How do you keep a reader engaged? It is vital to keep them on the page following your every word. It is about knowing and interacting with your readers.
“In these troubled, uncertain times, we don’t need more command and control; we need better means to engage everyone’s intelligence in solving challenges and crises as they arise.” ~ Margaret J. Wheatley
From the outset we enter into a loose contract with the reader. A promise to share knowledge in return for which the reader promises to stay till the end, reading every word; provided we continue to engage them. A deal that is silently struck.
If you are writing a blog knowing how to keep the reader engaged should be one of your first priorities. There are many questions a writer may ask to ensure their work has been created to satisfy the needs of the reader, including:
- Have I laid out out all possible options?
- Have I answered their probable questions?
- Did I lave a crucial part of me behind?
- Is it Straightforward?
Engaging readers isn’t just about writing a article for your blog, but about knowing how to market it effectively as well. Arguable readers want access to the most effective information as quickly as possible. This starts with having a catchy title, for the blog post an excerpt will also appear on the search results which should advertise what it is all about. Search engines and Social Media draws the reader in, how you interact with them operates from then on. The net result the reader feels engaged when the click on the link.
Too much Content?
The Internet is saturated with content and in writing your material it is vital you set yourself apart from others. There are many ways to do this, for example by asking (or answering) the question that others don’t ask/answer. One lesson I learned early when writing web content is not to skim the subject, pick one aspect, then demonstrate how it may have value to the reader and examine the details. Imagine for one moment a how-to piece about changing the bag in a vacuum cleaner which shows all the steps that must be taken, except putting the new bag in place. That step may be obvious to most, but it may be the very reason why one reader may be on your page.
There may be too much content on the web, but there is always room for content that provides answers, or the post that guides people through the complexities of a project they wish to complete.
Research and keep your Knowledge up-to-date
Do you have a specialist subject? When was the last time you improved your knowledge? It is difficult to keep readers engaged when you are out of date.
Specialisations need consistent and ongoing research, you need to read those journals that tell you when a team in the Congo discovers something new, or when a team in China refutes something considered to be common knowledge. You need to know about all these major advances.
Titles and Pictures
Titles, excerpts, and pictures matter. You must make the unknown reader feel welcome. The reader selects a piece to read largely because of the page title, the summary (or excerpt) and the featured image. If relevant to the reader’s needs it will draw them in, using two of their five senses. This first interaction with the potential reader is all important and is about engaging the reader then managing their expectations. You should try to open up the other senses.
Pictures, images or diagrams in the page brings changes that allows the mind to absorb what it has taken in, then pause for a moment before going on. I have been on pages that have no pictures on them and find the content is difficult to read, even though there is nothing wrong with the English used, it simply fails to consider my needs as a reader. Many psychologists that say there is a good reason why people find a picture to be engaging. Many writers have told me that they don’t use pictures because they have none of their own they can use, ignoring the fact that there are plenty of royalty-free images available, on the web, for general use.
Take a look at Pixabay next time you are writing, it is where the featured image for this post was sourced.
A Story to Tell
There is nothing better than telling a story to make the reader feel engaged. Even with non-fiction it is possible to tell a story, the story of what happened, how to do it, etc. is all valuable information that will allow the reader to understand what you have to say. To write successfully you have to develop the art of storytelling, show why this topic matters. If you are writing factual content then your story must be the truth, something that actually happened, not a work of fiction. It is your story that can sell the article.
The majority of people remember stories and not facts, so it is important to tell the story behind the fact. For example how did Roger Bannister prepare to be the first man to break the 4 minute mile? What is the story behind the first moon walk by Neil Armstrong? It is through that story they remember the facts.
By telling the story behind the facts you distinguish yourself from the other writers talking about the same subject, who simply provide the facts. This is all the more important if you have personal experiences to share. What happened during the experiments you performed? Why did it go wrong? What did you learn? These lessons, which were very personal for the writer can also be felt by the reader. You will have an advantage over those who seek to produce facts and figures without any context. The story that unveils the reason why a particular statistic is so important and why the reader should care will be more popular.
Write Plainly but Powerfully
You do not have to be a powerful novelist or classical writer to write powerfully. Know what type of person you are writing for and write material at the appropriate level. For general material it is argued that the knowledge level is that of a fifth-grader (10 year old). If your audience has a specialisation then you should use language appropriate to that profession.
Spell checking and grammar checking are all vital. I would say you start with the spell checker linked to your word processor or browser. There are various websites that enable writers to check the readability of their work and I intend to review some of these capabilities in the future. Ultimately your writing should flow well, present your thoughts stylishly, and with a purpose.
When presenting non-fictional work you have a duty to tell the facts as you see them, tell stories that help the reader understand the concepts that you present. Those stories should be based on real events, not made up. The duty not to fictionalise content is a part of the ‘contract’ the writer has with the reader. It is how you see the events, your interpretation, that’s all.
David Aston believes writers should use power words in to produce more engaging content. The idea: power words tap directly into the emotions of the reader. Some of these words are clear and simple, like “you“, or “your” but others he suggests are less obvious, see the diagram below for Aston’s list of words that keep readers engaged.
Some words like “invasion,” “discover,” or “hazardous” do evoke certain emotions. If people speak such words you ears will perk up, and even if you hear nothing else they will spike an interest in what was said. All Aston is doing here is using that same philosophy in the context of the written article. The implication here is that each writer needs to study the work they produce and see which has the greatest impact on readers (in terms of the number of people reading the piece) then attempt to replicate that approach or style in other work.
Words like “you” and “your” are a way of involving the audience, when the dialogue is written consistently in second person. There is another positive impact of involving the audience this way, it means you are less likely to fall into passive voice.
Sub-Divide Your Work
Headings and sub-headings are a vital element of presentation, it breaks your work down into manageable chunks which aids both the reader and the writer. Sections can break the thoughts down into a logical order, identifying the natural flow of the work. Do you recall those maths questions at school where the teacher told you to show your calculations? Blog writing has much the same need. You may have reached a conclusion, but you have to show the reader the logical steps taken to reach that result.
It is possible you have three or four questions to pose on the reader’s behalf and two or three options in answering each question. Breaking these down separately into sections and sub-sections will allow the work to appear well constructed. A part of this is to ensure that everything builds towards, and supports, your logical conclusion.
A future piece will explore the headline and its part in bringing readers to your work and engaging them early.
Other Related Stories:
- Can I teach you Everything I Know?
- Provoke, Mine, and Activate Your Artistic DNA
- Personification: A Special Type of Metaphor
- Make your Writing Timeless
- Intrigue/Thought – What will you be writing next?