As a communications professional I spend hours writing, reading, and revising my own work and the work of others every single day. I have seen (and read) it all, for better or worse. Here are my top ten tips for writing crave-worthy pieces that pull your reader along from start to finish.
- Be clear, conscience, and conversational. If you remember one tip from this list, remember this one. Your style and tone are important. Make your reader feel like they are your friend and that you have some expertise or insight that they can learn from.
- Find your focus. The best articles narrow in on a particular topic. For example, if you are writing about heart disease, narrow your focus by writing about health disparities by race for heart disease patients, or treating heart disease in youth. Both of these topics are much more specific, and interesting, than glossing over heart disease as an illness more broadly. Better yet, write from personal experience as the doctor treating the patient(s) or as the patient receiving treatment.
- Write a headline that packs a punch. A headline is designed to catch the reader’s eye and introduce the topic you are writing about. Great articles are often passed by because of a weak and uninteresting headline. A headline does not need to be a complete sentence. Pro tip: write your headline last for maximum effectiveness.
- Hook your reader from the start. You can hook your reader by, well, writing a great “hook.” A hook is a sentence that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them want to keep reading. A hook could be an anecdote, shocking statistic, or bold statement. Other than your headline, this is your opportunity to peak the reader’s interest.
- Sell your topic in the first paragraph. Think of a news article or column as an inverted triangle; start with specific information to bring the reader in and then get broader.
- Make every sentence count. Today’s reader has a short attention span. Feed your reader content they can actually digest by using short sentences. Find a way to break up long sentences into two or three complete sentences. Remember: your reader can stop reading at any time – give them a reason to keep reading.
- Know your word count. Editors give writers word counts for a reason, often due to spatial constraints. If your editor asks you to keep your article to 650 words it is because that is all that fits on that page. If you submit an article that is longer, your editor will take the liberty to trim your article to make it fit the word count originally assigned.
- Avoid passive voice. Passive voice weakens your sentence, reducing clarity and adding unnecessary words. Active voice will capture your audience and communicate your message more clearly. Passive voice is when the subject of the sentence is acted on by the verb: “The client was seen by the therapist.” This same sentence in active voice would read: “The therapist saw the client.”
- Revise often. No matter how experienced you are, your first draft is never good enough to publish. Write, walk away, revise, and repeat.
- Trust your editor. If your editor changes your headline, writes a new introductory sentence, or eliminates entire paragraphs, do not take offense. This person’s job is to make your work shine. Your editor knows the audience and the tone of the publication.