You came to this article because you want to keep readers engaged with your blog. And I can definitely help. But research shows that if I can’t capture your attention within 10 seconds, you’re going to leave.
So here’s a photo of a super cute kitten.
Did it work? Are you still here?
Research also tells me that if I can keep your eyeballs on this post for 30 seconds, you’ll likely keep reading. You may even stay engaged for a few minutes, which is an eternity in the online world.
The good news is that the cute kitten worked and you’re still reading. The bad news is that I’m not writing about cute kittens. So if that’s what attracted you, please leave now. There will be no further talk of kittens.
Herein lies the problem. Many of us are creating content about more serious subjects. And while our topics may be important and impactful… they don’t have the magnetic appeal of that kitten with a ball of yarn.
In this post, I’m going to share a few simple writing tips to keep readers engaged, regardless of what you’re writing about. So let’s get started…
Writing Tip #1: Talk directly to the reader
The first word in this post is “YOU”. This isn’t accidental. I use “you-and-I” language because it draws you in. It makes you feel like I’m talking to YOU. And that naturally captures your attention.
Use my opening sentences as an example. Which of the following openers seems more engaging?
- This article is written for people who want to keep their readers engaged. And the author can definitely help.
- You clicked on this article because you want to know how to keep readers engaged. And I can definitely help.
(I’m hoping you picked option 2)
When you finish reading this article, take a moment to review a few blog posts from your organization’s website.
Is the language warm and conversational? Or does it seem to lecture AT people?
Writing Tip #2: Ask questions
When I asked you to think about your content… did you?
Because most people would. It’s human nature to ponder a question – if only for a moment or two.
Think about a keynote speaker who did a great job of holding your attention. I bet there were moments when they paused, looked out at the audience, and asked a question. This is a pretty standard technique to keep people from mentally drifting away. And it works whether your audience is staring up at a podium, or reading your words on a screen.
FYI: In this article, I’ve already asked you 7 questions. Admittedly, this may be overkill. But I’m trying to prove my own point. Like conversational language, questions draw you in.
Writing Tip #3: Use simple words
Unless you’re writing for a scientific journal, or some other publication where the audience is deeply knowledgeable, simple is best!
No one likes to feel stupid. Or waste time digging through a clutter of 4-syllable words and insider jargon, searching for practical insights. To keep readers engaged, you must learn to present complex ideas in clear, simple terms.
In the words of artist and teacher, Hans Hofmann:
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
Writing Tip #4: Use quotes
Good old Hans Hoffman did a great job of explaining the power of simplicity! Adding his quote broke up the text and added a bit of IMPACT.
There’s no shame in sharing the wisdom of others. In fact, it’s a great way to engage readers AND add strength to whatever point you’re trying to make.
Just remember to give credit where credit is due. Quotes are good. Plagiarism is bad.
Writing Tip #5: Embrace contractions
This is not medieval England. If you want to keep readers engaged, your words should reflect how REAL people – in the 21st century – talk.
Contractions are an accepted part of our dialogue. If your audience is made up of people who use expressions like “I cannot” and “I will not” then feel free to jump into that manner of speech. But if you’re trying to communicate with ordinary people, contractions are the better – more natural – choice.
Writing Tip #6: Find better adjectives
“Good” is not good. “Great” is not great. And the universe is overflowing with fabulous, awe-inspiring, spectacular, breath-taking, mind-blowing alternatives!
Adjectives exist to add ZIP and flavour to your content.
Boring, over-used adjectives are the writing equivalent of those old, dried out spices buried in the back of your grandmother’s cupboard. They add NOTHING (and may actually make make things smell a little STALE).
Your objective is to find catchier, more lively adjectives without overdoing it, or veering into jargon and gobbledygook. (Remember how we talked about that back in Writing Tip #3?)
It takes a little research and a bit of practice, but mastering the art of adjectives will take your writing up several notches.
Writing Tip #7: Use active voice more often then passive voice
When you use active voice, the subject comes first and performs the action. It’s straightforward and easy for the reader to follow.
Passive voice, on the other hand, puts the object and the action first, which leaves the subject at the end of the sentence. This tends to make sentences wordier and harder to follow.
- Active: Our program changes lives.
- Passive: Lives are changed by our program.
Can you hear the difference?
It’s subtle. And there are exceptions. Sometimes, passive voice works better. But as a rule, using more active voice will keep readers engaged by making sentences shorter, snappier, and easier to read.
Getting the hang of this can be tricky! But there are a zillion articles on the subject and lots of apps and plug ins to help you. I’m a fan of Hemingway Editor. It’s free online and, among other things, it points out where you are using passive voice.
Conclusion: There are lots of simple ways to keep readers engaged!
As adults, we know the basics of writing, just like we know the basics of cooking. But it takes time and effort to get from “edible” to “yummy”.
There are countless ways to keep readers engaged. And while some are pretty simple (like adding quotes), others take time and practice. Personally, I’m still learning the complicated dance between active voice and passive voice.
When blogging, I recommend setting LOW standards for your first draft. Don’t worry about every little sentence. Get your thoughts in order first, then do multiple rounds of edits. Read the whole thing ALOUD before you hit publish. And if it still sounds “flat”, keep editing.
On the subject of writing… If you’re prone to writer’s block, I’ve got a few words of wisdom on how to push through and get those precious words onto the page. Click to learn more about how to unclog your brain.
Regardless of what you’re blogging about, the best advice I can give is to blog frequently, revise with passion, and continually ask for feedback (from people you trust to tell you the truth).