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What is the one lesson that appears in every newspaper article, every magazine article, and for that matter, every bestselling book?  Journalists and editors realize that they have to work exceptionally hard to get people to actually read what they write. And unless you actually do so, their work has no value – so they have become experts on “hooking” you in.  Here’s how they do it.

When a reader is reading, they are actually engaged in two activities: they are consuming the content, and they are evaluating whether they will read further.   The competition for the reader’s attention is intense: an article or advertisement on the same page, other information sources, social media, new emails, work deadlines, telephone calls (incoming and outgoing), an interesting conversation from the next office, the desire for a coffee, and more.   Readers ask themselves: “Is there more value in reading the next paragraph than doing something else?  Should I just give it a quick scan?  Or bail completely?”

For this reason, every sentence (and every word) needs to play two roles: to inform, and to lead the reader to continue reading.  A key role of the editor is to make sure that both of these happen.  It isn’t that difficult – it just needs to be intentional.

The article starts with a headline. This will often be designed to elicit an emotional response (blunt, intriguing, shocking, funny, etc) yet contain enough information to cause the reader to look at the first paragraph.

The first sentence of the paragraph then “grabs” the reader, while the remainder has enough meat in it that the reader will assume the entire article has value and continue reading. The last sentence of the first paragraph will lead the reader to the first sentence of the next paragraph (which “grabs” the reader), and so on. Eventually, the reader will get to the last paragraph, which will typically lead the reader to the next step: related articles or videos, a lead generation form, a call to purchase, a real-world action, or perhaps just to leave a comment, share, or like the article itself.

This week’s action plan:  This very same concept can be used when we speak, write an email or report, or engage in any type of communication.  The hierarchy from the headline to the first sentence to the first paragraph to the next is not complex, yet we often blow the subject line of an email or the first paragraph of a business report, by not thinking through this hierarchy when we write.  This week, double-check the next email that you send, speech that you deliver, or report that you write:  How might an editor make a change to keep them engaged?

Meta:  Consider how you chose to read this tipsheet:  The title, “How journalists improve reader engagement” got you to the first paragraph.  The first paragraph opening sentence “What is the one lesson that appears in every newspaper article, every magazine article, and for that matter, every bestselling book?” was designed to intrigue, and set you up for the answer.  The second paragraph gives you the answer, but sets you up for the more detailed how-to, which is what the remainder of the article contains.  And the final paragraph (above) contains the call-to-action.  (If you are so inclined, read a few more of these Tipsheets, at, and see how the hierarchy of engagement is used.)

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and design
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders



Here’s a question you don’t get asked every day: how much do you really know about writing?  And more particularly, the craft of copywriting?  Unless you do this for a living or had extensive training , the answer is likely not very much. Yet no matter your particular role or responsibilities, copywriting is an exceptionally important skill: it educates, convinces, connects – and creates impact.

Here are 11 simple ideas that can help you create that impact:

  1. Voice:  Skip the passive (“Neglected fee payments will cause access to be lost”), and use the active voice: “If you neglect paying your fees, you will lose access.” Then choose how you want to be perceived: formal vs informal, younger vs older, corporate vs personified, and so on. Which is best depends on your goal.
  2. Alliteration:  Connecting Community to Commitment is the only way to drive Social Media ROI.
  3. Repetition:  Ten Tips and Ten Tricks.  (Note that this also uses alliteration.)
  4. Rhyme:  No Wine before its Time.
  5. Meter:  This is the way, to sales and profit.  This refers to the timing of the passage:  imagine a metronome ticking behind the italicized words.
  6. Metaphor, Simile, and Symbolism: Imbues the emotional power of a well-known concept into your writing.  The foundation of knowledge is built through hard work (Knowledge in terms of building construction.)  Our ideatrust Digital Knowledge Vault contains 100s of digital marketing resources. (Connection to a valuable bank vault)
  7. Contrast:  Social Media is either a complete waste of time, or the most important plank of your PR strategy.
  8. Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt:  Without addressing these three key areas of risk, your organization may find itself publicly embarrassed – or legally liable.
  9. Soundbite:  Marketing automation connects community to commitment. This is a sentence that crystallizes an entire concept, and is easily repeatable.
  10. Testimonial: This is a  bona fide third party validation of your capabilities.  While you can’t write your own testimonials, the power of copywriting shines through when you receive an exceptional one.  Contrast “He is hardworking – would hire him in a minute” compared to this one (from my LinkedIn profile):  “Randall is gifted in seeing things from both the 50,000 foot level and sea level at the same time, and snatching — seemingly from thin air — the one piece of the puzzle that will make the entire strategy work.”
  11. Sidebars:  This is less about the written word than the placement of it.  A sidebar is a way to shoe-horn related information into an article, without losing the article’s focus. Sidebars can be used for just about anything: testimonials, order forms, technical descriptions, mini-case studies, how-to’s, etc

This week’s action plan: While these 11 techniques will definitely improve the effectiveness of your writing, there is one technique that eclipses them all: practice.  This week, flex your copywriting muscle, by using these same concepts when you are speaking or delivering a presentation.  The strength you develop with these tools when you speak will also make you a better writer.

Note: The Make It Happen Tipsheet is also available by email. Go to to register.

Randall Craig

@RandallCraig (follow me)
:  Professional credentials site
.com: Web strategy, technology, and development
:  Interviews with the nation’s thought-leaders

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Letters to the Editor

by Randall Craig November 24, 2009

When you read a book or newspaper article, do you think that the writer got it “perfect” on the very first draft? Or do you think that an editor (or two) may have made a few changes, prior to publication? Yet when we write a memo, report, or presentation outline, we are so rushed that […]

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