By Leah Thurber
A lot of blogs and articles simply don’t work. We spend more time writing them then all of our readers spend reading them combined. That’s hugely frustrating, and can make it all feel rather futile. The most comfortable thing to do in these situations is lament that people aren’t as focused today as they used to be and how their attention span is shorter than that of a goldfish.
The thing is, that really isn’t going to change anything. To do that, you have to accommodate people and – more importantly – the many distractions they have in their lives. Here’s a list of some of the best strategies you can use to create attention-grabbing content that will draw your readers in and keep them glued to their screens.
Grab Them from Word One
The most important part of your text is the beginning. Not really that surprising, as that’s where everybody decides and based on that, people will decide if they’re going to keep going or not.
And yet, a lot of people don’t do a very good job at writing it. They get into all this preamble which is supposed to make it easier for the reader to transition into the text. What they don’t realize is that people aren’t interested in that preamble. They don’t want to spend two paragraphs reading about how you had a profound insight under the shower. What they want you to do is start with the profound insight, or the shocking realization, or the unbelievable statement.
The best strategy to get that hook out there right in front is to read back the first paragraphs you’ve written with the question: where do I get to the point I’m trying to make? Once you find that, delete everything that came before.
Sure, you might have to rejiggle the first lines a little bit, but once you have, you’ve got a far more captivating introduction.
Remember the Halo Effect
You might think that when we consider a person or a company’s qualities, we weigh everything on a set of different dimensions. So, we judge a person based on how intelligent they are, as well as how pretty they are and how trustworthy they are. It turns out that’s not true. Instead, we lump people’s characteristics together into one (or two) dimensions.
That isn’t just true of people. It’s also true of a website. So how well the site is designed will also determine how favorably they’ll start reading your content. Of course, it works in reverse as well. If your site looks like it was put together by an amateur, then they’ll think about your writing in the same way.
For that reason, spend some time getting the design right. That alone will already have a big impact.
Another way is to burnish your credentials by making clear early on what you’ve done and what you’re capable of. The more you’ve accomplished, the more they’ll give your writing the benefit of the doubt.
Becoming a more engaging writer can be difficult. Making your reading easier to follow so that people have less trouble trying to understand your points is far easier. And in the end, they lead to the same thing.
That’s because every article or story we read is an interaction of how much effort we have to put into it and what we get out of it. Raise what people get out or decrease what people have to put in, and the they’re going to stick around for longer.
There are many ways to boost readability. Here are some of quickest ones to master:
- Use shorter sentences. Whenever you find yourself using a bunch of commas in a sentence, see if you can’t make the same point in two. Periods act as memory resets. They let your reader chunk what came before and thereby reduce the strain on their working memory.
- Start working with readability analyzers. There are lots of pieces of software that will analyze how accessible your writing is. Use them to get a better sense of how complicated your writing is as well as where the problem areas are.
- Work with an editor. You don’t have to do this every time, but if you take some of your texts to an editor and make sure they don’t just explain what they’d change but why they’d change it, you can quickly become aware of things you do that undermine your text’s readability.
Target the Scanners
There are a lot of readers out there who are only trying to find one bit of information or are trying to get the gist of your content without investing a great deal of time. To do so, they scan your article, picking out keywords and headlines.
Write with these people in mind. If you use effective headlines, short paragraphs which get to the point, bullet points and all the rest of it, then these readers will find it far easier to find what they’re looking for. And once they do, there is a chance they’ll stick around for longer. And if you can convert a few scanners into actual readers, you’re going to expand your audience dramatically.
Rinse and Repeat
Writing is something that takes a lot of time todo right. Analyze what people read, how long they stick around and even how often they share your content. That feedback, in turn, allows you to figure out what works and what doesn’t. For that reason, make sure you read the numbers. Study them, explore them, and learn what they mean. From there, you’ll be able to figure out what content does well and perhaps even why it does so.
That kind of feedback will then let you polish your style until it shines. From there you’re well on your way to making your content gripping and engaging.
Photo credit: Thumbs up from Gonzalo Aragon/Shutterstock