If you want to improve the quality of your writing, then you’ll probably spend a lot of time reading about how to increase your vocabulary, structure your introductions and conclusions, and gather research effectively. In short, you are probably focusing on the craft of writing itself. That’s not wrong, but to really maximize the impact of your writing you need to look elsewhere too…
It’s not just the writing that will dictate the ‘success’ of your articles in achieving their intended goal; it’s also your personality, values and understanding of the people reading your work. By getting inside the minds of your readers, and learning some of the basics of psychology, you can better use your skills as a wordsmith to make your words do more than just sing; you can make them get inside people’s heads and convince them of your message.
Here we’ll look at how you can apply the principles of psychology in your writing, and how this will help you to do more with your prose.
Catching and Holding Attention
The first challenge any writer faces – particularly online – is holding the attention of the readers. Most people aren’t interested in reading reams of text unless they have a good reason to do so or the writing is highly entertaining.
That means you should always make it clear what your article is about, whether that’s through the title or the opening statement. The title I chose makes it obvious that you should understand psychology better by the end of this article.
You can also draw people in early by using an emotional hook. Most of our decisions are based on emotions, and so controversy or sweeping statements really catch our eye when we’re glancing down a page. Of course you can use a little misdirection here – your controversial title or opening statement doesn’t have to be echoed in your conclusion. For instance an article on weight loss titled ‘Why There’s No Longer Any Excuse for Staying Fat’ is going to get a lot more people reading it than one called ‘How to Lose Weight’.
Even if your readers look at your text because they’re angry that’s still better than not looking at all. Sub headings are also excellent as they help break your text up and make it quicker for people to see the sections they’re interested in.
Being personal and addressing your readers directly is something you should always strive for (yes that’s right, you).
We are programmed to pay attention to things in our environment only if they directly impact us –writing that addresses us is more interesting than a list of generic facts.
Beyond the use of the word ‘you’, you can also get more personal still by using presumptions and rhetorical questions. Notice how at the start of this article I described how most people go about enhancing their writing:
‘If you want to improve the quality of your writing, then you’ll probably spend a lot of time reading about how to increase your vocabulary…‘
Knowing that the audience of this site is made up of writers, I can use this strategy because I know that most people reading are going to say ‘yes, this applies to me’ which will make them more likely to read on. As you clearly have…
The art of persuasion would take several volumes to explain fully, but some of the basic principles can be applied with relative ease. These include using the same tips mentioned above (being personal and direct is very important), but also appealing to statistics and authorities. Try to write in a voice that sounds authoritative and confident (we’re more likely to be persuaded by people who sound confident) and that mirrors the views of the majority of your readers (we’re more likely to be swayed by those with opinions similar to our own).
Tell your readers what they want to hear, then show them how that leads to your conclusions. There’s no arguing with that!
Ben Austin is founder and managing director of UK based SEO agency SEO Positive Limited, an innovative search engine optimization company based in UK. (Image: Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library)