You have an idea for your next writing project.
Before you get too far—before you write too much—you need to be sure this idea is going to fly with your audience. You need to validate it so you move forward with a concept that, depending on your purpose, will truly resonate, connect, teach, persuade, inform, or entertain.
Let’s look at three ways to validate project ideas:
- Validate “in house”: run it through personal filters
- Validate through research: check what exists already
- Validate through audience: ask, survey, and test the idea
Validate “In House”
The first method to validate is to run it through personal filters. Ask yourself if it fits with your brand, if it will serve your audience, and if it’s a fresh angle on your primary topics.
This may take only a minute or two, but sometimes we rush past it in our excitement over an idea that captivates us. If we skip this step, we may create content that draws an audience uninterested in anything else we write.
If I as a writing coach started producing content about style because I’m interested in a trend, I might click publish on an article about fall colors that draws a new audience of women who like to discuss shirts, skirts, and shoes.
But if I pause and validate “in house,” asking myself if this is a good fit for my primary purpose and audience, I’ll probably focus my energy elsewhere. After all, I’m creating a place online for men and women looking for support with their writing, so devoting a long post to discussing red pumps and French braids won’t reach or retain a wide range of writers.
But let’s say it passes this initial “in house” test. You believe your idea will serve your audience well and you haven’t explored this topic at length in the past.
The next step is to do some research—see what else is out there on this topic.
Validate Through Research
The main way to research is, of course, to type keywords, key phrases, key ideas, and key concepts related to your project’s idea into a search engine and see what it pulls up.
I suggest you quickly jot down everything you know about this idea before the search. Then you can compare all the articles, videos, podcasts, and memes with your existing knowledge and slant.
Don’t be discouraged if you find a ton of material—don’t assume it’s all been said before. In fact, that’s a good sign that people are searching for this kind of content. You’ll see how to contribute to the greater conversation.
And that’s the key. As you explore what other authors, bloggers, and speakers in your niche have created, you realize how your project will be similar, but different, and broaden or deepen readers’ understanding.
If need be, return to 6 methods to right-size your next writing project to find a different slant. You can continue to work through those until you land on that distinct spin you can bring to this project.
Pro tip: As you’re cruising the internet and clicking through to interesting content, be sure to grab all citation information while you’re there. Because if you decide to quote an expert in the field or to include an excerpt from one of the articles, you want that citation information at your fingertips. Quoting people builds credibility—and so does proper citation.
We told our high school debaters it’s always good to bring an expert to the podium with you to raise your credibility. I think it’s the same with writers—when we cite other sources, we bring a level of integrity and credibility to our work.
Search engines give you a broad look at what’s existing on this topic, but you can conduct a more academic search, as well.
Libraries will give you access to journals and publications to find peer-reviewed studies. Also, you’ll be able to search countless newspapers and magazines. Just go online to your library’s portal and find out what’s available to you.
I’d like to highlight a few specific websites where you can focus additional research.
Research on Amazon
Go to Amazon and search for books that exist on your topic or related topics.
- Study titles and subtitles to see how the authors are hooking readers.
- Check out the description, which is basically the back cover copy if you were holding the book in your hand, to see how they are positioning their project.
- Use the “look inside” feature to skim the table of contents and see what each author covers and how he or she structures the content.
- Look at the categories and ranking to get an idea of how many people are purchasing this book to answer their question or address their concern.
- See related books in the “customers also bought this” section to find even more material.
- Glance at the feature that shows books “frequently bought together” with the title you’re studying.
- Read the reviews of some of the books you discover. What are readers complaining about? Is something missing from the book that you’re prepared to add in your article, essay, or book?
This information is all waiting for you if you take that extra few minutes to click through.
When you find books on a similar topic, you confirm there is a need and ensure you’ll bring your own fresh perspective.
Research Through Social Media
You can also search within social media. All social media outlets have their own search functionality. Go to the search bar and type in a key term or hashtag related to your topic.
In this way, you can check out conversations happening around the subject matter or topic.
What questions are people asking about this topic?
What answers are others providing?
Who are the people answering?
Consider following them and find out what they’re putting out into the world on a regular basis.
It’s a way of “social listening” to validate your idea. Companies use this term to monitor their own brands and see what others are saying about them. But we can do the same with topics we’re planning to write about, “listening” to what the world is discussing.
Research on Quora
I also want to direct your attention to Quora. People ask questions on Quora and anyone can sign up to offer answers to those questions.
When you search a keyword or phrase related to your project on Quora, see if people have asked about the topic. This, too, can validate interest.
You can also study answers that have already been tossed out and offer your own. See how people respond. Does your answer gain traction with views, shares, and upvotes?
Research on YouTube
YouTube is owned by Google, so you can imagine how its search capabilities have improved. You can search within YouTube and check out videos that people are posting.
How many views does a video have?
How does the YouTuber answer the questions related to your topic?
What angle did this person take and how can yours be different?
If there are zero videos out there, that doesn’t mean there’s zero interest in this topic; in fact, if you’re ready and willing to play with video, you may have found a hole to fill. Writers may be answering the question through articles but few have hopped onto YouTube to address it using video.
Research on Pinterest
If your topic isn’t the best fit for the Pinterest audience, don’t devote much time to a deep dive, but Pinterest is a good place to search if your project idea is super practical and aimed at a predominantly female audience.
Sprout Social cites a Statista number, saying 71 percent of global Pinterest users are female, and when zeroing in on the U.S. only, “Pinterest reaches 83% of women ages 25-54.”
That’s a huge number, and Pinterest users are ready to make decisions and purchases, so as I said, if your idea is practical—and especially if it’s related to home, travel, food, or style—you may find useful information here.
What articles and resources do you find pinned? Click through and check those out.
Research Offers Clues
If you’re turning up a handful of articles and resources through all these searches, it could be a clue that few people are looking for this information and it could mean you’d have a hard time finding an audience for this project.
But don’t give it up until you’ve tried one more step of validation: ask your audience.
Validate Through Your Own Audience
Validate by asking, surveying, and testing your idea with your own audience.
You can discover your current readers’ interest in an idea by simply asking.
You can do this in clever, creative ways on social media by tweeting it or using something as modern as the Instagram story “ask questions” sticker.
Or you can ask in a more formal way by sending out a survey via email to your list. Even though only a percentage of people will respond in all these places, their answers will offer insight.
But sometimes people don’t know what they want until they see it. That’s why dangling a tiny version of your idea in front of them is a great way to gauge interest.
Send out a brief, beta version of your idea and see how your current audience responds. Chris Brogan of Owner Media Group says this:
[R]ealize also that everyone is busy. Everyone thinks they’re busy at least.
Your job is to get in and get out, but make the contact worth it.
How do you do that?
Tapas in food is the small bite. It’s the perfect bite. It’s not a portion of something. It’s a whole thing. And tapas content is the same. Small, perfect, and whole.
When we create and serve up tapas on social media, we’re crafting a tiny sample of the full idea in its own small, perfect, complete form: tapas.
If you’re working on a book, you could send out micro content as an Instagram caption or Facebook update that captures the essence of one of your bigger project’s subtopics.
Pay attention to audience engagement and response when you offer your idea as tapas.
Are they interested? Commenting? Liking?
Are they interacting with you about it?
Are they curious to go deeper?
You’re validating the idea.
If they respond with a surge of interest, now you know your concept has traction and you can move forward with greater confidence.
Using these three methods of validation, you’re confirming that this idea is searched for and needed.
When you take the time to validate your idea prior to developing and drafting it, you’ll save even more time by determining if your idea will fly before you build its wings.
With the information you turn up, you can revise and adapt and adjust, including even more material to create a stronger final product and truly contribute to the greater conversation happening around your topic.
You’ll confirm your idea and finalize it so you can dig in and—finally!—write.
Try it! Validate whatever idea is percolating in your head: run it through personal filters, research, and then survey your audience and serve up tapas.
- Back to Basics series
- How to use the Instagram Story Ask Questions “sticker”
- 6 Methods to Right-Size Your Next Writing Project (find a new slant)
- Chris Brogan’s StoryLeader talk where he introduces the idea of tapas
- Sprout Social’s 2020 Pinterest facts
- Cover, Lauren. “11 Pinterest Facts (and 30 Stats) Marketers Must Know in 2020.” Sprout Social, 19 May 2020, sproutsocial.com/insights/pinterest-statistics/.
- Brogan, Chris. “Here Are the Notes!” Chris Brogan Media: StoryLeader, chrisbrogan.com/smmw18thanks/.