Context is important and more helpful than saying “Do this”

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Telling people why something should be done is so much more effective than just telling people what should be done.

The lesson of added context is important to remember for storytellers and content marketers: Share why a particular fact is important. Don’t just share the fact.

I was reminded of this when I had to buy a new lawn mower in June 2014. There was a sticker on the mower that said to untie a certain screw, pull out the attached piece and tighten it all back together. We did this. At least we thought so.

My wife even said at one point: “I wonder why we have to do this.”

“No idea, but it looks like we did what the little piece of paper said.”

So we moved on, added oil, gas and tried to start it. But the mower didn’t start. The cord that you pull to turn it on didn’t move one bit. We fiddled some more. Loosened some more screws, tightened them and tried to decipher the instructions some more. But nothing worked. Perhaps we were missing some context? Unfortunately, we didn’t think of that at the moment. So we gave up.

“Perhaps you could Google for an answer,” my wife said.

I did search Google for problems with the cord. While I didn’t find the exact  answer to my problem, I did find answers that prompted me to go back into the garage and flip the lawn mower over, which we hadn’t done to this point.

As it turns out, a couple of pieces were restricting the blades, which prompted the power cord not to allow us to start it. Ah ha, this was the point of the first exercise. We didn’t know this, of course, and because of the missing context weren’t able to troubleshoot further earlier.

Added context may have helped us solve this quicker. Always something to keep in mind for people writing directions, sharing stories or producing content marketing materials: What added context will make this easier to understand?