Great text: 21+ ways to make your content feel fresh
21+ WAYS TO MAKE YOUR
CONTENT FEEL FRESH
These text-driven formats can add surprise and variety.
Derek Slater, June 2016
INSPIRATION FOR CONTENT CREATORS
Even well-written content becomes boring if it’s the same, day after day. But
infographics and videos aren’t the only ways to add variety.
We’ve captured 21 24 different article formats that can make your stories
feel fresh just by changing the way you present the text.
Flip through to find new ideas, try them, and come back for more. Send
other examples to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I might add them to the list
(with a link and/or credit).
AN ANNOTATED RESUME
What’s the hot job in your industry? Make a
fake candidate resume, and ask one or two
recruiters to comment on it.
It can serve as a platform for talking about
careers or about the job itself.
Example: Is This Chief Digital Officer Right
For the Job? (@connectedfuturesmag)
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Movie reviews, Amazon reviews, Yelp reviews,
product reviews—the format is quite familiar.
But why limit yourself? Review a press
conference, an industry event, an executive’s
Example: RAV4 review (@cnet)
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In a perfect world, every source you
interview would be a dazzling storyteller.
In the imperfect real world, you can format
the article itself as a mystery, carrying the
reader along as sources provide clues,
leading to the answer.
Example: Who’s really killing at your
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A HOW-TO FORMATTED
AS A RECIPE
Start with the list of ingredients.
Most articles that use a ‘recipe’ headline stop
Why not go all the way? Include directions such
as a baking temperature and approximate
cooking time. (“Let colleagues stew over
proposal for three days.”)
Have fun with it.
Example: Recipe for a successful project
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A REPORT CARD
This is another time-tested format, popular in
sports articles but applicable anyplace you can
subjectively assess performance.
Example: Grading the Patriots
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A LONG LIST OF QUESTIONS
Do your readers deal with complex topics?
Do they need help covering a lot of bases, making
sure that they haven’t overlooked anything?
Could a set of questions break the monotony of
your endless stream of advice or news articles?
Have you ever tried this format?
Example: A walking tour: 33 questions to ask about
your company’s security (@csoonline)
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Show text changing over time, using
strikethrough or highlighting.
Use this format to examine changes to privacy
policies, marketing messages, political
candidates’ claims, and more.
Example: How to ruin your B2B content
marketing (one review at a time)
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A NUMBERED LIST
Can we say a few words in defense of the
Listicles don’t have to suck. Lists are a great
format that make information easier to
consume and remember.
Go forth and create great, nonsucky, reported,
insightful articles in this format.
Example: 5 retail transformation blunders (and
how to avoid them) (@connectedfuturesmag)
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A BOOK EXCERPT
Book publishers will often let you post an
excerpt in return for a link to the publisher’s
site or to the book’s page on Amazon.com.
This is a great way to get accurate content
on a topic that is too specialized or
technical for staff or freelance writers.
Example: Even the gorillas and bears in our
zoos are hooked on Prozac
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A FAKE FORM LETTER
Who doesn’t love paperwork?
This format can be used for humorous effect,
or you could in fact publish useful sample
Example: The chessplayer’s pre-nup
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Make your content interactive by leaving
out important words.
Example: Remember Mad Libs?
FILL IN THE BLANKS
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An FAQ is different from the “endless list of
questions” mentioned above.
In an FAQ, the publisher also has to answer the
If you’re thinking “An FAQ? How 2000s!” then
This format is fantastic for evergreen content,
and it is a potential magnet for search traffic.
Example: Business Continuity: The Basics
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Truth may be stranger than fiction. Fiction is
sometimes more honest.
Like anonymous sources or columns, a
fictionalized treatment can be an excellent tool for
addressing issues that people are reluctant to talk
about on the record.
In the example here, the writer spoke with several
sources, then used fictional characters to hash out
the thorny topics the sources had raised.
Bonus points if you make it a screenplay.
Example: Mad About You
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Working on a subject matter rife with
technical terms or a high rate of change?
This content type is helpful to readers
and easy to keep updated.
Example: A glossary of Big Data terms
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A glossary is typically wide and shallow; a primer
lets you go deep on a single subject.
Example: A Hadoop Primer: What It Is and How
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A timeline is great for rounding up information
on a story that unfolds gradually. (It’s also an
excuse to link to a bunch of your previous
Example: Edward Snowden: A Timeline
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A diary, journal, or “live blog,” as some call it, is a
real-time timeline! This format works well for live
or nearly-live coverage of specific events.
Example: The Sports Guy’s NBA Draft Diary
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“THE INDEFENSIBLE POSITION”
The Indefensible Position is, or was, a recurring
short feature in Esquire magazine.
It’s a beautiful way of making a point, while
acknowledging that the point is at least slightly
The name itself may be copyright-protected, but
you can borrow the spirit.
Example: Why Imitation Syrup Is Better Than The
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This is another great format for catering to
specialized audiences or discussing specialized
Instead of a journalist asking dumb journalist
questions*, as sometimes happens in the Q&A
format, you can get more nuanced questions and
answers with this approach.
* Don’t be offended—I was a journalist too.
A conversation with Peter Drucker
The great IT risk measurement debate
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This format lends itself to a more adversarial
version of “one expert interviews another.”
However, the sources in a point/counterpoint
don’t usually interact. You just need to find
two people with opposing views, then let each
make his or her case.
Example: Is emotional intelligence a good
measure of leadership ability?
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A quiz is, of course, more fun if it’s built with
a whiz-bang interactive tool.
Don’t let that stop you. You can create a fine
quiz with text alone.
In a magazine, we used to print the scoring
key upside down. This probably won’t work
for online readers. If it’s that important to
hide the answers, put them on another page,
a click away.
Example: Google versus Everybody
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THE EXCRUCIATINGLY LONG HEADLINE
Why would anyone use this format?
I can’t say. I did it mostly to test WordPress as
a publishing platform, and secondarily in an
attempt to be funny.
But you might be more creative than I am.
Example: I wonder what happens if you try to
put an entire post in the title field—will
WordPress impose some arbitrary limit on
the length? Or …
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Seven - five - seven
Poetry’s a noble way
What? You aren’t a poet? Maybe some of
your readers are. Hold a contest, and
publish your best results.
Example: Salesforce Marketing Haikus
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