, the task of being straight with an audience who faces a heavier story than it realizes is like fitting a square peg in a round hole. You don’t have time to delineate the nitty-gritty, but you also won’t make an impact on them if they hear an abridged version. Anti-drug initiatives such as The Real Cost are superstars at solving this problem, using analogies to illustrate their cause without softening it.


When learning how to write content for a simple reader, look for everyday parallels that hinge on the same logic as the values the brand lives by. More often than not, you can use them to deliver sensitive facts—and in fewer than 140 characters.

It’s hard to get real with people when they don’t stick around for very long, and even harder in the face of polarizing information. But not every serious story kills the mood; with these content creation tips in tow, readers will actually appreciate your honesty.

For more advice on creating content that adheres to different tones and attitudes, subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.

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