You’ve got barrels of data. A dense 15-page whitepaper. Reams of statistically significant survey results. Presentations stuffed with charts and graphs. Content is not the issue; making it accessible and digestible is your challenge.
Content distillation—the creation of bite-sized or snackable content—involves paring down content to the vital message, giving busy readers the high-level takeaways so they don’t have to read the entire document. Carefully crafted headlines and summaries can pique your customers’ interest and motivate them to download the full report, white paper, or survey results.
When my daughter was working on the Common App for colleges, she had to describe each of her extracurricular activities in no more than 150 characters. [That sentence alone uses up the character count allotment.] She had to root out redundancies, carefully select the most all-encompassing adjectives, and parse sentences down to their bare bones.
However, content distillation isn’t always this extreme or restrictive. One of our clients recently asked us to take 10 thought leadership papers—each 10 pages long and full of charts, graphs, and detailed copy—and write 250-word summaries for each. The idea was to create a single high-level promotion piece to hand out at a conference, encouraging attendees to download the complete papers. So, how do you write a meaningful executive summary distilling a large amount of content down to its essence? Here are some of our strategies:
- Start at the beginning—and the end. If the original document is well written, it should already contain an introduction that hints at, if not downright lays out, the paper’s main premise. Conclusions are another place to look for summary statements that contain the essence of the piece.
- Skim. The art of skimming helps. As you scan through the pages or data, look for headings that grab your attention, and take note of key themes and messages.
- Analyze the paper’s structure. A well-written document will use headings and subheads as signposts for important sections. A quick scan of the section headlines will help you see the outline, so you can pinpoint the leading themes and sub-themes in your summary.
- Include a call to action. Hook the readers by providing just enough information so they want to learn more.
- Be brief. When writing concise, compelling copy, you don’t have the luxury of extra words. Rely on your editor to help you deliver the tightest copy possible.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by a lengthy report, overly long PowerPoint presentation, or other unwieldy beast, call the experts at the Content Bureau. Our distillation department (including yours truly) will be happy to help.