Finding Your Topic's Angle
updated about 2 months ago
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When you don’t know where to start with planning or writing an article, often the problem isn’t picking a topic; usually, the problem is that you don’t have a topic angle yet. Finding your topic angle is important, it helps you to focus your thoughts, to write clearly, and to write something new and original, even if the topic has been covered in the past.
To identify your topic angle, write down the answers to these 6 questions:
- What do I want to say?
- Who is my audience?
- What is the purpose of my article?
- What narrative perspective am I going to use?
- What tense?
- What tone?
Let’s have a look at these questions in more detail to help you work out your answers:
What Do I Want To Say?
Being clear at the start of the writing process on what you want to say and the key points you want to make are essential for these things to be clear to your readers. A clear mind leads to clear writing.
Do Your Research
To identify exactly what you want to say, it is a good idea to know your topic inside out, so do some research on and around your topic:
- What are people currently writing about on your topic? Don’t limit yourself, research all kinds of resources e.g. videos, podcasts, articles, books, magazines, social media, blogs etc.
- What is currently being spoken about at conferences on your topic?
- What are your colleagues’ thoughts and theories on your topic?
Gather All That You Know
The next step is to collate your knowledge and ideas, perhaps use a tool such as a mind map (check out these online mind mapping tools: Coggle, Xmind, MindMeister) or similar. This will help you identify a fresh perspective, new ideas or highlight a specific area that is of interest to you. Now it should be clearer what you want to say and what your key points are.
On a side note, this research will be handy if you want to provide references/links to further sources of information that your readers might find useful.
Who Am I Writing For?
Identifying who you will be writing for is crucial for your writing to be effective. You have to speak their language and address them directly. You have to connect with them by writing about things that matter to them. You need to make assumptions about their prior knowledge, so you know what content to include and what not to include. But, who are they?
Our audience is diverse! We have an awesome online community of tens of thousands testers, at all different stages of their careers, in all different domains, and from all over the world. Our readers are smart and busy; they want information that is clear, complete and contains practical solutions.
Now you need to narrow this audience down. Your piece can’t and won’t appeal to everyone. To be appropriate for everyone, it would have to be a monstrously long article! No one would have the time or inclination to read to find out where the relevant bits were. The angle of your topic will need to target a subsection of the MoT audience.
Questions you need to consider to help you identify your specific target audience:
- What domain do they work in?
- What role do they have?
- What kind of team do the work in?
- What level of expertise do they have?
- What is their skills gap?
- What current knowledge do they have?
- What is their knowledge gap?
- What are their current challenges?
Successful writers create personas of their target readers to help them keep their content and messages relevant.
You should consider writing a persona or 2 with the following information:
- Name and Picture:
- Give your persona a fictional name
- Find a representative picture or photo
- Job title and major responsibilities
- Level of experience
- Common tasks
- Current challenges
- Current attitudes
- Goals from reading your article:
- What do they want to achieve?
- What do they want to learn?
- What problem do they want to solve?
- How will they benefit?
Write out your personas and consider their needs regularly throughout the writing process.
Signal Your Readers
Let your readers know that your article is for them by writing:
- Effective titles, headings, and subheadings: Tell them who your article is aimed at. For example, if your article is for beginners have a title that indicates this:
- How To Build A Performance Testing Stack From Scratch
- Web Testing 101
- A Beginner’s Guide To Performance Testing
- Clear opening paragraphs: Tell them what you’ll cover, what they need to know, what you won’t cover and what they need to do next.
- In their language throughout: Try not to use jargon or terms that your readers won’t understand. If it is unavoidable, you should provide a definition or link to a resource that does.
What Is The Purpose Of My Article?
You need to write your article with a clear purpose in mind. Working out the purpose of your article is as easy as PIE… S. Are you trying to:
- P = Persuade: to convince the reader to agree with you.
- I = Inform: to enlighten the reader about a topic by stating facts.
- E = Entertain: to make the reader enjoy reading and react emotionally to your article.
- S = Share personal experiences: to share memories, hopes or dreams.
Choosing your purpose from the four main options above will affect your content, structure, and the language used throughout. It’s important to note that your article can have more than one purpose e.g. to persuade and inform your readers.
Types Of Articles
The type of article you are writing also affects your content, structure, and the language used:
- How To’s: Step-by-step process for setting up something or getting to ‘Hello World!’
- Compare/Contrast: Using one language or library code or tool over another one.
- Pros/Cons: Taking a topic and detailing the pros and cons of using a method, language, style or etc in circumstances described.
- Stories/Experiences: Using a storytelling style to create a narrative that conveys information about a method, language, tool, or topics appropriate to testing.
- Problem/Solution: but more with takeaways in mind on how to approach a problem.
- Spotlight: Stories that focus, usually on a tester, doing something awesome in the community. Ideas could be around awesome meetup events, someone mentoring computer classes, scholarship opportunities, or fun projects that are open to the community for trial & feedback.
What Narrative Perspective Am I Going To Use?
We all have a subconscious need for order. To keep your readers content and focused on your key messages, you need to choose a narrative perspective wisely. Even more importantly, if you change perspective, do it knowingly and be consistent throughout your article. Most articles are predominantly written in the third person voice to provide objectivity and professionalism.
There are 3 narratives to choose from:
- First-person perspective makes the writer a participant. It uses words like “I” and “we”, or “my” and “our”. It’s good for presenting an opinion.
- Second-person perspective talks directly to the reader. It uses “you” and “your”. It’s great for encouraging the reader to take action.
- Third-person perspective refers to someone that is neither the person speaking nor the person being spoken to. It uses pronouns like he, she, it, and they, and him, her and them. It’s good for presenting information objectively from a distance.
Verbs come in three tenses:
- Past: To describe things that happened before the present time of writing (I wrote my article yesterday
- Present: To describe things that are currently happening (I’m writing my article)
- Future: To describe things that haven’t yet happened at the present time of writing, but which are due or likely to occur (I’ll write my article on Thursday)
You need to predominantly stick to one tense throughout your article and be mindful, purposeful and clear when you’re changing tense.
Verbs can also be written in an active or passive voice:
- Active: focuses on the agent e.g. “Richard wrote his article” (Richard is the agent)
- Passive: focuses on the object that is acted upon e.g. “The article was written by Richard” (The article is the object)
Use active verbs where possible to persuade your reader to take action and to liven up your writing. Try to avoid passive verbs and “-ing” verbs (e.g. “Richard is writing his article”), where they’re removed from the action and weak.
Tone, in a written composition, is your attitude towards your topic and/or your readers. When deciding on tone, be sure to consider your target readers and personas in the process. Which one would resonate best with them?
Your article can be:
You might think you want your article to be all of the above, but force yourself to prioritise just a few. Tone can get confusing and miss the mark without a focus.
Your tone must be positive and objective. Yes, we want to know your opinion, but this must be balanced alongside other information, even if you don’t agree with it.