“Valuable” and “relevant” are the watchwords that anyone writing marketing content today must observe. But how can you be sure that what you’ve just written (and are ready to post) really satisfies these criteria?
Well, you need to know who you’re writing for, and what the valuable takeaway is going to be for them. You also need to know why you’re writing the piece, so you have a clear purpose before you begin.
I recently read — and had to carefully re-read — a LinkedIn Post written by an architect who works for a large consulting engineering firm. I had to read the full article carefully to understand it (not many readers would bother). But from the title, it was not clear whether the article was written for those readers, or what would make that audience want to read this? I doubt the author had asked himself these questions in his haste to get something online quickly.
Had I been given this article to edit, I might have rewritten every word. But substituting my style for someone else’s would be reckless. A good editor exercises restraint to keep a text faithful to the author’s original ideas and point of view. Any modifications should serve to reveal those original ideas more clearly.
Here is the original headline and first paragraph:
Architects/Contractors should Understand Material Incompatibilities
Due to upgrades of energy codes in recent years throughout the U.S., the finicky detail of the continuity of the air and water barrier in façade construction has attracted more attention. A typical construction detail on a new project that contains rain screen cladding and curtain walls, windows, and/or a low roof level will ultimately require transition membranes to provide this newly required “continuity.”
This article will go on to discuss the how chemically incompatible materials fail when bonded together, an example where a transition membrane was used to prevent direct bonding of two incompatible materials on a facade detail, and what the reader should do to supplement his or her learning.
Even after the fact, a rewrite of this article’s opening paragraph provides an object lesson about making your content relevant and valuable to your audience.
Fixing The Opening
Can you see what’s wrong with the first sentence? I wanted to blow the proverbial ref’s whistle at the first word! I was warned away from using “due to” by a college English teacher who complained that her students used it interchangeably with “because of”. Also the excess of prepositional phrases indicated that this was flabby writing that could be easily condensed:
Recent energy code upgrades throughout the U.S. have focused more attention on the finicky detail of the continuity of the air and water barrier in façade construction.
As it happened, the first line was the only easy one to fix. The two bolded items above — “the continuity of the air and water barrier” and “facade construction” — are both big concepts that need further explanation. Which one should we keep in this sentence?
…a finicky detail of façade construction. The continuity of the air and water barrier…
Right away, I’m concerned: is this issue only limited to façade construction or does it extend to the whole building enclosure? The writer features an example from façade construction which suggests that he’s writing the article to inform architects and contractors. In that case, maybe the second option is a better choice:
…the finicky detail of the continuity of the air and water barrier throughout the building enclosure. This affects façade construction because.. (facades are made up of different components, and the AVB materials in each of these systems aren’t always compatible. Etc.)
Adding in a phrase like this helps to scope the article even more:
…what many architects and contractors may consider a finicky detail of facade construction.
Trimming The Follow-Up
Since the topic has been introduced above, is the second sentence a throwaway?
A typical construction detail on a new project that contains rain screen cladding and curtain walls, windows, and/or a low roof level will ultimately require transition membranes to provide this newly required “continuity.”
Let’s substitute “façade” following our guesswork from above:
A typical construction detail on a new project facade that contains rain screen cladding and curtain walls, windows, and/or a low roof level will ultimately require transition membranes to provide this newly required “continuity.”
That’s good for scoping the rest of the article down to a manageable length, and some of the detail can be introduced later. Also, I don’t know what the writer means by “transition membranes” off the bat. (With careful reading, I eventually can hazard a guess.) Ultimately, it’s the uninformed choice of these transition membranes (by architects and contractors) that cause this discontinuity.
[A typical construction detail on a new project facade]…will ultimately require need to have transition membranes between systems to that provide this newly required “continuity.
In the above revision, we lose sight of one idea in order to be clearer about another that is more immediate.
Now, will it work when we hang it all together?
Architects/Contractors should Understand Material Incompatibilities – But Do They?
Recent energy code upgrades throughout the U.S. have focused more attention on what many architects and contractors consider a finicky detail of the continuity of the air and water barrier throughout the building enclosure. This affects façade construction because.. (facades are made up of different components, and the AVB materials in each of these systems aren’t always compatible. Etc.)
A typical construction detail on a new project facade that combines rain screen cladding and curtain walls, windows, and/or a low roof level will ultimately require need to have transition membranes between systems to that provide this newly required continuity.
I’m not sure. It seems like “air/water barrier continuity” is a fine shortening to use in the first sentence. Even introducing “AVB” there instead would be even more efficient.
When we rewrite aggressively, we risk saying something the original author doesn’t wish to say, we risk corrupting the author’s original meaning or intention in the interest of clarity, or readability. We may substitute a confusing (but nonetheless accurate) sentence with a simpler one that is also accurate but that means something else. Conferring with the author helps us agree that not only is the prose better, but the original ideas are more accessible. Since I haven’t conferred with this author, I can only say that the prose is better, and the ideas are more accessible. I can’t be sure that the ideas I’ve substituted are equal to the originals.
Unlocking The Value and Relevance Of Your Content
I shared this with a colleague of mine, and he astutely observed that architects typically leave facade construction details to the engineers, since they have the expertise in this area. This would seem to favor the engineers with a lot of billable work. But why do architects/contractors suddenly need to know this? Currently:
- they are bypassing engineers who can get them out of trouble
- they are now creating more trouble that engineers have to work harder to get them out of
- their current level of ignorance at the front line is increasing the risk and liability the engineer is exposed to
- the engineer is doing more menial work
- Any or all of the above – the last three of which raise project costs.
This provides some insight onto the author’s motivation for writing the article. But what about the architect/contractor who is the target audience of this piece? The answer to this provides the relevance and value that are the watchwords for success in content marketing. So what is in it for architect/contractors to grow their knowledge in this area?
- Their own liability and risk of failure is now higher due to the energy upgrades.
- They have to produce more of these details (an increased workload)
- They need to be better partners with their engineers (not pass a growing burden on to them
- They need to use engineers in the first place, or obtain training or certification that helps them be more self-sufficient.
Your intent and the value of your information may be much clearer once you have asked yourself these questions, but your job as a content marketer is not finished. You also need to craft the indirect call to action at the end of the post that can include your author bio, company affiliation, and specialties, plus links to any other writing that may be available online.
I’m an expert in recycling highly technical content for broader use in content marketing and thought leadership programs for AEC firms and individual design industry professionals. This blog occasionally features demonstrations of how to transcend effective business writing into superior marketing writing, and how to build efficiency into your operations. Learn about our Stylist package, and check back here for new insights!