Thought leadership

How to write a good thought leadership article? (2024)

Unsure how to get started? We outline the process for writing good thought leadership articles, including identifying a topic and turning it into insightful content.

Writing good thought leadership articles is a skill that needs to be honed. But while it might seem difficult at first, following a clearly defined process can make it easier than you expect.

The world is crowded with thought leadership content.

More CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, and sector-specific experts are starting to recognise the value of being seen as an industry thought leader.

There is more demand for high-quality thought leadership content than ever before. Source: Profile.

As a result, it has never been so important to focus on writing genuinely high-quality articles that set you apart. It is not enough just to churn out lots of content at scale.

In 2024, you need to focus on creating less content, but ensuring that it is higher quality. Quality over quantity.

But, what does good-quality thought leadership content look like? While effective thought leadership differs from industry to industry, the fundamentals of writing a great thought leadership article remains the same.

Define your area of thought leadership expertise.

Before you put pen to paper, take the time to know exactly what industry you're writing about.

Do not skip this step. If you work in manufacturing or finance, you might think it's obvious: manufacturing or finance respectively.

But it's not as simple as that. These are much too broad. You need to go niche: In the first instance, take the time to list all the people who you would love to read your content.

You cannot be a thought leader in a very broad sector. Before setting pen to paper, define your niche carefully.

Jordan Greenaway

Literally write down their names. This might be a list of job titles, specific people, target clients, or otherwise. Who is your ideal audience? Where are they located in the world?

Once you have done this, you should have a list of 10-20 potential people, maybe more. Now, put yourself in their shoes:

  • What industry do they consider themselves to be in?

  • What industry do they consider you to be in?

  • What are their problems and challenges that you can solve?

Now start to draw connections and link things together.

If you work in manufacturing, you'll start to realise that actually all your 'ideal' audience sees you as an expert, specifically, in manufacturing of plastic consumer products at speed in the US. Now, that's your industry.

You cannot be a thought leader in a very broad sector – at least at first. So, define your niche carefully and narrowly.

Brainstorm topics for your article.

Now that you have your niche, you need to identify topics that your audience are actually interested in.

These topics should be dictated by what your audience genuinely care about, and not just what you want to talk about.

This is a classic mistake. After nailing down a niche, some people start brainstorming topics from their own perspective: "I like talking that this, and I like talking about that."

This is the wrong way to go about it – and, in fact, you could be surprised to hear what topics your audience is actually interested in.

For example, while you might want to talk about technical 3D printing processes (if you work in 3D printing, of course), your audience might be more interested in how 3D printing can help them reduce their emissions.

So, you need to actually talk to your target audience to understand what they want to hear about:

  • If you have any existing clients (or industry contacts) that you feel comfortable questioning, drop them a note to say that you're thinking about writing some thought leadership pieces, and ask them what they would be genuinely interested to hear about? This is one of the best ways to generate topics.

  • Alternatively, you might want to come up with 5-10 ideas and send them across to your contacts to ask them which topic they might be most interested to hear about.

  • Another fun way to brainstorm topics and subjects is to find a list of questions that people are searching on Google relating to your niche.

As a general rule, if someone is searching for a question on Google, that means that there is genuine interest out there for more information and thought leadership.

Tools like, AnswerThePublic, enable you to pull out this data. For example, you can search "plastic manufacturing" and it shows that people are actively searching for questions like: "is plastic manufacturing profitable?"

Find your insight and make sure it's different.

Now that you have identified the topic that you're going to write about, it's important to make sure that you have a unique and truly differentiated insight.

You need to be saying something that is genuinely different – and couldn't just be churned out by ChatGPT.

Being a thought leader is about having the courage and conviction to put your head above the parapet and showcasing that you have a unique point of view.

Jordan Greenaway

Again, there is a risk here: It is not enough just to share practical, hands-on information that hundreds of other people in the industry could share.

Here's the test: If you could just replace your name on the article with the name of another person in your industry, it's not thought leadership.

You need to find a take, or perspective, on the issue that sets you apart, and showcases how you think differently.

Being an industry thought leader or a b2b thought leader is about having the courage to put your head above the parapet and showcase to the industry that you not only understand what is going on, but that you have a unique point of view as well.

One of the best ways to tease out your insight is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you think about <TOPIC> that no one in your industry does?

  • What do you think are the inconvenient truths about <TOPIC>?

  • What are the biggest misconceptions in the industry about <TOPIC>?

This should give you some raw ideas that you can think about, dwell on, and further develop out.

Create a skeleton for your thought leadership piece.

Now that you know your industry, topic, and specific insight, you can start turning your article into a proper plan of action.

The best way to do this is to sketch out a raw skeleton of your article. In fact, my favourite approach is to list the sub-headings that might be included in the final article.

Your article needs to make sense from just the sub-headings alone. Break your article and insights into 100-150 word word chunks.

Jordan Greenaway

In today's mobile-first world, people are looking to read well-written thought leadership content that is consumable.

In fact, you need to remember that the vast majority of people will be reading your thought leadership articles very quickly – perhaps on the subway or, even, over breakfast – and in most cases, they might just scroll down your article, reading the sub-headings, and read out the odd sentence or two.

That means that your article needs to make sense from just the sub-headings alone.

So, in your head, break your article and insights into 100-150 word word chunks, and then think about the sub-headings that you might give each of these sections.

