A dab of powder, a little lipstick, a lick of paint…
Sounds like a fixer-upper, hey? Well, we can have the best content in the world, but if we don’t grab our reader’s attention, nobody's going to read it. And if we don’t make our great content accessible and easy to follow, nobody's going to hang around long enough to finish the article.
Seems harsh. And we can fret all we like about society’s ever-shrinking attention span or the split-second click-away.
But the simple truth of the matter is if an article can’t grab our readers’ attention fast, and then keep them engaged and smoothly scrolling down the page, our readers are just going to hop away, and boom goes our read-ratio.
First, we’re not discussing content in this article. We’ll accept our content is great. We’ve done our research, worked hard, polished our content. Written our truth in our authentic voice. Edited the article for spelling and grammar. Yes, I know, it’s boring but necessary, regardless of what some will tell you.
Second, we’re not discussing titles, topics or SEO. We’ll also accept we know how to write an eye-catching title and use a bit of SEO in our subtitle and headings.
We’re talking about two super, tried and true strategies to grab and hold our reader’s attention.
- Featured Photo — it’s the first thing our readers see. And we have an incredible selection from which to choose, so please don’t be lazy and grab the first photo which catches your eye. Keep going. I guarantee everyone's used those ones before. In recent memory. Go a few pages in… And that little boy shouting into the old-fashioned microphone? Cute as a button, right. Well, pick something else. I know you think he’s adorable, but so did everyone else who’s used his photo in the last six months.
- Format — white space, white space, white space. Did I say ‘White Space?’ And please don’t just leave a line between every sentence. That gets old fast, too. And it’s every bit as hard to read as those long chunks. For an article to flow, and to read well on a mobile device, it needs to be broken down into manageable chunks. We’re not writing a novel — it’s an article. Even short stories need to be broken into bite-size chunks for ease of digestion.
1. Is the right photo powerful magic?
Damn, straight, and here’s why…
“You can look at a picture for a week and never think of it again. You can also look at a picture for a second and think of it all your life.” — Joan Miro
It’s all about the image, and how well it ties to the heart of the article.
“The drawing shows me at a glance what would be spread over ten pages in a book.” — Ivan Turgenev, ‘Fathers and Sons’ (1862) (translation by Constance Garnett)
We’ve all heard the quote about a picture painting a thousand words, or ten thousand words, depending on your source. And what it means for us as creatives and as writers, is simple yet profound.
And when you submit your articles to some of the great publications on Medium, take a good look at their submission guidelines. They’ve already done the heavy-lifting (the research) for us. They’re telling us what’s worked, and what’s worked well. Pay attention to their guidelines for using photos.
Adding the right photo to our articles gives us instant access to the emotions of our readers. Before they’ve even finished reading the title.
How brilliant and amazing is that? Think about it — INSTANT access to grab our readers’ attention or tweak their curiosity. It’s an awesome gift. It’s the same as handing us the keys to the kingdom.
And yet, so often, I see the opportunity wasted, thrown away in a hastily chosen but adequate photo. Or I see the same photos used over and over because we’re tempted to scroll no farther than the first few photos which pop up for the topic we’re searching on Unsplash.
Some photos have been used so often, they’ve become old friends. They pop up over and over.
No disservice to those writers who use them — they’re great photos. And it’s always interesting to see how yet another writer will employ one of my favourites.
As well, the pressure to publish often and consistently can be enormous. I find having several articles ready to go at one time is one of the best ways to ensure my output.
And I get it — it’s hard to take the time to grab a great photo.
I’ve had my knuckles gently rapped a few times when I started writing on Medium, for completely forgetting to go back and select an appropriate image before hitting <Publish>.
But, I can’t have been alone in this as a “Ready to Publish?” check-list pops up now, to ensure we’ve added photos, tags, and descriptions.
So, now, the first thing I do after inputting the title and subtitle is to add a note, a quick “T K” (without the space between the letters) in the first text box to remind myself to go back and add a photo. Because if I try to publish without choosing a photo and removing the reminder, the Medium editor will flash up a pop-up to ask about the “T K.”
