Nuggets, or how to not write a piece that’s a boring lecture

A lecture is you standing up and droning on about what you think, based on your voluminous experience. It’s boring in person, and it’s a deadly way to write.

In today’s short-attention-span world, a lecture is a good way to get people to click away from the post, stop reading the book, and give up on you for good. I’m sure you’re a fascinating storyteller, but there are limits to how much of you we can handle.

There’s a cure, of course. It’s nuggets.

What are nuggets?

Nuggets are anything you can add to your post, article, or book chapter that isn’t just you arguing. Here are some examples:

  • Quotes. This includes direct quotes from interviews you did or quotes from other published material: posts, articles, or books, for example.
  • Statistics. Survey data. Historical numbers. Projections. Any numbers with some authority behind them.
  • Graphics. Show us a picture of what you’re talking about.
  • Stories. Especially case study stories. Everyone likes to read about people and their experiences.
  • Lists. Bulleted lists. Numbered lists. Checklists. Lists break up the march of boring paragraphs.
  • Links. Use these as quick references to other sources.
  • Metaphors. Just don’t overdo it.
  • Rhetorical questions. Break up the litany of declaratives. Don’t use too many of these, they can become a tedious writing tic.
  • Jokes. Use sparingly.

This isn’t a complete list. Some people include animated GIFs; in other types of writing, they’d be questionable. But anything other than blocks of argumentation is an improvement.

Here’s what won’t help: superlatives, jargon, exclamation points, overuse of adverbs, profanities, bold, italic. Sure, you can use them. But if you attempt to fix boring prose with lots of these elements, you’ll just end up with overwrought boring prose.

Where do nuggets come from? Research.

Yup. It’s work.

Quotes and stories: you need to line them up or track them down.

Statistics: you need to do the research of find some that somebody else did.

Graphics: you need to think them up and draw them.

Some of the stuff in that list above will come straight from your brain, but the rest takes time to create or collect.

The real work of writing is finding these nuggets and building a story around them. Finding the nuggets is more than half the work.

Sure, you could skip this step. If you don’t mind being boring.

You’re better off doing the research. Who knows, you might even learn something you didn’t know before.

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One Comment

  1. Couldn’t agree more. A little humor, some examples, and the occasional video or animated gif certainly help spice things up.

    I like to think that you can make any topic interesting.