-or- rooted content vs thinking content
This is a weird one.
As I do pattern analysis on expert content, I find something that is obvious to the user but an absolute blind spot for the expert-as-writer.
You tend toward a preferred active vocabulary – that is – you have a way of thinking, writing, relating things and concepts.
The applied mental model in that process kicks off a trail. To you it’s a contrail.
For the user, it can be a dust cloud.
Let me see if I can explain my thinking here. We rely on heuristics in our writing, and there are roughly two kinds.
On one hand we have what I’ll call “rooted” content. It’s tethered to client/audience/user sense of reality in some way. Rooted in real life.
You might call it top of funnel content or search intent driven content, but that misses what I’m getting at.
For rooted content, the thinking by writing triggers are things like imagining we’re talking to one person we know well, or writing something immediately after a conversation with a client, or answering a real life question we got on a sales call.
And sometimes those end up being some of best posts. They are tethered to others perceptions of reality, your audience’s mental models.
I know. I need a better term for this.
Here’s how I think thinking content gets made:
We only have five registers plus or minus two. Meaning we can only really think about five things at a time.
Writing helps us organize these distinct things by getting them onto a page that can then be moved around into some logical order, be nested where appropriate, and in being put aside we can think about other things and then come back to it.
Like what Roam and the networked writing movement are trying to do. But you do this naturally.
Now this cuts both ways.
I think this is what makes daily writing to an email list so powerful, you get to take them on this journey, but I digress.
We can think about a limited number of things at a time. So we develop concepts that we refer to later. We think these are useful ways to relate ideas to our readers, and they can be, especially when these ideas take on a life of their own.
Most readers will be lost when you reference this idea or concept.
And often you don’t realize you are doing it. Like a programmer, you have created lots and lots of global variables and functions and nested this and that to move those thoughts and ideas around. When you create these things you have to name them so you can pass those variables through functions (or whatever).
You name them based on how you think.
But no one else can figure out what your code does because you didn’t name those things based on the way they think.
Those shims you use to prop up ideas, maybe call it ranges in your point of view, or the lens with which you view certain things, or the talking points you have when you speak or get interviewed, they all sort of get garbled together.
This is fine. You can make a glossary. If you’re feeling not lazy, you can even link to a page that has an authoritative treatment of your point when you reference the concept.
Can you see where I just did this a bunch?
- authoritative treatment of a topic
- ranges in your point of view
- thinking content vs rooted content
- applied mental model
- pattern analysis on expert content
- writing heuristics
- five registers
And that’s just terms to this point! I don’t know how to keep this email medium long instead of long long without leaning on the crutch of those concepts and a sense that those of you following these emails (with good memories) will get it.
Here’s another complication.
The user brings their own experience and understanding to the terms you use, often wholly different understanding from the way you think about and have decided to name things.
Here’s what I think is a very interesting example.
I am working on a client site with ~450 articles. When I’m interested in finding the best articles on a topic, I’ll put together a list of catchall type terms to query the article set against, and then sort by some quality indicator like organic traffic. That’s besides the point.
But to do it, I’m trying to find all the pages that relate strongly and tangentially to some idea, some term, some cluster of related terms. Here’s an example of the extracted terms on pages most associated with leadership related terms.
// get related terms MATCH (t:Term)--(u:URL)--(kw:Term) WHERE t.name =~ '.*(lead|manag).*' AND NOT( t.name =~ '.*(leads|lead gen|funnel|traffic|generate lead|direct response).*') WITH t.name as term, collect(DISTINCT kw.name) as relatedTerms RETURN term, relatedTerms ORDER BY term DESC LIMIT 20
Here is just one subset of a cluster of related concepts based on extracted terms that relate to other terms on pages based on what the client thinks of and refers to as “leadership”
- time management: loneliness, overworked, overwhelmed, bad day
- team management: celebrate wins, safety, team engagement, care people, shame blame
- perspective: big goals / understand clearly, values, fun, predictable, camaraderie, sincerity, passionate
- self care: time, quiet, leave work, hobbies, joy
*Bold text naming of clusters mine.
To me, this is so interesting.
The client has this complex and nuanced awareness of the deeper components of being a good leader as they see it.
For him, leadership means finding perspective in your personal life, getting out of your own way, not micro-managing or placing blame on employees, simply treating them better, by having more fun and celebrating wins together.
There are other interesting subsets of clusters that point to focusing on high leverage activities like sales, and hiring better (more expensive) people to trust that good work will get done, but you get the gist.
I (and I think most of us) bring a wholly different meaning based on our own experience to the concept of leadership.
To have a category called “leadership” without delineating the related components could miss the mark. A user desperately looking for a solution with the vibe and perspective the client has on those items could see “leadership” and be like “meh.”
The frameworks we design when cultivating a point of view in how we approach expert problems rely on shims and variables and naming conventions we come up with when moving ideas and thoughts around to organize what you know and create new knowledge.
Now look at the mix of your existing content. What percentage of it is resonant, rooted content and what percentage is thinking content? where you thinking about a subject deeply enough that you get further and further away from the client/audience/user awareness?
It’s fine if it is 1:20 ratio of rooted to thinking. As long as your authoritative treatments of topics on your site are easy for them to find based on where they actually are in their headspace.