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5 tips to write a winning paper

If you want to do well at APG, then it’s really very simple.

You have to tell a good story.

Because by the time you get to this point, you will have already done some good strategy and inspired something interesting to happen in the market.

Getting shortlisted isn’t about having done some good work.

You don’t get shortlisted for the work.

You get shortlisted for the story you tell about it.

That’s not meant to sound shallow or to minimize the value of great thinking.

It’s just a fact.

The only thing the judges have in front of them, in fact the only thing they’re allowed to judge you on is the story you tell them in the paper. Not what they’ve heard on the grapevine or what they personally think might have happened. They only have your story.

Your strategy is not your story.

It’s the topic of your story, and that’s quite a different thing.

The story is not the topic, the story is what makes the topic interesting to the judges.

The blind alleys you wandered down, the twists and turns along the way that yielded discoveries, or just the context the judges need to understand for your story to be compelling.

If you’ve done anything that now exists in the world, the problem is that most things that exist look inevitable. In retrospect, then yeah, we would have done that.

For the story to be interesting you need to paint a picture of what the world was like before your thing existed, or how the world could have looked if you hadn’t done what you did.

When you’re thinking about how to write up your idea, try to write a simple sentence or short paragraph that summarises the focus of your story.

All great stories are about someone trying to do something, to get something, to achieve something and how they overcome the obstacle or trials along their way. If your story is about something happening really simply and easily, then it’s not going to be all that compelling.

Your obstacle or trials could be about your competitors, the scale of the challenge, your colleagues, the research findings, the media environment, your budget, or something else very very specific to your paper, but you need something in there to give the story structure and interest.

If you can’t think of a challenge you faced, or wondering whether you might need to make something up, then you’re either not thinking hard enough, or you’re not being honest with yourself. As Buddha said, life is suffering and planning and strategy even more so. Well not that second bit, but I think he would have agreed.

The quality of the story is the thing that will make the difference between whether your paper is in contention, or falls at the first hurdle, so it’s worth worrying about. Show what you’ve written to an honest friend outside the industry and ask them if they enjoyed reading it. If they didn’t, then chances are it’s not a good story. If they did, then maybe you’re in with a chance. Because the best of these papers will be enjoyable to people who have no idea what you do for a living and would probably think it totally ridiculous if you explained it to them.

Read past shortlisted papers for inspiration. At least five of them, because they all tell slightly different stories and will inspire you in different ways. Think like a journalist, read some Malcolm Gladwell and see how he makes things compelling. And then find your own voice, to tell your story in your own way.

Just make sure it’s a good story.

Craig Mawdsley


Former APG Chair

Chair of Shortlisters 2015

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