Your goal as a writer or content creator is to engage your audience. If you can’t hook your readers early, you risk losing their attention and will probably push them away. Motivating your readers and encouraging them to act starts with a one-two punch.
In order to draw them in, effective writing needs:
1. Catchy headlines
2. Strong opening sentences
No matter how convincing or important your message is, if it doesn’t have a hook, you’ll lose your audience. Your content must reach people front and center. As such, your headlines and opening sentences are a major opportunity to make a clear and lasting first impression.
1. Catchy Headlines
You can’t overestimate the impact of a strong headline. In many ways, headlines are pathways into your content. To this point, advertising legend David Ogilvy said:
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
Hyperbole aside, he has a point — people want information quickly and clearly. If your headline doesn’t pull readers in, audiences will ignore your message. You need an engaging opening that keeps your audience reading and receiving the information they need to act.
Here are a few tips to make sure your headlines pop:
• Stay simple and specific.
Vague, long-winded introductions will bore your readers. You should aim to keep your headlines brief and to the point. Stay under 10 words, and use active verbs and nouns that are relevant to your topic to add detail.
• Be practical.
Give your audience something tangible they can use. Tell your readers why they’ll benefit from your content. Your headlines should compel people to continue reading while preparing them for the topics at hand.
Let’s see this detail in action.
“Our Business Is Launching A New Initiative Focused On Streamlined Efforts Across Regions”
Wordy and vague, this headline doesn’t give the reader much they can work with. The message fails to provide concrete details or action items for the audience to embrace. So, we’ve given them little inspiration to read past the clichés and ambiguity.
“Our Natural Legacy: Saving Virginia’s Old-Growth Forests”
This headline is simple and practical — it creates a sense of ownership and responsibility in readers and provides the necessary information to continue reading. Keeping headlines brief and clear will help your audience enter the content surefooted and informed.
2. Strong Opening Sentences
After your headline, your first sentence should set an appropriate tone and provide key information. By establishing a relationship with your readers — and connecting dots between your header and opening sentence — you’ll motivate them to continue reading. Whether you need to relay urgent information or communicate with your employees, all strong opening sentences should propel readers into your content.
Keep these tips in mind to make sure you drive action:
• Ask who, what, where, when, why, and how.
Answering these classic questions before you write will help dictate which information to include. You may not be able to cover all of these in a single sentence, but a few specific answers should provide enough relevancy to motivate your readers. If you find it difficult to answer these questions, you may need more information on your topic.
• Engage the senses.
Nouns (people, places, and things) and verbs (actions) build clear images and help audiences ignite their senses. With these connections, they can better experience your message. Some writers, however, mistake unnecessary adjectives and adverbs for concrete details. This mistake will clog up your writing and confuse your audience, since doing so often provides fluff rather than substance. Instead, trust specific nouns and active verbs to ignite a sensory experience.
Let’s see this detail in action.
Confusing Opening Sentence:
“Put simply, our company aims to protect and foster important ecosystems in the beautiful mid-Atlantic region to help plant systems survive and thrive while seamlessly collaborating with local leaders and industry experts to ensure long-lasting commercial and critical environmental growth.
If you made it through that sentence, kudos. This clunky language certainly doesn’t hook us to keep reading. Instead, the longwinded details obscure an important message.
Strong Opening Sentence:
“Blue Ridge Tomorrow works to protect Virginia’s old-growth forests by uniting local communities with business leaders under one cause.”
Here, we’ve excluded fluff details to provide only the useful information audience’s need to keep reading. Now we know what Blue Ridge Tomorrow does and how they accomplish their mission. And, by replacing vague phrases (“beautiful mid-Atlantic”) with specific images (“Virginia’s old-growth forests”), we get a clearer picture of Blue Ridge Tomorrow’s values and message.
First impression matter — how you open your content will determine whether your readers will ultimately absorb your message. Hooking your audience with effective headlines and opening sentences will ignite them to care, keep reading — and encourage them to act.