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May 29, 2018 | 5 min read

The Hierarchy of Information in Publishing

Content Marketing

To produce meaningful written content, brands must nail the facts and build their ideas into a continuous narrative developed over time.

The most successful publications build engagement with their readers by conforming to an effective hierarchy of information. At the base of the hierarchy are facts, which support the ideas that a brand wishes to share; then, those ideas are connected to develop a compelling narrative. Crafting narratives allows brands to express bigger, more challenging concepts and boost the reach of their stories.

But doing so isn’t easy. Most publications aren’t guided by a coherent narrative; many don’t actually express original ideas; and often, what looks like a fact isn’t actually true in any meaningful sense.

Building a Foundation of Facts

Facts are the most basic unit of information within a piece of writing. They’re the essential building blocks of any story and, together, they form the framework from which writers can introduce higher concepts.

This may seem obvious, but in order to function effectively in the hierarchy of publishing, the facts you talk about need to be actual facts. Writers and publishers encounter problems when they accidentally invent social trends, eras, or other paradigms that are only loosely based in reality.

I touched on this phenomenon in my most recent article on the strategy of writing. It is tempting to launch into an argument with, “In a time of X” — but usually, statements like this set you up for a sweeping generalization, if not an outright falsehood. As such, if facts are the foundation on which you build the more advanced parts of your publishing strategy, establishing a shaky or fuzzy premise will weaken the higher-level claims that you make.

Presenting Thought-Provoking Ideas

Ideas are the next level up in the hierarchy. Expressing a good idea is a powerful way to connect with your audience, allowing you to capture people’s imaginations or challenge their conceptions. Good, novel, compelling ideas will make your readers ponder your writing and your brand on their journey home from work.

Of course, it’s not enough to just have an idea: writers need to develop thoughtful arguments to defend the premise of an article. This is to say, writers who drill down into the fundamentals of what they’re expressing, eliminating any vagueness, will end up with more memorable and impactful work. The ultimate goal should be to answer the question, Why does this matter to the reader?

Take this example from Debbie Madden, CEO of Agile consulting firm Stride, in her article, You Probably Shouldn’t be CEO of your Startup. Ask Yourself These 3 Questions to Find Out:

Companies are ever-evolving. As the founder CEO, your team and investors look to you to look out for them. You have to look ahead, like Jeff Bezos. You have to look inward. You have to be humble.

If you love your job and feel you are qualified to grow with the changing needs of the business, embrace the ride and focus on growth and delegating roles. If you feel it’s time to move on, embrace this too. Today is day one of the rest of your life and the sooner you can act with intent, the sooner you can get busy with moving forward.

Debbie summarizes her main idea: companies grow and change and they might change away from their founders. Then she breaks down how to triage the situation and take action in the present.

Constructing a Rock Solid Narrative

Narratives function both within articles and as a cohesive element across the brand publication itself. If you can create an overarching narrative via your publication, you build a sense of coherence and the impression that your business is conscious of the story it wants to tell. Meanwhile, successfully building a narrative allows you to express larger concepts that don’t fit cleanly into short-form articles.

If you’ve ever read our publication, EQ, you’ll see this in action. We cover entrepreneurship news in St. Louis, but we don’t just write about the news — the ideas that we express via editorial coverage contribute to several ongoing narratives we’ve developed relating to the city.

One narrative relates to St. Louis and how the city must engage with readers on a world-class rather than a provincial level: one worthy of St. Louis heroes like Marshall McLuhan and Chuck Berry. An article can certainly contain a narrative like this, but it is much more effective if it becomes a common theme, developed and expanded upon, across multiple stories.

The cardinal imperative of writing is to communicate information. In order to do this successfully, brands have to excel on all levels of the hierarchy of information: committing to the facts, expressing compelling ideas, and prioritizing continuous, internally-consistent storytelling. Doing so enables brands to express more challenging, complex, and nuanced information and to form sustainable connections with their audiences.

We’re looking forward to working with you, too.

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