What Does a Rubber Duck Have to Do with Writing Killer Content?

I learned a new term over the weekend: rubber-duck debugging.

This funny little concept came across my radar in the course of writing a blog post for one of my clients in the software industry, and apparently it’s an old programmer trick for finding bugs in one’s code.

Here’s how it works:

  1. The programmer obtains a rubber duck.
  2. The next time said programmer is stuck trying to find a bug in her program, she explains her code out loud to the duck, line by line by line, with the assumption that the duck knows nothing about programming.
  3. At some point during her explanation, she experiences a glorious, head-smacking moment when the bug becomes apparent, and now she can fix it.

As content creators, we have more in common with programmers than we may think — having been married to one for nearly 18 years, I can attest — and it turns out this trick can work beautifully for us as well.

So the next time you’re banging away at a piece of content that just doesn’t work, no matter what you do to it, try the rubber-duck debugging technique.

How to “Rubber-Duck Debug” Your Content

Here’s how that might look. Let’s say you’re working on a blog post about a recent breakthrough in medical technology for the treatment of a specific condition.

Step 1: Grab Your “Audience”

Obtain a rubber duck. (Don’t have one? That’s OK: Any toy will do.)

Step 2: Frame the Post

Explain out loud to the duck (yes, the “out loud” part is key):

  • Whom you’re writing this post for (Patients? What kind of patients? Doctors? What kind of doctors?)
  • Why this post is important to that audience — address the “so what?” factor
  • What this post accomplishes for your brand. Will it expand your thought leadership in general? Raise awareness of an issue for which you offer a solution? Help grow your list by directing the reader to an e-book or other resource?

Step 3: Explain the “How”

Go through your post, paragraph by paragraph, and explain how you’re going to accomplish the goals you’ve set for this post.

Don’t read the text out loud word-for-word (although that’s a bang-up strategy for proofreading). Explain it, with the assumption that your little friend knows nothing about the topic. It’ll sound something like this:

OK, Squeaky, this first paragraph is where I set up the problem that we’re going to solve. I’m opening with three shocking statistics about how many Americans are dealing with [whatever the condition is] — that will grab the audience’s attention. Then I segue into the treatments that have been used so far, and I talk about why they’ve been less-than-optimal solutions. Of course, there are a whole bunch of treatments out there, but I’m focusing on A, B, and C to keep things short and simple …

Be as chatty as you care to be. The more detail you offer, the more benefit you’ll get from this exercise. And Squeaky will just sit there listening patiently until you’re done. (Kinda nice, huh?)

Step 4: Make Notes

Don’t stop until you’ve explained the entire post to your little yellow buddy, and do keep a notebook handy to jot down any light-bulb moments that arise. Chances are you’ll have more than one.

Meet My “Duck”

No, I don’t have a rubber duck at my own workstation. But I do have this guy:

What Does a Rubber Duck Have to Do with Writing Killer Content?

And Lord knows if Eric Cartman can understand my content, anybody can.

Happy rubber-duck debugging!