How to gain and retain readers

Posted on 11 May 2016 by Emily Stella

You read books by Richard Branson and articles from The Economist. Why? Because you consider the writers to be experts in their field. And you believe you’ll gain valuable insight from hearing what they have to say.

Now apply the same logic to your own writing. If you position yourself as an authority in your industry, readers will seek out your opinion again and again. So long, of course, as it’s interesting!

Bring new ideas to the table

Here are three things you can do to engage your reader:

1. Tell your readers something they don’t already know
Why do you read anything? To learn something new. So when you’re thinking about your article topic consider who your readers are and what they’ll find useful. Ask yourself, ‘What’s keeping them up at night?’ You want to identify your readers’ problems and offer them a solution.

2. Offer a new angle – and go big with your ideas!
You might be writing an article or news piece on recent market developments – along with everyone else. If that’s the case, offer a different opinion to a current issue. When you’re writing your first draft, lead with your big idea and be bold with your content. You can always tone it down in later edits. Pushing boundaries will make your article unique and also increase the likelihood of it being shared.

3. Engage your readers through your writing style and language
What differentiates OK writing from great writing is your own personality. This will come through if you a) write about something that interests you and b) talk as a person to your readers rather than as a brand. It’s also essential to use language your audience is familiar with. But be careful with technical or jargon-filled content as you could risk alienating less experienced or specialist readers.

Craft a killer headline

Write a headline to make your reader curious – where they’re sure to miss out if they don’t go on to read the full article. That’s why ‘how to’ or list headlines are widely used for articles published online. For example, ‘How to outsmart your competition’ or ‘Seven ways to land your dream job’. Demonstrate to your reader that they’ll learn something new and invaluable from reading your article.

Although your headline is the most important factor in capturing your audience, your content must also deliver. Otherwise you’ll lose your reader fast.

Avoid length

It’s best to keep sentence, paragraph and article length in check.

As a general guide, the ideal average sentence is 15–20 words, though it really helps to vary your sentence length. Short sentences give your writing punch and add a sense of urgency. Longer sentences will slow your reader down.

For paragraphs, you want each one to contain a main idea – for every new idea, start a new paragraph. Dense text is off-putting, so keep you paragraphs short, particularly for informal writing.

To ensure you don’t lose your reader mid-way, keep your article length to a minimum – 600 words is appropriate for online material.

If you’re still with me, I’ve won you over. Happy blog writing.

Emily Stella is a director at Attica, a company that provides training, copywriting and editing services to enhance the quality of corporate writing: