How to turn dry or boring topics into something your prospects find interesting and engaging

How to turn dry or boring topics into something your prospects find interesting and engaging

Polly Kay

Polly Kay
25th April 2019

Some topics you need to write about are never going to be interesting in and of themselves, even for people who need the information contained within them or that already understand the value of it.

If you need to get information across to your prospects or buyers but don’t know how to turn the topic at hand into something engaging, interesting and readable, you’re going to bore your readers to death or lose their attention entirely. However, with the right approach, even the driest and uninspiring of topics can be presented in such a way as to interest or entertain your readers, invest them in your message, and keep them reading until the very end.

In this article, I will explain why certain types of content can be so hard to infuse with life, outline the importance of creating engaging and readable content regardless of its application, and share some advice and pointers on how to do just this: 

Why are some topics so hard to write about?

Whilst everyone gets the odd bout of writer’s block from time to time (regardless of what they may be writing), some topics and types of content simply tend to be more challenging to infuse with life than others.

This may be for multiple reasons, such as the need to get across essential but dull information on health, safety, or the correct operation of something, the technical nature of the topic, the dryness of the source material, or the importance of making the message crystal clear and getting across all of the key points.

Exactly what type of content any individual finds the most challenging to write can be variable, but generally, creative topics and those that are of great interest to the writer (such as is the case for most blog posts, website pages and articles) pose much less of a challenge than others.

It tends to be things like product descriptions, operating instructions and tutorials, technical data sheets, reports, and white papers that most people struggle with bringing to life, because content like this is often heavy on technical specifics with a smaller or less obvious place for creativity and interpretation.

The importance of keeping the message clear and unambiguous for some types of content can also make them hard to write about fluently and creatively, but breathing life into a topic doesn’t need to mean that the message gets lost in translation. If you can bring some flair or a new angle to the content successfully, this greatly increases the chances of your message being received, understood, and remembered later on.

The benefits of making a dull topic interesting 

If something is worth writing, it needs to be up to the task of fulfilling its purpose, otherwise, it is a simple box-ticking exercise that is of no real value to either the writer or the reader. The most obvious benefit of making a dry, boring topic readable is that it will, of course, get across the information that you are transmitting effectively and memorably, as well as keeping the reader going until the end so that you get the chance to say everything that you need to.

However, if you can reliably transform a dull topic into something interesting and engaging, or at least easy to read and not too long, you will begin to notice a range of other benefits too.

If prospects know that you can provide the information they need on a topic without boring them to death (whether this be a 30-page report or a single product description) they are exponentially more likely to return to you in future when they want to find out more or make a purchase, which helps to position you as an authority in your field.

Simplifying a complex topic effectively or bringing something boring to life also enhances the sharability of your content, and positions you well to achieve a higher number of social shares as your prospects appreciate the value of what you have provided and want to pass it on to others who might feel the same.

An innovative approach of making something that is usually dull fun to read also enhances brand perception and memorability, and helps to get your brand on people’s radar in the first place too.

When it comes to potentially dull or repetitive types of content such as product descriptions, going light on the details or copy/pasting largely duplicated content across multiple descriptions might seem like an easy shortcut (and is one that many online retailers take) but if you do this, you’ll miss many valuable opportunities to sell.

Online shoppers get frustrated when they can’t find the information they need about a product (such as its dimensions, suited applications, options or key features) and will shop with another retailer who has put the time into simplifying the shopper experience instead. After all, 89% of customers make the move to a competitor when they have a poor experience with their initial retailer of choice.

Once you have secured an initial purchase from a prospect, they are much more likely to return directly to you to buy again, and to tell their friends too – and prospects are 77% more likely to buy a new product or consider a new retailer when they come recommended by family or friends.

How to make a dull, dry topic readable and engaging

When you’re trying to turn dull, dry topics or technical information into something your prospects want to read and can see the value in, you need to integrate a number of approaches that encompass the writing style, the content itself, and the format and layout of the information in question.

Here are some pointers to get you started.

Getting your approach and angle right

Before you even start writing, you need to determine the right approach and angle for the content itself and vitally, its readership. Two different audiences might require two different approaches in order to enhance their chances of successful engagement; for instance, if you were writing on a topic for professionals and thought leaders in a certain field, the tone, style, level of expertise and manner in which you cover things will be rather different than if you are writing for laypersons or those new to a topic or concept.

Get to know your audience and have a good idea in your mind about the level of their prior understanding of the topic, ability to grasp and visualise it, and the tone and style that they will respect and respond to, and never lose sight of this along the way.

Show the end goal

Keeping the end goal in sight and making it clear to the reader why continuing to read has value that supports this end goal (such as getting over the information that you need to) is vital to incentivise readers when the going gets tough. You need to make the value of your document clear to the reader and ensure that they understand how it can benefit them, and potentially remind them as you go along within longer content of the end goal and how your content supports it.

Make sure that your work’s heading or title outlines clearly what the document is intended to do and what it can give to the reader, and reiterate this and explain your approach to achieving it within your opening paragraph.

If your document will be longer than a few paragraphs and incorporate sub-sections or sub-headers, reiterate where relevant how the information contained in each section helps to support the end goal.

Always avoid writing more than you need to, going off on tangents or covering topics in more depth or more background than is relevant, or that won’t provide value to your reader. However, if you do need to provide background context or take a longer way around to explaining or clarifying something, you can avoid losing readers along the way by ensuring that they understand how this part of your content supports the end goal.

Keep it simple

No potentially dull or dry topic is going to get more interesting by means of verbosity, so try to keep it as short and succinct as possible. Or, KISS: keep it simple (stupid)!

When your prospect is considering whether or not reading your content is worth the effort, seeing short content that is broken up (if needed) into clear sub-sections or bitesize chunks is much more likely to incentivise than a longform essay that is dense with text and uses ten words for every one that would suffice!

If you’re writing a larger document, consider adding a short section of key takeaways that the reader can refer back to, or placing a short list of bullet points outlining the most important elements to consider at the top of the content.

When you’ve done this, consider if this short section might, in reality, be all that you actually need – enabling you to dispense with the longer (and so, harder to incentivise) document entirely, or provide it for background and further insights for prospects who do in fact want to read more.

Adding visuals

There are few types of documents that cannot be enhanced with some visuals. Some, like product descriptions, very much require images and these often form a vital part of the description itself. Technical information can often be outlined to great effect with diagrams and tables, and charts, graphs and infographics can all be highly effective at not only getting a point across, but also incentivising the reader too.

You might even find that visuals can replace most or even all of your text, and this is a very effective way to make readers feel as if finding out more isn’t going to be too much like hard work.

Consider adding video content too, either to support your main document or to replace it entirely. Cisco projects that video content will comprise 82% of all consumer internet traffic by 2021, and 90% of surveyed online shoppers state that seeing a video about a product helps to incentivise a purchase.

Video content can be especially useful when selling or promoting certain types of goods that can be hard to describe or photograph accurately and effectively – such as jewellery. Whilst close-up shots of items of jewellery show the quality and fine detail of each piece, even a clear description of measurements or a tape measure or other item placed within product images for scale don’t always give a good impression of how an item will look when worn.

Short product videos that display the item of jewellery in question being worn and handled helps to provide a sense of scale and enables the prospect to visualise how it will look on them. This is just one example of an effective application for video within content that would otherwise require a lot of written detail to cover a single point, and that otherwise might be hard to portray or incentivise accurately.

When and how to encourage reader interaction

If you can make your content of any form interactive and involve the reader in its journey, you’re more likely to keep their attention for longer as well as increasing their retention of your key message.

Not all types of content are well set up for interactive content, but much is; if you can integrate a quiz, challenge, fun test or ability to add comments or leave feedback, your reader will feel more involved in the journey and as if they are a part of it, rather than an audience member being lectured to.

These things can also help to break up longer form content, and draw the eye; however, if they aren’t appropriate or relevant to the message at hand or if they make the content needlessly longer, they may be best avoided.

Using humour and irony appropriately

When I am faced with the task of writing something that might otherwise be dull or technical, my go-to solution of first response is to integrate humour or even irony into my prose. This is something that has proven highly effective across a range of different types of content and industries, but it is by no means a good fit for every application.

If your document or business as a whole can successfully make any piece of content fun or funny to read – even if it is not the type of content that one would usually think lends itself well to humour – you may find yourself with a total winner that will get a lot of attention and delight a reader who may have been reluctant to even open the document in the first instance.

However, humour and irony can be a bit of a wildcard, even within applications to which they lend themselves well. What any given person finds funny is very subjective, and if your style of humour, application of it, or execution falls flat, you run the risk of compromising prospect perception, or even offending and alienating your readers.

If you have weighed up the pros and cons and are confident that your document can be funny, witty or sharp, go ahead – but let your readers know what to expect from the get-go, so that your document doesn’t ring off-key or become confusing.

