How to Write Articles People Actually Want to Read
The secret to writing compelling stories people can’t help reading and sharing.
When you publish a piece of content online, your primary objective should always be to create something with which readers will enthusiastically engage (i.e., read, comment on, and share with others).
Engagement is not the only purpose of writing; writing can also be a cathartic exercise through which you learn more about yourself, explore your emotions and thoughts, and even achieve a degree of psychological healing.
However, when you share ideas on a social platform, your goal ought to be to write articles people actually want to read.
Creating compelling content requires explicit strategizing — it doesn’t happen by accident.
In order to convince people to engage with your work you must think about and approach your writing in a different way than you would if you were merely writing for yourself, e.g., writing in a personal journal.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when publishing content online is ignoring, or significantly under-attending to, the needs and wants of their audiences.
Writers publish stories that offer little-to-no value to their readers, and then the former complain when nobody seems to care about their work.
If you find yourself in this situation, you’re likely failing to appreciate the fact that:
People don’t want to read your personal diary entries. On the contrary, they want to read articles that promise them a return on their investment, i.e., a tangible benefit for having taken the time to read something.
As writers, we often let ourselves naively believe that our own interests in and passion for a specific topic are more than enough reason for other people to also care, and want to read what we have to say, about that topic.
Being passionate in your writing is one thing; writing words people happily read and share with others is another thing entirely.
In this article I’m going to teach you the strategy I use to create all of my online content, a strategy for maximizing reader engagement by self-consciously writing to and for readers rather than to and for oneself.
If your writing is not receiving the attention you believe it deserves, you’re probably not paying sufficient attention to the dynamics at the centre of what I call The H.I.T. Strategy.
Table of Contents (clickable)1. The H.I.T. Strategy: How to Help, Inspire, and Teach Your Way to Writing Success2. H.I.T. Tactic #1: Write Titles That Compel People to Read Your Articles (No, This Isn’t About Clickbait)
2.1 Three Best Practices for Creating Effective Titles
2.1.1 Be specific
2.1.2 Make it about your reader — not about you
2.1.3 Help, inspire, or teach3. H.I.T. Tactic #2: Use ‘You’ and ‘Your’ Far More Than ‘I’ and ‘My’4. Summary
The H.I.T. Strategy: How to Help, Inspire, and Teach Your Way to Writing Success
The H.I.T. — Help, Inspire, Teach — Strategy for writing articles people actually want to read is based on the fundamental principle that, all things considered, people read things for one or more three main reasons:
- To learn how to do something, such as fix a problem or gain a new skill;
- To better understand something, i.e., to acquire knowledge and insight (whether ‘practical’ or ‘philosophical’); and
- To feel something, i.e., to experience one or more emotions.
Thus, people read for reasons having to do with 1) curiosity, 2) knowledge, and 3) emotion.
If you want readers to engage with your writing, you must appeal to elements of curiosity, knowledge, or emotion in everything you publish. Help, inspire, or teach your readers something of value — that’s how to write articles people actually want to read.
Every time you write a piece of content you need to ask yourself, “How, exactly, does this help, inspire, or teach my reader?”
If you struggle to answer this question, it’s likely a sign you’ve fallen (back) into the trap of writing to and for yourself rather than to and for your audience.
This is where so many people go astray when they write online.
They mistakenly believe the value of writing about their own personal experiences — which can, indeed, ‘breathe life’ into their writing — is a license to abandon the need to translate such experiences into lessons that will enrich their readers’ lives.
People don’t read about your journey from one point to another — such as from chronic pain to pain-free — merely because they’re interested in a chronological retelling of every step involved in the transition.
That’s ordinary, mundane, and boring.
Rather, people read about your journey because they want to be inspired by, and/or develop a better understanding of, what you accomplished precisely so they can then apply these emotions and insights to one or more aspects of their own lives.
In other words, readers want you to help them improve something about themselves, whether directly (e.g., via a step-by-step how-to guide) or indirectly (e.g., via a compelling story that motivates action).
