In 2018, a Spanish researcher named Manual Goyanes was struck by a question that he couldn't quite answer:
Why are some research papers well-received and celebrated, while others are not? Even though the research in both is equally valid and reliable?
There are hundreds of research studies published every year, but what makes some of them more interesting or appealing to readers than others?
He set about to find out, and published a study called “Against dullness: on what it means to be interesting in communication research”. He wanted to identify common trends or themes in the research that was most influential and most interesting to readers.
Goyanes found that published articles mostly conform to expected norms around language and presentation of findings – in other words, they are predictable, repetitive and boring. Many researchers were unlikely to include any style or imagination when publishing their research, they just produced the same dry academic style that they felt was expected of them.
Doesn’t this sound familiar to the corporate world? Where people constantly write in this very stiff, boring way because they feel they have to?
Goyanes found a number of factors made research more interesting to readers. Let’s look at four some of them and see how we can apply them to internal communication.
Articles that challenge the assumptions of readers are regarded as more interesting and more likely to be read. These articles might challenge established theory or norms, provide surprising findings that go against traditional wisdom or violates taken-for-granted assumptions. Articles that challenge readers’ assumptions are viewed as more interesting and are more likely to keep the readers attention and motivation learn.
An example of this kind of article would be “What seems to be X is in reality Y”. This type of content shows creativity and personality in style and structure and communicates an original, interesting idea offering support for it.
How you could use this in internal communication: Communicating about your employee engagement survey results – “we expected to find X but instead we found Y” or communicating about a hybrid working policy – “CEOs of the biggest companies in the world are forcing workers back to the office, but we’re doing the opposite and embracing full flexibility”.
This kind of article provides new ways to understand things, integrates multiple perspectives or looks at things in a new and different way. These articles might be taking an established theory from within your industry and applying it in a different way or applying theories or perspectives from other fields to help us understanding things better.
This kind of content uses curiosity to take a new approach to something well established by asking questions like “why?” and “so what” and “what if”? These questions open up new ways of seeing things.
For us as internal communicators, this reinforces the importance of leaning into our curiosity as a communication superpower. The next time you have to create content for an internal channel, think about how you could take a new approach to it by asking some great questions.
The study found that one thing that makes content interesting is the excellent quality of the content in terms of rigour; quantitative data, compelling evidence and strong arguments including comparisons with others. These articles are interesting to read based on their relevance and value to the reader and give strong conclusions or suggestions for future trends or predictions. These articles tend to present quantitative, numerical data.
For us as internal communicators, this could relate to content on financial results or the quantitative findings of an employee survey or data on the overall performance of the company. The important bit is to be rigorous, include the relevant data for your readers and present a strong conclusion.
Insightful and practical
Goyanes found that readers are drawn to content that is written in simple and compelling language with good descriptions, rich case studies and that shows clear implications of the content. Authors of insightful and practical articles provide rich examples and vivid descriptions.
What makes this type of content so interesting to readers is the narrative mastery and the actual writing itself. It's enjoyable to read and has an aesthetic quality. This type of content typically takes existing theories and applies them in practical ways to offer advice on what the reader can do with the research. (This newsletter is a prime example.)
In internal communication, you can leverage this by focusing on descriptive writing, storytelling and case studies from customers that paint a vivid picture for the reader and offer practical guidance for employees on what to do with this information.
I love this research study because it gives data and evidence on particular key factors that makes content interesting to readers. You can improve the likelihood of being influential and appealing to your readers through applying one or more of these factors to your internal communication.
Thanks for reading and stay curious,
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