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Top 10 Ways to Grab — and Keep — Readers’ Attention - 3/17/2014 -

Rena Malai
You can seduce readers into stopping and reading an article, even if the material happens to be a little tired. Communications Consultant Karla Taylor and SHRM’s Online News Manager Beth Mirza took attendees at AM&P’s recent Lunch & Learn down their short list of best tips. Hint: One of them involves drawing stick figures.

By Rena Malai

Is it a catchy headline? Check. Is there intrigue? Um, okay, check. What about seductive reasoning? Oh boy. Check…kind of.

"50 Shades of Grey” — love it or hate it, it seems to evoke a certain curiosity. While it’s arguable whether the novel is a noteworthy piece of literature or an amazing storyline, it sure does grab attention.

Having a catchy headline, intrigue, and seductive reasoning are some of the things writers can do to keep their readers’ eyes from wandering away, according to Karla Taylor, a communications consultant, editor, and writer, and Beth Mirza, manager of online news content for the Society for Human Resource Management, who led the recent Association Media & Publishing Lunch & Learn on "Top 10 Ways to Grab — and Keep — Readers’ Attention.”

To break down the 10 ways, here’s what you need to do. Ready? Here goes:

1. Write better headlines
2. Write better headlines
3. Write better headlines
4. Write better headlines
5. Write better headlines

and then do this:

6. Know your audience.
7. Know your audience.
8. Know your audience.
9. Know your audience.
10. Know your audience.

Let’s look at the first five ways to grab a reader’s attention. Taylor said that by writing better headlines, you can seduce readers into stopping and reading a piece, even if the material — or you — happens to be a little tired. But whether it’s a blog, newspaper article, or an online piece, the same is true across the board — it’s the headline that brings people in and makes them want to stay.

"If you don’t think about headlines and how they will work to grab your readers, you will lose them,” Taylor says.

She says some tried-and-true headline writing formulas include How tos, such as How to Win Friends, How to Influence People, How to Win Friends While Influencing People, etc. People won’t stop and read unless you give them a reason to, so Taylor says to tell readers something in the headline.

Don’t be afraid of onomatopoeia, she says, and when all else fails, turn to alliteration. Play it straight with news headlines, choose words with impact, and don’t give up.

"Alliteration is my favorite,” Taylor says. "But don’t force cleverness, and in David Carr’s words, think of how to put that tasty headline on nutritious subjects. Your headlines are the chocolate sauce on top of the Brussels sprouts.”

Now that snazzy headline writing is taken care of, the next of batch of five tips is all about knowing your audience so those headlines can pop out at them. What better way to do that than drawing up some figures — stick figures, that is.

"Draw a stick figure with a bubble and think — how do I get this reader?” Mirza says.

This can work even when the publication goes to an audience you know really well. Mirza reminded everyone that even if what you’re writing seems a little dry to you, it could (and should) apply to your readers’ work and be really important to them.

"It’s worth it to make the content rich for your readers, and even making it a little folksy is all the better,” she says.

So write better headlines and know your audience. Those are 10 suggestions any writer can put to good use.

Rena Malai is staff writer for NASW News, National Association of Social Workers. Association Media & Publishing sincerely thanks Rene for covering this Lunch & Learn for our members who were unable to attend.


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