On a social platform, convincing people to read and engage with what you write requires publishing articles that help readers become better versions of themselves.
I’m talking about much more than ‘self-help’ and ‘personal growth’ here.
I’m referring to the necessity of writing articles that make a meaningful impression on readers by offering them something of genuine value, whether it’s as ‘minor’ as an emotional experience or as ‘major’ as a detailed how-to guide for accomplishing a difficult task.
A ‘clap’, comment, highlight, or share is a product of providing value to your reader — period.
As a writer, every choice you make should be directed to helping, inspiring, or teaching your reader something useful and significant — these choices include:
- The title you write;
- The cover image you select;
- The words you use in your headings;
- The particular language you employ and the voice in which you write;
- The specific ideas you explore; and
- The ways in which you organize and present your content.
Every one of these elements directly or indirectly influences whether, and if so then how, somebody will react to your writing.
Each one of them must support — or at least not interfere with — one or more elements of The H.I.T. Strategy.
Let’s look at some practical ways for putting this strategy into action.
H.I.T. Tactic #1: Write Titles That Compel People to Read Your Articles (No, This Isn’t About Clickbait)
To be as clear as possible:
Whether implicitly or explicitly, the title of your article must always 1) arouse curiosity, 2) give rise to emotion, and/or 3) promise the delivery of some sort of knowledge.
If your title doesn’t directly or indirectly promise to help, inspire, or teach the reader, you need to re-write it until it does — it’s as simple as that.
So many people seem to misunderstand or under-appreciate just how crucial writing an effective title is to convincing others to read their work.
I’m not talking about the ridiculous, over-the-top, clickbait trash we commonly see in Internet ads or on gossip websites.
Instead, I’m referring to writing headlines that signal to the reader the latter can expect a real return on investment if they take the time to read your piece.
In my opinion, there are (at least) two major problems with the titles people commonly choose for their articles:
- The titles are far too generic, imprecise, or nondescript; and
- The titles are self-indulgent and, thus, oblivious to the concerns of the reader.
Here are some hypothetical examples of the sorts of generic titles I regularly come across:
- “How to Take Things to the Next Level”
- “This is Why You Failed”
- “Writing Is Difficult Sometimes”
- “Do You Want to Make Money as a Freelancer?”
- “Stop Being So Unhappy”
- “The Time Is Now”
Every one of these titles is problematic because it’s boring, unappealing, and unspecific.
None of these titles promises the reader anything definitive nor does it provide or suggest any reason why the article should be read.
Don’t write generic titles like these ones — they’re entirely ineffective.
Here are some hypothetical examples of self-indulgent titles:
- “The Night of My Performance”
- “I Felt Sad Today”
- “I Want to Be a Writer”
- “Why Must My Life Be so Difficult?”
- “I Just Started the Carnivore Diet”
- “I Didn’t Get the Promotion I Wanted”
Each of the above is a really bad title because it leaves unanswered one or more key questions readers are likely to ask themselves, including, “Why should I care?”, “What about it?”, and “So what?”
What about the night of your performance?
Why should I care if your life is difficult?
You didn’t get the promotion — so what?
This isn’t about lack of empathy or the absence of concern for other people’s experiences.
Rather, it’s about the failure of these sorts of self-indulgent titles to create a connection with the reader such that the latter feels compelled to learn more about what you have to say.
Your title must always speak to your reader, even if you’re expressing something about yourself.
Three Best Practices for Creating Effective Titles
If generic/imprecise/nondescript and self-indulgent titles are both to be avoided, what are some best practices for creating titles that actually draw readers in, so to speak?
1. Be specific
In general, your titles should be as specific as possible so your readers know exactly what to expect when they click on your story.
This doesn’t mean removing all mystery from your title; remember, curiosity is one of three possible elements of a fantastic title.
What it does mean, however, is avoiding titles that are so obscure that readers pass on your articles simply because it’s not clear to them what the pieces are about.
