You want to keep readers engaged with your content so you clicked on this article to learn more. Yay! The good news is that I can definitely help you. The bad news is that if I don’t capture your attention within ten seconds, you’ll leave without reading my words of wisdom.
So here’s a photo of a super cute kitten.
Did it work? Are you still here?
Research tells me that if I can keep your eyeballs on this page for thirty seconds, you’ll likely keep reading. You may even stay engaged for a few minutes, which is an eternity in the online world.
Presuming that the kitten trick worked, you’re still here. Yay again! But the problem is that I’m not writing about kittens. And chances are that your content isn’t about kittens either.
So the question is: How can you and I keep readers engaged, regardless of the topic?
Don’t worry. It’s not as hard as you might imagine.
In this post, I’m going to share a few simple writing tips that you can apply to almost any subject-matter. So let’s get started.
Writing Tip #1: Talk directly to your reader
I use you-and-I language most of the time, because it draws readers in. Ponder the opening paragraph of this article. I used you/your/you’ll a total of six times, and I used I/my twice. This was a deliberate choice because it creates a sense of connection and conversation. It feels like I’m talking to YOU and that naturally captures your attention.
Think about the content you’ve written. Is the language warm and conversational? Or does it feel more like a lecture or a sermon?
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 six 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 technical language is expected, simple is best.
No one likes to feel stupid, or waste time digging through a clutter of four-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, so popping his words into this article made sense. PLUS, that quote broke up the text and added a bit of visual 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 a 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. Conversely, passive voice 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 as with almost everything in life, there are exceptions, but using active voice is generally best. It keeps readers engaged by making your 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 the Hemingway Editor. It’s free online and, among other things, it points out where you’re using passive voice.
Conclusion: There are lots of simple tricks 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 writing content for a blog, website page, or online resource, 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 writing about, the best advice I can give is to write frequently, revise with passion, and continually ask for feedback (from people you trust to tell you the truth).