4 ways to keep readers riveted

Are your readers tuning out? Here are four ways to grab—and keep—their attention.

Your messages compete every day with catchy online content. That means copy must now be more clear, concise and creative to stand out.

Here are four tips for more captivating writing. Whether you’re writing for internal or external audiences, these powerful ideas will help you rivet your readers:

1. Be brief—get to the point. “Even if employees are mandated to read your content, they’ll retain more and resent the task less if you keep it as succinct as possible,” says Kelly Stone, global social media director at CompTIA.

The average social media user will scroll through 300 feet of content a day, she says. If your content constitutes six inches of that, chances are high they will breeze right by.

“The solution is to challenge yourself to a game of word golf,” says Stone. “The fewer the words, the more you and your audience win.”

One way to keep word count low is to get to your point immediately. “Add details and provide context after making your first salient point,” says Ragan Executive Editor Rob Reinalda.

For example, don’t start an article or post with a statement like:

  • “I just finished reading a book about…”
  • “Back in 1993…”
  • “In previous blog posts I wrote about…”

These types of openers take up valuable space and suggest you’re offering old, secondhand news. Instead, get to the heart of your contention. For example:

  • “Mackerel sundaes deliver the Omega-3 and proteins that start your day right.”
  • Then offer the supporting background info: “For decades, researchers have compiled evidence about fatty acids.”

Register for Ragan’s Jan. 26 “The Exceptional Writer and Editor Virtual Summit” for more tips from Aaron French (SEC), Rob Reinalda (Ragan, PR Daily), Lucy Abreu (OAP) and Kelly Stone (CompTIA).

2. Be bold—shoot for the moon. “Take a lesson from clickbait masters, and give your audience a reason to read to the end,” says Stone. “Lists and thought-provoking headlines that cause your reader to pause will pull them in.”

For example, instead of titling an article, “Open Enrollment Begins Nov. 1,” try “5 Changes to Employee Benefits You’ll Love.”

“It takes a little more work and some creativity,” Stone says, “but your readers will groan less when they read your communique.”

Aaron French, an internal communications manager at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, says creative writing isn’t always embraced at conservative organizations.

“The trick to turning the tide audience is to shoot for the moon,” he says. “Write something so outlandish, so off-the-norm that your boss or client can see what they can have if they want it.”

The solution is often somewhere in the middle, French says, but this approach slowly pushes the line further toward flair and creativity.

3. Be unique—find your voice. Nothing loses readers like generic copy. That’s why it’s crucial to find your unique organizational voice.

“Irreverent works for Wendy’s and KFC, but not for McDonalds,” says Stone. “To get an idea of where your organization’s voice lies, take a cue from senior leadership. Read their communications, like staff emails or keynotes, and mimic that in your writing.”

Experiment—within reason—and then stick with what works.

“A logical way to go about this is to halve your audience and send each a different version of a communication,” she says. “Use a trackable link in the text, and see which one yields a higher click rate.”

4. Be selective—choose words with purpose. “Verbal filler clogs the information pipeline and loses readers,” Reinalda says, “so watch for throat-clearers, and delete them.”

These include culprits like “Be sure to…” “Take time to…” and “Never forget that…”

Misused words also lose readers and kill your credibility, Reinalda says.

For example, “Adding or amending a syllable doesn’t add emphasis,” he says. “Penultimate doesn’t mean extra ultimate. A gourmand is not the same as a gourmet; the former is a synonym for glutton.”

The solution is simple. “Look words up, even if you think you know what they mean,” Reinalda says. “A word might have a second meaning or connotation that undermines your message.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR University. Aaron French (SEC) Rob Reinalda (Ragan, PR Daily), Lucy Abreu (OAP) and Kelly Stone (CompTIA) will reveal more writing and editing techniques in PR University’s Jan. 26 virtual summit, “The Exceptional Writer and Editor: Craft Copy With Power, Punch and Pizzazz.”

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