As you get started on your first Seeking Alpha article, remember the most important question editors ask: Does this analysis empower and inform investors so they can make better investment decisions? Below we list the three most important points to keep in mind and some common pitfalls we see.
1. Thesis, thesis, thesis. Strong articles tend to be tightly organized around a specific, forward-looking, reasonably unique and actionable investment thesis. When thinking about the investment in question, the most important points are:
- What single factor do you believe will move the needle the most in the long term?
- Can you persuasively support that view with sourced evidence and forward-looking arguments - i.e., sufficiently bridge the gap between your hypothesis and your conclusion?
- Considering that our readers are seasoned investors who will be looking for analysis that informs their financial decisions, is the factor itself something you haven't seen discussed much elsewhere? Does your supporting analysis shed new light on that factor?
- Is the thesis specific enough that it applies exclusively to the investment in question, rather than leaning heavily on macro-level factors?
In the case of strategy-focused articles, we are looking for a clear explanation of your investment philosophy/strategy/methodology, what underlies it, and - per your comfort level - what your financial goals are and where you're coming from financially. We're not looking for personal finance articles, as those are outside of our editorial focus.
2. Beef it up. The most successful articles also take readers through the ins and outs of an investment and your thesis (or your investment strategy, if that's the focus of your article). That means:
- demonstrating how and why you expect your ideas to play out, both through qualitative analysis (info that can't be measured) and quantitative analysis (measurable, numbers-based info);
- a rigorous explanation of any valuation methodology you use, your inputs and why you've chosen the method, including any possible weaknesses of it;
- a serious discussion of downside risk or any challenges that someone who disagrees with you might present;
- painting a picture of the company's place among competitors and the sector/macro environment;
- generous links to your sources - not only where you cite a specific source, but also to provide more information and context for your analysis, in order to firm up your evidential support and to assist readers who'd like to dig deeper; and
- visual aids, although that's not a requirement. If you do include images, make sure to provide a (preferably linked) source for each. In the case of images you've created yourself, credit yourself and make sure to provide a source for the data used.
3. Walk them through it. Clear, well-organized presentation is crucial for effectively delivering your ideas to readers.
- We strongly recommend starting the article with your investment thesis within a proper introduction to your analysis. This gives readers an immediate road map of where the analysis is headed, and it also tends to grab their attention more readily.
- The article should also have a conclusion that ties up the analysis as a whole - and while it's not necessary to provide a specific directive such as "go long this name" or "short this stock," we strongly suggest adding a forward-looking comment for investors here: What should they look out for, or how should they position themselves in light of your observations?
- However you decide to organize the analysis itself, we also strongly recommend dividing your article into well-defined sections - and to further help guide readers through your analysis, title these sections with subheaders that reflect your opinion and explain how the section fits into your investment perspective.
- Another critical tool is topic sentences at the beginnings of sections/paragraphs - in other words, a sentence that summarizes the ensuing discussion, how it fits into the overarching thesis and, if needed, how it relates to what came before.
- Finally, make sure your article has been carefully proofread.
Just as important, avoiding these pitfalls will give you the best chance for success:
1. Data Aggregation. One of the most common reasons we decline articles is that they're full of easily accessible data points about the company, without an explanation of how any of it supports the author's thesis. Instead, we are looking for full clarity on how each part of an analysis supports a clearly delineated thesis - and you should leave out or greatly minimize anything that does not support that thesis (e.g., an extended operations summary).
2. Opinion aggregation. Similar to the above, we often decline articles that have simply assembled content from a number of different outside sources (analysts, journalists, company management) without clearly articulating the author's own opinion first. It's fine to make limited use of such content, but it should complement your own perspective and not be the main driver of the analysis.
3. Unsupported generalizations. In other words, analyses that are full of unsupported statements of opinion masked as fact, generalizations about the company/industry, and so on. Analysis driven by weak or insufficiently specific arguments (such as "favorable macro backdrop = success") also fall into this category. We are looking for analysis that walks readers through the nuts and bolts of your forward-looking view of the investment.
4. Backward-looking analysis. Don't fall into the trap of projecting past performance forward. It's fine to review some history, but the core of your argument should be forward-looking. Why do you expect the investment to continue performing in the manner you've highlighted? (Or, as the case may be, why do you expect it to reverse?)
5. Overexuberance. The article should not sound like a brochure for the company, and downside risks should also be frankly explored - and vice versa if your opinion is a bearish one. Make sure to avoid hype and bombast in titles as well.
6. Heavily covered stocks. This isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but it's obviously tougher to come up with an original thesis on a well-known and widely discussed stock such as, say, Tesla, than it is for a less-covered stock. So we strongly recommend avoiding such names for your first few articles as you get acclimated to writing analysis for us (unless, of course, you have reason to be confident your perspective sheds new light on the company for investors who already know a great deal about it).
7. Microcap stocks. In general, we prefer that new authors avoid writing about microcap stocks (those that trade for less than $1 per share and have a market cap of less than $100M) for their first few articles. We can be somewhat flexible on these guidelines on a case-by-case basis, but oftentimes microcaps are simply too illiquid and/or low-priced to be candidates for consideration and require very thorough discussion of the risks involved in an investment.
8. "Introductory" articles. Keep the Seeking Alpha community in mind when crafting your articles; our readers are sophisticated investors who already know their way around the markets. They're not looking for extended primers on what a company does, the products it has developed, and so on (although very brief descriptions of lesser-known companies are welcome, so as to ensure the analysis makes sense to unfamiliar readers). Remember: Don't tell us what we already know. Tell us what we don't know.
So, if you've got something to say and want to become a Seeking Alpha author, we strongly suggest referencing our Author Experience Directory and browsing through a few recent articles on your chosen stock or sector. And once you've submitted, an editor will provide detailed feedback that is intended to help you clarify your viewpoint for readers.
Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.