How researchers get heard
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Authority Content vs. Expertise Content

What is “authority content”? Isn’t that just content written by an expert?

I wouldn’t have a business if the answer were “yes.”

Look at this Aaron E. Carroll analysis in The New York Times of the recent meta-analysis in The Lancet that concluded any amount of alcohol consumption increases your risk for all sorts of bad things happening to you.

Carroll’s piece is researcher thought leadership — the best kind of authority content.

It’s wicked good. But it also did good — right when it was needed most.

And that’s the point.

Like all authority content, Carroll’s piece:

  • Explains in plain, forceful language the framing you should have about an issue that you care about (or didn’t know about but are glad you now do);
  • Has a strong argument and a clear, unique point of view;
  • Starts with a real-world problem, not a new report or research finding (or the real-world problem new research is creating, in this case);
  • Delivers insights and solutions backed by data, analysis, evidence and real-world examples; and
  • Most importantly, delivers all that in a timely fashion to make an impact on the debate — or start one.

If you read The Lancet study and asked, “Is a glass of wine a day really going to kill me?” Carroll has given you the answer. And a way to think about all such studies going forward.

Right when you needed it.

Expertise content does none of that.

Expertise content is written by an expert for a community of experts. It looks like a peer-reviewed article or a technical white paper or a long, discursive report. The arguments are commonly muted, the POVs tame, the actions to take pallid.

And if you’re not an expert, you have to fight the language of expertise and conventions of expertise content’s formats to figure out what the point is — or wait for a science journalist to explain it to you.

Had Carroll published a piece of expertise content instead…well, he probably wouldn’t have even published it yet. We’d still be waiting for his analysis.

And we still might think — based on The Lancet study and all the coverage it got — that a glass of wine a day was a bad idea.

Expertise content communicates something within a community of experts.

Authority content communicates what expertise knows to the much wider community of non-specialists that can benefit from that knowledge.

So: relying on expertise content to do authority content’s job is…a really bad idea.

If you’re an expert who wants to reach non-experts, you need authority content as well.