A guide to writing better bylines and thought leadership content

Elizabeth Okoh

16 May 2023

So, you want to become a ‘thought leader’?

In recent years, thought leadership content has grown tremendously in popularity. With good reason, given that it’s one of the best ways for leaders to position themselves as experts in a field (and make their products attractive) by providing educational thought leadership.

However, with the good written pieces also comes the bad. Today, anyone can write about any topic at any time and hit the publish button without expert editorial input. But when it comes to true thought leadership writing, there’s a lot to consider if you’re to differentiate yourself from the noise.

So, how can you do this?  Here are some top tips from Harvard’s Content and Editorial team.

Thought leadership content should have a unique point of view

I sent a brief email to some of my editorial colleagues to hear what they had to say about what makes a stellar byline. Here’s what the team had to say:

“The most memorable bylines that stick with me are the ones highlighting a new idea I won’t find anywhere else, presented in a digestible and readable form. It may be a piece of insight, or a strong opinion that challenges the status quo. Ultimately, it has to feel unique.”
John Crossley, Associate Director – Content Marketing.

JC zeroed in on the main purpose of writing thought leadership content – sharing your unique take on the topic you’re writing about. If you’re simply rehashing information already wildly available on the internet, then you’re simply adding to the noise.

Thought leadership content should be valuable to its readers

“A great byline is one where the author can answer the question: ‘what value does this provide to the reader?’ It’s something often overlooked, but providing practical advice on a challenge a business is facing can help position you as genuinely helpful.”
Molly Raycraft, Editorial Manager.

As a leader in any space, you should be able to answer, ‘what’s my value-add?’ for any piece you’re writing. Thinking about what’s important to your audience will steer you in the right direction, as it gives your writing an impactful purpose.

In addition, it’s essential to know who you’re talking to. While planning the structure of your content, you should consider your intended audience, or the readership of the publication you’re pitching to, as this is key to making content more engaging and digestible.

A great byline should have a strong narrative

Having a powerful narrative is incredibly important when writing any byline or thought leadership content.

Being able to focus on a storytelling narrative that taps into the emotions of your readers and gets them thinking about how certain products and services can solve everyday problems is a big win.

“One of the main features of a byline that makes it so adept at conveying what can sometimes be very complicated and technical ideas, is the storytelling narrative. We listen to stories all our lives; there’s something about the classic three-act structure – set up, conflict, resolution – that taps into something within all of us and elevates our brain’s ability to understand.”
Efe Otokiti, Editorial Director.

So, having a predefined structure that helps to ensure the narrative flows smoothly – including useful research to illustrate your points throughout the piece – will keep readers enthralled.

A great byline should have a compelling intro

Start how you mean to go on, is a good phrase that comes to mind when crafting a byline or piece of thought leadership content. I’ve written about the importance of the beginning of a story in a previous blog post and it cannot be stated enough.

There’s no end to the number of articles being published every day – it’s estimated that about two to three million articles are published daily. It’s a saturated space! So, having a compelling introduction to grab your reader’s attention will keep them reading your piece long enough that you’re able to land the point of your message.

To achieve byline writing nirvana implement these four tips:

  1. Create a hook at the start of your piece that’s perhaps unusual or hard-hitting to intrigue the reader.
  2. Keep your sentences short, especially the first, as there’s a lot of value in sentences that are punchy and easily digestible.
  3. Dedicate a couple of sentences to articulating what the article covers.
  4. Use active sentences over passive ones. Put simply, active sentences are about what people (or things) do, while passive sentences are about what happens to people (or things).

Remember the basics

When writing a thought leadership piece, you might be tempted to use ‘big words’ to demonstrate how knowledgeable you are. But using correct grammar and having a proper sentence structure is more useful than fancy words or unnecessary jargon that may confuse your reader.

If anything, it can be more valuable to make the piece conversational by using colloquialisms, so you more deeply connect with the reader.

By merely following these few, simple tips, you will gradually start to elevate the quality – and by extension, the performance – of your thought leadership content.

If you found these tips on how to write better bylines and thought leadership content helpful, I know you’d also love to learn why every brand needs a tone of voice guideline. Check it out!