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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

August 16, 2017

How to Keep Your Readers' Attention

Someone who was starting a new business asked me to review a marketing piece he had written. It was approximately 350 words long, yet not one of those words was you. Although it kept the writer's attention--after all, it was all about him--his readers would have stopped reading after the first few lines.
Here are five easy ways to engage your reader:  
1. Use less I, more youYour readers care about themselves, and you is the word that most immediately engages them. Compare these examples:
  • I will show you how to get more done in less time.
  • You will learn how to get more done in less time.


  • I would appreciate the opportunity to present this information in a web demo that will take 30 minutes.
  • In just 30 minutes, you will find out how to save yourself hours of . . . . 

The pronoun I makes your reader an observer. The word you brings readers into your message. 


2. Use you from the start. Speakers often begin their speeches with a question, and that question typically contains the word you. Don't save your you pronouns for the middle or end of your message. Use you in the first couple of sentences. Notice that the name of this piece is "How to Keep Your Readers' Attention." If it were "Things That Keep a Readers' Attention," you might not have recognized that the information had value for you.
3. Write to one of your readers. Your readers do not think of themselves as a group. Each one of them reads as an individual. If you refer to them as a group, you minimize their role in the message. Compare:
  • Each one of you has an opportunity to step forward.  
  • You have an opportunity to step forward.


  • Those of you who love crafting will want to bookmark this site.
  • If you love crafting, bookmark this site.  
In each of those pairs, the second sentence singles out and speaks to the reader. 

4. Get beyond the "what." Focus on "so what." It is easy to write about what interests you, but that information must be tied to your readers' interests. If you don't connect the information to your readers, they will ask "So what?" or simply stop reading. Compare these approaches:

  • The new web calendar provides one information source for all staff on company events. [tells what]
  •  With the new web calendar, you can quickly find the company event information you need. [tells so what]


  • There is plenty of room in the trunk [boot] of this model. [tells what]
  • The trunk has plenty of room for your gear or luggage when you feel the urge to travel. [tells so what]

5. Answer your readers' questions.
 Before you write, think about what your readers would ask if you were sitting face to face. Then when you write, answer those questions. If something you write is not an answer to your readers' questions, they won't care about it. 

For example, if your readers would not ask, "What is the background?" don't write a background section. But if the background is about them, recognize that they would ask "What do you know about my situation?"

It's all about you, the reader. Just remember that fact as a writer, and you will keep your readers' attention.  


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Lynn Gaertner-Johnston
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