Here are some examples of specific, effective titles:
- “The Step-By-Step Strategy I Used to Secure a 20% Pay Increase at Work”
- “How I Managed to Gain 10 Pounds of Muscle in Three Months of Training”
- “What Science Tells Us About the (In)Effectiveness of Reading Self-Help Books”
- “How I Finally Learned to Let Go of My Anxiety, and How You Can Do the Same”
- “Why You Keep Choosing the ‘Wrong’ Lover, and How to Find the Right One”
Each of these titles overtly signals what the reader can expect if they were to click on the article.
Moreover, every title implicitly or explicitly invokes one or more elements of The H.I.T. Strategy, thus promising to either help, inspire, or teach the reader something of value.
2. Make it about your reader — not about you
In one way or another, your titles should always speak to your readers rather than simply be ‘all about you’.
For one, this involves using the word ‘you’ more often than the word ‘I’.
Writing to your readers — in both the titles and the bodies of your articles — is essential to creating a relationship with your audience and to making your readers feel as if your writing is meant for them specifically.
Notice how many times I’ve used ‘you’, ‘your’, and ‘yourself’ in this piece so far versus ‘I’, ‘my’, and ‘myself’?
That’s not a coincidence!
After all, the entire point of this article is to teach you how to write content with which your readers will engage and share with others.
Here are a few examples of writing titles with ‘you’ and related words in them:
- “Why You Constantly Abandon What You Start, and How to Kick This Bad Habit for Good”
- “How to Become a Better Writer by Upgrading Your Thinking: A Detailed Guide”
- “What This New Psychology Study Reveals About Your Social Media Addiction”
- “How to Negotiate a Ridiculously Good Mortgage Rate with Your Bank: The Complete Guide”
Writing headlines that speak to your readers doesn’t always require the use of ‘you’ or similar words.
For example, the above headline, “How I Managed to Gain 10 Pounds of Muscle in Three Months of Training” doesn’t explicitly address the reader but it does imply that the reader could also gain 10 pounds of muscle if they were to follow the same regimen outlined in the article.
Below (see H.I.T. Tactic #2), I provide a more detailed discussion of how to write to and for your readers within the bodies of your articles by using more ‘you’-based language.
3. Help, inspire, or teach
At the risk of sounding redundant, your titles must aim to help, inspire, or teach your readers.
Whatever form your title takes, it has to appeal to our innate curiosity, desire for knowledge, and/or need to experience emotions and to connect with others on a visceral level.
Whether you aim to teach a skill, motivate an action, arouse curiosity and wonder, or create an emotional experience (fear, joy, surprise, etc.), your title must ‘hook’ the reader by directly or indirectly promising a reward of assistance, inspiration, or enhanced understanding.
As an aside, your cover image must also do the same.
You should always use a high-quality, inviting, and relevant main photo for your article.
It might sound pretentious, but I admit I often refuse to read articles because their cover images are unappealing, uninspiring, or seemingly irrelevant to the substance of the stories.
Unattractive cover photos or images that have nothing to do with the title of your article signify to your readers that you couldn’t be bothered to put sufficient thought into the visual representation of your ideas and that the aesthetic presentation of your content doesn’t matter to you.
Your cover photo and title are virtually always the first two things somebody sees upon stumbling across your work.
You mustn’t allow yourself to overlook the need to get both of these elements right if you want people to actually read what you’ve written.
H.I.T. Tactic #2: Use ‘You’ and ‘Your’ Far More Than ‘I’ and ‘My’
Just as you should try to use ‘you’ and ‘your’ in your article titles, you should also self-consciously dedicate yourself to using ‘you’ and ‘your’ throughout the bodies of your stories.
Constantly using ‘I’, ‘my’, and ‘myself’ can have the effect of making your readers feel isolated and disconnected from your writing, which is the very opposite effect you want to create when publishing content on a social platform.
