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Useful, Unique, Understandable: The 3 U’s of an Article Topic That Rocks

by Rolling Stone Culture Council / Branding and Publishing
This is one of a series of posts on how Rolling Stone Culture Council members can get the most from their publishing benefits. If you're not yet a member, find out if you're eligible.

Now that you have the opportunity to write for Rolling Stone Culture Council, it's on you to write something people will want to read. We’ve got a simple three-point test to help you pick that perfect topic.

There's a lot of content out there; you scroll past dozens of articles in your feeds every day. How do you make sure yours is the one that gets noticed, turns heads, and engages people?

We’ll walk you through it.

Start by brainstorming some topic ideas. Check out "20 Ways to Kick-Start an Article" for inspiration.

We'll wait.

Ok, have an idea? Time to test it for the “3 U’s.”

Test 1: Is This Topic Useful To Readers?

First, your content has to be useful. When you're scrolling through feeds, you look for something you can use. So do your readers.

Be careful. Articles like the ones you'll create with Rolling Stone Culture Council are not about selling.

Instead of pitching, great content creators offer information up front — the more valuable and actionable, the better — to illustrate expertise and gain the respect of readers.

So,will your topic be useful to readers? Does it have potential for real, valuable takeaways? Remember that you have to earn your readers’ trust — and their valuable time.

If your topic is just a thinly-disguised offer, choose another idea.

Test 2: Is This Content Unique?

Once you've found a useful topic, it's time to zero in on the information that only you can provide. You are the only human who has lived your life, experienced your wins and losses, learned what you have learned. So you have a unique perspective, and that's what people want.

Let's say you're a film sound engineer. Your expertise is creating sound effects. But that's a huge field. You can't sum up "sound effects" in 800 words. How about "horror sound effects?" Better, but still way too broad. There are thousands of articles out there about horror sound effects.

What do you do especially well, or what problem have you solved within this topic? How about the eureka moment when you realized that carrots make excellent crunching bones? A whole article on carrots might be pushing it, but maybe you've also found a lot of great sounds in smashing, stabbing, dropping, and smooshing the insides of watermelons. Now we're getting somewhere.


How about "How To Use Produce To Create Horror Sound Effects," or maybe "Horror Sound Effects From the Produce Aisle?" (Your editor can help refine your title when the time comes, but now you've got a solid idea; something that will allow you to share unique insight.)

This topic is focused enough to be covered in 600-1000 words; teases concrete takeaways for the reader; and most importantly, is unique to you. It offers a little bit of your secret sauce, showing your expertise, without giving away the whole kit and kaboodle (for example, what you do with other food items is your business).


Test 3: Is This Topic Understandable?

Once you've drilled down to a specific topic, it's time to think about who might read your article — and whether they will "get it."

Remember, not all your readers will be as familiar with your field as you are, so beware of jargon. Define your terms and explain things in simple language. Even if your primary audience is other pros in your field interested in adding your tips to their own arsenals, your content will, ideally, attract other folks, too, including potential clients and partners. You never know how far your article will go. 

If you can't explain your idea clearly without a lot of jargon, this idea may be too niche for a wide audience.

That's it! The "3 U's" test for a great idea. If it's useful, unique, and understandable, it's time to get started on that draft!

What outstanding idea will you come up with today?


Rolling Stone Culture Council is an invitation-only community for innovators and tastemakers on the cutting edge of what’s new in culture. Learn more.