Man bites dog. Early on in their career, everyone who works in comms will have been told by a seasoned pro that, “Dog bites man isn’t a story. Man bites dog, now that’s a story.”
So we spend our lives looking for stories that are a little contrary. Stories that make people say, “That’s interesting!”
By happy coincidence, That’s Interesting! happens to be the title of a research paper published in 1971 by a sociologist named Murray Davis. In it Davis argues that theorists whose ideas are considered interesting are vaunted, whereas those whose theories are found to be true but uninteresting are quietly forgotten.
But that’s not the interesting bit.
The interesting bit is that Davis proceeds to list out the factors that make something interesting. There are 12 in total. And they’re an incredibly useful guide to assessing your content or story. I won’t list them all out here but let’s take a look at a couple.
One factor is Evaluation. It’s described as either something bad actually being good for you or vice versa. I think we’ve all seen enough tabloid stories about food or technology that supposedly poses a health risk to know that this factor is a useful indicator for a story being interesting.
Another factor is Abstraction, here the idea is that something that seems to be an individual, discrete phenomenon is actually part of a broader constellation of things. The opposite also holds true, namely that something that seems part of a broad sequence is actually standalone.
I discovered Davis’s work while reading Think Again, the new book by organisational psychologist Adam Grant. I found it so interesting, I briefly stopped reading the book to look up the paper. Although it wasn’t written to make comms people create better content. I think it provides a good point of reference against which to evaluate your stories because if you want people to engage with them, they need to be interesting.