Making regular use of ‘you’, ‘your’, and ‘yourself’ helps to create a bond between your words and the people who read them.
It does so by continually ‘reminding’ the reader this particular article has been written for them, even if the narratives being told or the ideas being discussed seemingly have little to do with them.
What an effective (non-fiction) piece of writing does is create a connection between ‘external’ content (e.g., scientific findings or the writer’s personal experiences) on the one hand and the ‘internal’ needs, wants, and interests of the reader on the other.
Sometimes this connection is explicit; other times it’s implicit.
Either way, what matters is that successful writers know how to establish and maintain a working relationship between the ideas about which they want to write and the content to which their audience wants access.
One of the best ways to build this relationship is by writing to the reader via the copious use of ‘you’-based statements.
Here are some examples of how to transform sentences containing ‘I’, ‘me’, or ‘myself’ to ones containing ‘you’, ‘your’, or ‘yourself’:
- “This is the most important lesson about writing I’ve learned so far; it changed everything about how I write” versus “This is the most important lesson about writing you’ll ever learn; it’ll change everything about how you write”
- “When I start to panic, my body seizes up in terror, and I can’t, for the life of me, see any way out of my predicament” versus “When you start to panic, you feel utterly seized by terror, and, try as you might, you can’t seem to figure a way out of your predicament”
- “If I’m honest with myself, I can easily list half a dozen or more decisions I make in a given 24-hour period that positively or negatively affect the quality of my work” versus “If you’re honest with yourself, you can easily list half a dozen or more decisions you make in a given 24-hour period that positively or negatively affect the quality of your work.”
There’s nothing wrong with words like ‘I’ and ‘me’; indeed, they simply can’t (and need not) be avoided in some circumstances.
In general, though, it’s good practice to ask yourself whether a given sentence containing first-person personal pronouns should be altered to feature more ‘you’-based statements.
In most cases, making this change will help to create a deeper connection between you and your readers.
Bonus tip: sometimes, using ‘we’ and ‘our’ is just as, if not more, effective than using ‘you’ and ‘your’.
This is because ‘we’-based language leads your readers to feel like you and they are ‘in this thing together together’.
That is, rather than you as an outsider ordering readers how to behave or telling them what to think, both parties are seen to be working together to help or mutually inspire each other or to better understand something as a team.
For an example of ‘we’ writing, see the sentence starting with “Each one of us is our own best judge…” at the top of this article.
Writing articles people read, comment on, and share with others doesn’t happen by accident.
It requires explicit strategizing, planning, and the application of certain key tactics.
Ignoring or under-appreciating the needs, wants, and interests of your readers is the easiest way to write content that disappears into the ‘ether’ as soon as it’s published.
Readers want a return on their investment: the only way to convince people to engage with your writing is to directly or indirectly promise them reading your words will be worth their time.
This is where The H.I.T. — Help, Inspire, Teach — Strategy comes into play.
People read things in order to:
- Learn how to do something;
- Better understand something; and/or
- Feel something.
In other words, reading is all about 1) curiosity, 2) knowledge, and 3) emotion.
You must appeal to dynamics of curiosity, knowledge, or emotion if you want readers to enthusiastically engage with your writing.
You can apply The H.I.T. Strategy to your writing in (at least) two ways.
1. Incorporate the elements of H.I.T. into your titles (and cover images).
Specifically, you should write titles that are 1) as specific as possible and 2) directed at your readers rather than self-indulgent.
2. Use words like ‘you’, ‘your’, and ‘yourself’ far more often than ‘I’, ‘my’, and ‘myself’.
Using second-person personal pronouns helps to create a relationship between you and your readers, helping the latter feel as if you’re writing to and for them in particular instead of to and for yourself.
So, before you publish your next article, ask yourself, “Why would anybody care to read or share this?”
If you can’t easily come up with several different reasons, you probably need to make your story more about your audience and less about yourself.
One last thing: Get my secret weapon for landing more clients as a freelancer.