Sometimes, I’ll look for a photo right away if my mind is hopping about and refusing to settle. The simple act of selecting a great image can sometimes be a powerful centring tool. By looking for that perfect image, we’re actually focusing our conscious and subconscious on the heart of our article — the real “what it’s all about” underlying the text.
Adding the perfect photo, the one that exactly fits is a real art-form in itself.
One of the poets here on Medium always finds the wonderful photos to crown his work. His poems can be thought-provoking and challenging, at times lyrical, at times intensely cerebral, but he never fails to delight with his picture choices.
Time and again, I’ve seen Randy Shingler choose the perfect photo to convey the heart of his work, and add subtle shadings of meaning, echoing his words; sometimes implicit in the opening phrase or title, and sometimes only grasped between the lines.
2. Formatting and White Space
Here’s your second simple fix — well, simple once you’ve learned a few tricks. And, it may take a visit or two to the “More help” section. You’ll find it at the bottom of your “three dots” list when you’re in edit mode.
Please — do yourself a big favour. Go read some of those Help Articles about how to format your articles and other neat things. And please, read past the “how to insert emojis” list. Just saying…
Keep in mind, though, too many different fonts can be distracting. Use Italics, and Bold for emphasis. Use the small “T” for “title case” only for your sub-titles, not for huge blocks of text. It’s fun to play with all the neat features but remember the k.i.s.s. principal. Keep It Simple, Sister.
Some of the articles are difficult to find — they’re there, just tricky to locate if you’re not using the right search terms. But it’s worth your time and effort.
Bonus tip: You can’t do any formatting once you’ve chosen the “double quote” option. So any poetry you type or paste in will have an empty line between each line of poetry. Like this;
“Peter Piper picked a peck
Of pickled peppers”
To avoid this, format your poem first. Use <SHIFT><ENTER> at the end of each line so it will follow the line above with no space between them. Once you’re done, highlight the whole piece and add the double quotes. Itwill look like this:
“Peter Piper picked a peck
Of pickled peppers”
You can use the <SHIFT> <ENTER> trick in regular typing mode as well to avoid empty lines. But be aware — the empty lines are a pre-set by Medium to ensure adequate White Space between each chunk of text.
It can be hard to switch gears. When I’m working on my novels, I sometimes flip into “Medium mode” and start writing in very small paragraphs.
I have to remind myself of the platform on which my writing will be viewed.
Just to prove a point to myself about the difference between the two platforms, I transcribed a page of one of my favourite author’s work into Medium’s editor. It looked terrible. The paragraphs which were short and easy to read on the printed page seemed suddenly to go on forever.
Be kind to your readers. Keep your blocks of text small. It’s hard, especially when you’re used to writing papers and essays for other uses. And try not to go overboard and write an article full of one-liners. That gets just as boring on the eyes after a while. Just remember your articles are also meant to be read on the small screens of your readers’ mobile devices and strive for balance.
Some short, some longer, some very short for emphasis… Check out articles of folks who’ve been around for a while, and have some success. See how they handle white-space and paragraph length.
And practice. See what works for you and your readers. There’s no real one-size-fits-all.
So there you have them...
Two Super Simple Tips To Grab and Hold Your Reader’s Interest
Two simple, practical tips to really bring out the best in your articles. Two effective strategies to grab the attention of your readers and keep them reading. Keep writing. Keep improving Keep learning.
And above all, keep writing.
And, one more free tip. When you sum up, please don’t use the phrase, “So, in conclusion.” It’s the same as writing “Thus, I have shown…” at the end of an academic paper.
Whenever I see those words I feel as if I’ve just read someone’s high school English term paper.
Find a more engaging way to conclude your article. Try restating your thesis (subtitle/proof/main idea) without using “in conclusion.” Please. Your high school English teachers thought it was boring and so do most of your readers, regardless of what some of the “gurus” teach.