Last year while researching a book on memorable speeches and essays, I stumbled across an ageless writing technique that continues to captivate readers.
Advice articles first appeared several hundred years ago. Some were submitted to papers and magazines anonymously. The question-and-answer format probably appeared a little bit later.
While opinion articles have been around for years, few develop the loyalty and following of advice columns.
Test this for yourself by gathering newspapers and magazines from the last several decades. My guess is: You'll find the old question / answer columns still ageless and vibrant.
Advice features generate return readers. Why? Maybe it's because people love to share problems and possible solutions.
Want to start your own "advice" column? Here are three simple ways to begin:
1. Survey your readership for the two or three industry issues perpetually discussed.
2. Find out all you can about those issues.
3. Prompt questions from readers about those issues, and answer them regularly in a column.
Current popular syndicated features, for instance, offer advice on personal relationships, do-it-yourself projects, and travel.
In a professional or trade magazine, your question / answer feature might cover the history of your profession, provide an open forum where readers share information, or follow a how-to format. That's your decision.
Personal note: Lots of times I get questions whose answers I don't know. That's when I ask the advice of an expert in that field, and ask for his / her permission to include their response and name in the answer. If I don't know the answer, I tell the questioner I simply don't know.
Bottom line: If you want to connect better your readers, you must also give them the opportunity to reach you.