Did you know that the average human attention span has now dropped to a mere eight seconds?
Crazy, I know.
In our digital world, we’re constantly presented with huge amounts of content via social media, news updates and advertisements – all competing for our attention. As we divide our attention between these sources our attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter.
And yet, Netflix binge watching is at its all time high across the world. So, how do many things struggle to hold our attention for more than eight seconds and yet we can sit for eight hours watching back-to-back episodes of our favourite Netflix series?
I don’t know about you, but even as a writer, I rarely read a blog post word for word and yet I could sit endlessly watching Schitts Creek or reading a Jill Mansell novel.
Why? Because I find consuming this content interesting, relevant and enjoyable. It’s high quality, engaging content that pulls the audience in and holds their attention far beyond the commonly quoted eight-second attention span.
So, if you want to hold your reader’s attention for a long period, try these 5 tips to help you write more attractive content for your website, blog, email marketing or other materials.
1. Open with a hook
After getting an open with a catchy headline, hook the reader in with an opening line that sparks interest and makes them want to keep scrolling and read more. It doesn’t have to be a witty one-liner (we’re not all that way inclined), just introduce the subject of your content using a creative approach. Here are a few ideas:
- Tell a relatable story or describe scenario they can connect with
- Start with a thought-provoking statement
- Share an interesting fact or statistic
- Ask a simple question that encourages the reader to reflect or even answer it themselves
Though the opener is important, don’t overthink or obsess over it. If you don’t like the first thing you come up with, go back to it once you finish writing your content and give it another go.
2. Use an active voice
This one I’m still working on as I shake off the academic/corporate writing style that thrives from using a passive voice. What’s the difference between an active voice and a passive voice?
Think of it like this: an active voice uses a strong, direct and clear tone whereas a passive voice uses a more subtle and indirect tone. For example, the most common verb “to be” goes with a passive voice.
Generally, sentences written in an active voice are more engaging to read. This is the voice you want to write in to capture and hold your reader’s attention after their open your email or website page. However, there is also a time and place for the passive voice as it can be a stylistic choice (like I said, academics adore it) depending on the subject you want to focus on.
Here’s an example of how you can change a sentence from a passive to an active voice:
- Passive voice: Our team has been working hard to bring you this new product
- Active voice: We have worked hard to offer you this new product
Do you see how using an active voice brings the sentence to life?
“How do you breathe life into sentences choked with nouns? Use verbs.”
– Joe Moran, First You Write a Sentence
3. Keep it informal
Depending on what you’re writing, try and keep it as informal as possible to make it easier for your reader to digest what you’re saying. Reading your content shouldn’t be a chore – the simpler it is, the more enjoyable it is for your reader and less likely to lose their attention after eight seconds.
Now, it goes without saying, you should always consider your audience. If you’re writing a quarterly board report then a more formal tone is usually appropriate.
Here’s a tip to help you determine whether what you’ve written is too formal – ask yourself “would I say this out loud?” If you’re not, try it. Read the sentence or paragraph aloud and if it sounds natural, you’re good to go. If not, reconsider your word choice and try again.
4. Watch for echoes
When you get into a good writing flow and the words seem to find their place without you overthinking it, it’s easy for echoes to pop up here and there. What’s an echo? It’s where you repeatedly use the same or similar words close together.
Here’s an example:
“My thoughts are currently with our team given the current challenges they are facing.”
This generally occurs we love and overuse in our speech. Echoes can distract your reader from the underlying message of your content. Rather than focus on the message, they focus on the unintended echoes, and you lose them in the process.
Unless you’re using repetition as an intentional stylistic choice to create rhythm or emphasis, avoid it. I know, it’s easier said than done. I write every day and I still frequently fall victim to a textual echo. This is where proofreading and editing is your friend. It’s an opportunity to pick up on those echoes and axe them for the sake of your reader.
Not sure what word to replace your echo with? Right click on the word for synonyms or use an online thesaurus to find a suitable replacement.
5. Vary your sentence length
Another powerful writing tip I’ve gained from reading Joe Moran’s First You Write A Sentence.
Varying the length of your sentences fills your writing with life and voice, it keeps it interesting for your reader. It also better resembles how you speak, making your writing more conversational (read more about that here).
A good trick to help you change up the length of your sentences is to press enter on your keyboard after every sentence. This makes the length of each sentence instantly visible. You can then go back and clusters of paragraphs from those sentences. Easy enough, right?
Next time you sit down to write content for your website, blog, social media or emails, try even just one or two of these tips to make your content that much more attractive. It’ll hold the attention of your readers way beyond the eight-second average!
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Oyelola is a freelance writer based in Sydney, Australia. She works closely with entrepreneurs and businesses in financial services, consulting and education, writing quality-rich content to engage their readers and motivate action. When not writing for clients, Oyelola provides insights on writing, wealth and work on her Phrased with Purpose blog and shares her faith journey on her personal blog, He Speaks, I Write.