As case in point, before I put pen to paper on this article, I started with a list of the headings in a Word document, and then I filled in all the detail afterwards. It also gives your article a clear, easy-to-understand logical structure.

Of course, when you actually start writing, you might realise that one of the headings was not quite right.

That's fine. You can change it down the track. But it starts you off on the right footing, and it's always easier to start with a list of headings than just a blank piece of paper.

Add data & evidence to elevate your thought leadership.

Now it's time to actually start writing the article. Sadly, there's no secret 'trick' to writing the article itself. Let's be honest. You've just got to sit there and put your thoughts to paper.

The best advice is not to think too much about it, and try to produce a first draft as quickly as possible.

A great thought leadership article will have lots of data and evidence. It's not enough to just share your perspective and opinion.

Jordan Greenaway

But, what will set it apart from a general article? A great thought leadership article will have lots of data and evidence. It's not enough to just share your perspective and opinion. You need to back it up with strong arguments.

Again, I try to think about this in terms of the different sub-headed sections of the final article: I try to include a bit of data or evidence in each section. I'll do raw research to find supporting data, research, and evidence.

You might want to add this data in as you're actually writing the piece, or you might want to add it at the end after you have finished the piece.

Back up your claims with evidence.

But data and statistics aren't the only way to back up your argument. Another powerful way to elevate thought leadership articles is to use case studies and examples.

You might want to use an example from your personal experience, such as a situation that you experienced with a client that shines a light on your perspective.

This can be especially powerful because it shows that you are at the cutting-edge of the industry.

That said, it might not always be possible to share examples of your work or talk through case studies, especially if you want in an industry where you need to demonstrate an understanding of confidentiality, such as healthcare or law and legal services.

But there are other ways too.

Instead, you can demonstrate your points with fictional examples of how it might work in practice. For example, at the start of this article, I used the example of someone trying to build their profile in the plastic manufacturing industry.

Now, I have never worked with a client in plastic manufacturing, but the point gave my argument more grounding and, hopefully, made everything feel a lot clearer.

That's the goal.

Tighten up your final article.

Phew, so you've finished writing your article, added data, and supported it with examples.

Are you ready to hit published? Not quite yet.

Half of writing good quality thought leadership content (if not more) is in the editing process. When you write the first version, it might take you a little while to get to the point, or you might end up stuffing your articles with filler words.

In the first draft, you might have taken a little while to find your point or to find the best way of phrasing your perspective. Don't be afraid to cut your article back, and rip out sentences and paragraphs that feel fluffy or lack substance.

Trim it back to your core message and supporting evidence, and rip the rest of it out. Your readers will thank you.

Jordan Greenaway

Readers do not want to have to wade through articles to find the point. Trim it back to your core message and supporting evidence, and rip the rest of it out. Your readers will thank you.

What does this mean in practice? Well, sometimes the first draft of my thought leadership content might be 1,500 words – and the final version, after all the editing and pruning, will be just 800 words. Be brutal.

In fact, lots of people ask me: how long should a thought leadership article be? There is no fixed or firm rule, but usually I recommend one of the following: 800 words for a short blog post, 1,500 words for a longer think piece, and 3,000 words for a very extended article.

Also, the more you streamline and edit your article, the more the foundational structure of your argument will become clear.

And, sometimes, it's only when you strip it back that you realise that you might be missing a very important section or an example that'll radically improve your thought leadership piece.

Accompany it with a strong biography & photograph.

After you have finished editing your article, remember to add a biography to the bottom of your piece.

If someone is reading your article, especially if they like it (and find it valuable), they'll want to know more about you, your credentials, and expertise.

Writing an effective biography is a skill in its own right, drawing on CEO branding and executive branding.

But, at the very least, ensure it includes your job title, core responsibility, as well as evidence that you know your trade – that might be an award you've won or a career highlight.

If you can, add a link to your full corporate biography or LinkedIn. (My LinkedIn is here, for example. Give me a follow.)

Including a photograph of yourself is a good way to add some personal character, even if it might feel a little awkward. Source: Profile.

Next, it's essential it include a high-quality photograph of yourself. That might be at the top of the article, at the bottom, or in a dedicated author panel.

People like to get a sense of the person behind the article – so don't hide who you are. That's one of the secrets to effective thought leadership.

It will also be a missed opportunity to build up widespread recognition of you as an individual among your target audience: People are more likely to pay attention to (and, indeed, remember) photographs than names.

Publish it where your audience consume content.

Finally, you need to make sure that your thought leadership article is published somewhere that it actually gets read. It is not enough just to post it on your corporate website and blindly hope that people find it.

There are a number of approaches to getting your thought leadership article in front of your target audience, which is outside of the scope of this article.

But some examples include:

  • Sharing it on LinkedIn or another social media platform

  • Putting some paid advertising behind the article

  • Getting it to rank on Google for key core terms using SEO techniques

  • Leverage PR agency to get it published it (or syndicating it) in well-read industry publications

Whatever route you choose, make sure that the hard work that you have put into writing the article does not go to waste. People will, hopefully, find and read your article for weeks, months, and even years to come.

Jordan Greenaway is founder and Commercial Director of Profile, the global thought leadership agency. He has been recognised as a Recommended Reputation Manager by Spear's magazine more than 6 years running.

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