The art of contextualizing: how to provide a complete understanding of complex topics
Last Updated Apr 10, 2023
José M. Duque
Table of Contents
When you’re writing for the web, you never quite know who’s going to come across your work, and the reality is your content will be seen by people outside your target audience. On the whole, this is a good thing—more eyeballs mean more opportunities to demonstrate your authenticity. But at the same time, this also means that you should try to make sure your content is accessible to a wider range of people. After all, you can have the best SEO in the world but it won’t do you much good if most of the people who view your content don’t see why they should care about it. Luckily, the art of contextualization can help you explain complex topics in a way that’s thorough yet approachable.
What is contextualization?
At the most basic level, contextualization is the art of positioning your content in a way that demonstrates its value to your audience. In other words, you want your readers to understand why your content is significant to their lives. There are several strategies that you can use to achieve this, including the use of clear language, thorough research, anticipating readers’ questions, and providing clear examples.
Why should I include hyperlinks in my content?
Hyperlinks are an often overlooked facet of contextualization. Think of them as the online equivalent of a footnote. They can point your readers to the original sources you drew on for your article, but they can also allow you to add information without derailing the flow of your narrative. Links help your SEO, too. As Benj Arriola of Search Engine Journal explains, Google takes links into consideration when determining a site’s ranking in their search results. There are three types of links:
Internal links that lead to other pages on your site
Outbound links that connect your audience with external sites
Inbound links that bring outsiders to your publication
Inbound links are the most important in Google’s estimation, but the tricky thing about them is that, obviously, you have no control over them. You can, however, control internal and outbound links, though it’s important to use them sensibly. Make sure you have a genuine reason to include a link instead of trying to cram as many of them as possible into your content. For example, if you’re writing about your experiences in the Diablo IV open beta, you might include a link to one of the quarterly developer updates.
Why is clear language important?
There’s a series of classic British sitcoms called Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister. It follows Jim Hacker, a Member of Parliament who serves as Minister for Administration and later Prime Minister, and his interactions with senior civil servant Humphrey Appleby. Much of the show’s humo(u)r derives from Appleby’s use of sesquipedalian loquaciousness to bamboozle Hacker. While Appleby is deliberately trying to obfuscate, many of us use jargon because it feels natural. We know what it means, so we assume our readers will, too. But if readers don’t understand your language, it’s going to be difficult for them to engage with your work. Don’t give people a reason to click off your site. The easier your content is to understand, the greater impact it will have.
Why is thorough research important?
We’ve talked about the importance of research on this blog before. But when you’re deciding on sources to use, make sure you’re not just going for low-hanging fruit. In other words, you shouldn’t content yourself with referencing sites that appear at the top of your search results. Don’t be afraid to supplement the sources you find online with your own, original research. Interviewing experts is a great way to enhance your content. You could also conduct surveys to present data-driven insights to your audience.
Take this post from Joshua Fechter of the Texas Tribune, a Newstex publisher, for example. By including quotes from a range of experts, the writer makes their case far more compelling. The post also shows the importance of using multiple sources. The author could’ve simply included quotes from a single expert, but instead he took a diversified approach that drew on the expertise of a think-tank fellow, a non-profit trade association, and a businessperson. The more balanced your approach, the more compelling your content is likely to be.
Your ultimate goal with any piece is to provide value for your readers, and one of the best ways to do that is to put yourself in their shoes. Let’s say you want to write a post about the forthcoming coronation of King Charles III. You’d be wise to start by thinking of the sort of things your audience would like to know about the event. How old is the ceremony? Who will preside? Which pieces of the Crown Jewels will be used? By keeping your readers’ needs in mind, you’re far more likely to produce something that makes an impact. In this post by Erik Gunn on another Newstex publisher, Wisconsin Examiner, the writer effectively answers the question “who’s likely to benefit from Gov. Tony Evers’ budget?”
Why are clear examples important?
Just as you don’t want to deluge your readers with impenetrable jargon, you also don’t want to waste their time with anecdotes and examples that are only tangentially related to your topic. You don’t want to seem like a high-school student trying to pad their essay. It can also help make abstract concepts seem a lot more comprehensible. For example, this post by Yasmin Tinwala of the International Business Times highlights the fact that the average business traveler to the Big Apple spends an average of $796 per day, up from an average of $549 in 2017.
If you want your content to thrive, you need to make sure it’s accessible to as wide an audience as possible. You want readers to understand how your work can benefit them. Contextualization is a great way to do this because it allows readers to quickly grasp your point. Using clear language, thorough research, and clear examples are a must, and you should also anticipate your readers’ questions so you can be sure that you’re providing a comprehensive treatment of a subject that they’ll find useful.