What’s your biggest pet peeve? Is it when people chew with their mouths full? Or don’t take their shoes off when they come into your home?
Mine is when people don’t ask questions in a conversation. This isn’t because I like talking about myself, but because it shows a general lack of interest. Not many people like to be talked at or in a one-sided conversation. There should be give-and-take, and writing articles for media placement is not much different.
Many of you reading this have written wonderful books. What’s different about writing for online media is that the attention span is incredibly short—55 percent of visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a webpage. So, it’s imperative to grab attention and keep it by engaging your readers.
Here are 5 rules of engagement when writing for media.
Write a fantastic headline.
This almost goes without saying, but headlines are the first thing people read when deciding whether to spend time reading more. One way to make sure you nail the headline is to work backwards. Come up with your amazing headline and then write the piece to fit it, not the other way around.
Write a fantastic intro.
Once your headline has convinced the reader that they want to spend a little more time on the page, you’ve got to keep them there. Use this space to prove to them what they’re reading will be important to their success, life, happiness, what have you. You can also draw readers in by sharing a controversial stat or opinion—or even better, a short (maybe personal) story that appeals to their emotions. Emotions are great attention-grabbers.
Here we are, back to asking questions. Did you know readers like it, too? From when we were little, we were taught to pay attention to questions, so when we spot one on a page, we snap back into attention. Use them throughout your piece to ensure focus.
Use bullets and subheads.
This study by Nielsen-Norman Group is a really interesting and useful study that shows that web readers don’t read text word-for-word. They scan it. Think about it: how do you read web pages? Do your eyes jump to headings and lists? You’re not alone. The research shows that using meaningful (not clever) subheadings and bulleted lists are great ways to get your writing read. Other tips—use the inverted pyramid style, hyperlink keywords, and use half the word count that you would for a hard copy piece.
Use transition words.
There’s no quicker way to lose a reader’s attention than to lose them in your writing. Make sure you use transitional words that help readers to the next point. Some good ones include:
- In addition to
- That’s why
- Here’s how
I want to close with a note about pitching media, since many of your media writing opportunities will come from pitches to journalists. These rules above apply, as well as a big emphasis on showing the journalist that you’re familiar with their work. In lieu of asking many questions in an email, reference past work by the recipient and explain how what you can write or interview about will benefit them and their audiences.
And, that’s what I have. We’d love to hear your tips for engaging readers by leaving them in the comments!
Whitney is the public relations director at WI. She started her career in communications as a TV news anchor/reporter in Virginia and Tennessee before switching to public relations. Whitney earned her bachelors in government at Georgetown University, and masters in PR from the University of Tennessee. She enjoys spending time with her family in Knoxville, TN, and running competitively.