"The first time this happened I was gripped with fear. I thought I was going to die."
The above paragraph has five ingredients that practically force you to pay attention.
You can use these ingredients to increase the attention getting power of every article, essay, blog-post or email you write from now on.
Can you guess what they are?
In no particular order:
1. A startling statement - being gripped with fear is not an everyday occurrence, so when you hear someone experiencing this emotion you sit up and pay attention.
2. Momentum - note that the two sentences in the opening paragraph are short. Short, easy to read sentences can be taken in with a single glance. They make it easy for the reader to understand what is being said. This keeps the reader's eyes moving. And allows your reader to take in more of your story. It also gives you -- the writer -- the chance to sink your hook early.
3. Curiosity - using the word "this" prompts you to continue reading to find out what "this" is. It make a kind of subtle promise to the reader. A promise that, if you stick with me, you'll get the answer. This hooks the reader further ... and ... the more you hook the reader in the beginning, the harder they find it to remove their eyes from the text.
In fact, one study showed that the greatest fall-off in readership occurs in the first 250 words. If you can hold your reader's attention beyond those critical first 250 words then she will tend to continue reading to the end.
4. Quotes - we are programmed from birth to take an interest in what people have to say. Using quotes adds a human element -- you get the sense that someone is speaking to you -- which urges you to keep reading because you want to know about the person who was so gripped with fear they thought they were going to die.
5. Italics - the use of italics brings the quote to life, almost as though the person were standing in the room. You read italics with greater expression, which causes the message to make a greater impression on your mind. Italics adds authenticity to the quote.
These ingredients can be used in any form of writing. Fiction writers use them all the time.
In non-fiction they prove to be even more important. Especially if you are writing about a dry topic.
Remember, people won't be bored in print. You might be able to hold a person's attention when standing face to face at a weekend barbecue. But you need to work harder in print or on the web. If you lose their attention -- even for a moment -- they'll quickly turn the page or click to another site and you'll lose them forever.