An intro paragraph that makes a connection with the prospect and tackles the pain point of needing to get through a potentially dull topic by letting your reader know that you appreciate their reticence and are going to try to make it fun sets your prospect up in a positive frame of mind to be receptive to this. This is highly preferable to leaving them wondering how the topic itself has managed to disconnect from the tone of the content supporting it, and whether the content remains plausible as a result, or if it is meant as a joke.

Translating technical information into layman’s terms without losing its message

Getting across technical data to a lay audience (such as if you need to explain how to use something, how to construct something or how to do something) is perhaps one of the greatest challenges faced by businesses and brands who need to convey important information to prospects effectively.

If you oversimplify the message it is likely to get lost along the way, but if you can’t translate the necessary information into terms that your audience can understand, they won’t get the message at all.

There are a number of ways to make technical information easier to understand and more accessible, and your approach to doing this will depend on your audience and what you need them to know.

Using metaphors or comparisons can be really helpful here, and can also enable you to inject humour into otherwise dull, technical topics. For instance, a couple of years ago I used an internet forum to ask for advice on getting to grips with the basics of setting up a solar array to provide supplementary power to an off-grid dwelling.

But without a good working understanding of the core principles of electricity (voltage, current, resistance, cable thickness, power drops, state of charge and so on) I was unable to understand even the simplest of explanations of the system, because I didn’t fully understand the key terms needed to explain them.

Fortunately, someone took pity on me and wrote out a somewhat tongue-in-cheek explanation of the system using metaphors that included growing tomatoes, playing with kittens, and going to sleep at night, which not only made me (and other readers) laugh, but that told me everything I needed to know for my specific purpose. Not only that, but I still remember and understand it now some two years on.

Again, this type of approach won’t work for everyone or be well-suited to every subject, but the more you can simplify the basics or translate them into a more accessible format for your audience (and if needed, back them up with supporting technical data for readers who are disposed to learning more) the better.

Linking, content repurposing and supporting information

Whatever type of document you plan to create, it’s not going to stand alone; it will need to support and/or be supported by other forms of collateral too. For instance, a product description displayed on a website will be supported by the other content on the website, and potentially, incoming links, social media shares and paid or promoted ads as well.

This information can help your prospects to find out more about the topic or direct them to it, and both incentivise and show the value in it, encouraging your prospects to learn more or take a desired action once they have.

For instance, if you are promoting and advertising a new product and can describe and incentivise it effectively within your ads and off-site content, in order for this to be useful and generate sales, your prospects have to be able to find it and take action on it easily when it catches their attention. Make it easy to buy or find out more, and incentivise with supporting information or snippets of the main content that will garner a positive result.

Content repurposing is something else that can help you to get dull or dry information across to a wider audience, or make it easier to digest by those who need to know it. Content repurposing allows you to use one document or type of content and turn it into another format, such as a blog post into a podcast, a list of instructions into a how-to video, or a white paper into a series of shorter articles.

Repurposing potentially dull content into other formats can help to increase the number of people who digest it, make it easier to understand, and incentivise prospects to view the original content too if they want to take a deeper dive into the subject at hand.

TL;DR: Points to remember

Still with me, or just looking for the Cliffs Notes? Here you go:

  • Keep your audience and their level of interest and understanding of the topic at hand in mind at all times.
  • Keep the end goal clear in your reader’s mind by referring back to it as appropriate.
  • Don’t write War and Peace if a couple of paragraphs would suffice.
  • Break up your text into more manageable sections and chunks, and integrate bullet points, visuals and video where appropriate.
  • Look for ways to engage and re-incentivise the reader where possible by means of interaction.
  • Consider using humour and irony, but with great care.
  • Avoid technical jargon or overly convoluted explanations of technical information. You’re not trying to show your prospect how clever you are, you’re trying to teach them something and keep them invested in learning about it. If you have a large volume of information available to support your content, winnow it down into only that which is appropriate and essential to your audience.
  • Support your content effectively with links, additional information and opportunities to find out more or take in the information in a different format.

Finally, ask your readers or prospects for help and feedback. If a significant proportion of your readership isn’t getting to grips with the information you provide or can’t bring themselves to read it, knowing this can help you to fine-tune your existing and future content into a more effective format for your human readers.

If you are prepared to invite comments and interact with prospects in the replies, asking them how you could have done it better, what was unclear, what they found of value and what they’d still like to know, you can build up valuable audience insights that can help to enhance your wider collateral and approach to connecting with prospective buyers.