Chapter 4 - Make the article attractive

When we write an article, we want to get the message across to as many relevant readers as possible. This makes it necessary to give some thought to the question, how can I make the article attractive and in that way, maximise the number of people who will at least begin reading the article?

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There is a fierce competition prevailing in printed publications, in TV and radio and in electronic and social media – the competition for the attention of readers, listeners, viewers and users. We are all flooded with news, information, viewpoints and other kind of input. Each of is engaged in a daily fight, hour by hour, second by second, to sort and choose, which communicative input we actually will engage ourselves in.

Even though the amount of articles, TV-programs and social media postings about adult education is limited, the competition for the time of the potential reader is still extremely hard. Adult education actors also want and need input about other topics, and inputs are offered to them all the time.

When we write an article, we want to get the message across to as many relevant readers as possible. This makes it necessary to give some thought to the question, how can I – writing the article – make the article attractive and in that way, maximise the number of people who will at least begin reading the article? Which leads us to the question: on what basis does the reader decide if s/he will actually start reading the article?

The first decision about reading or not reading an article is mostly taken in a split second while the potential reader casts a glimpse on the printed page or webpage, before s/he rush on to another corner of the page or to another page or another website. In that glimpse the reader may read and understand the headline, a highlighted introductory paragraph, an illustration, the subtext of the illustration or the subtitles in the article. S/he may not be able to consume all these elements in a split second, but they will be next-in-line and constitute the basis for the decision about actually reading the article.

Of course the topic must be of interest to the potential reader. So, the before mentioned elements (headline, introduction, illustration and subtitles) must communicate clearly:

  •  What is the topic of the article?
  • But this is not enough. With equal importance, the author must here clearly communicate:
  • What is the special view of this article on the topic?
  • What is the novelty of the article? (Can it make the reader say “Oh, I did not know that”?)
  • What the added value that I, the potential reader, will get for spending some of his/her extremely precious time reading this article? What stimulates curiosity? What is new and surprising? Can s/he use it for the job or for other activities?
  • Writing articles for a European audience, you must expect the potential reader to ask: Why should I bother reading about something going on in another country? And you must convince s/her immediately.

This is the rational basis of choosing the article. But also more “irrational” factors come into play, even for the most serious adult education expert or teacher:

  • Can I identify with someone in the article? Can I find human beings and not only numbers and categories in the article?
  • Will it be easy or hard to read? This is extra important when you write for a foreign readership. They might expect it to be complicated to understand what goes on in another country.
  • Will I be somehow entertained?

All this lead us to some basic advices for the first parts of a journalistic article on adult education:

  • It is worthwhile to allocate an important part of your time and of you creative thinking for writing these introductory elements of your article.
  • The headline and the introductory paragraph must clearly communicate the topic, the special view on the topic and most important: something new and surprising.
  • Introducing a human being, for example by a brief quote, will help to make the article attractive. A portrait illustration with supporting text may do the trick.
  • You may or you may not start the work process by writing headline and intro. If you do that, you will have to get back to it and possible change something to make it actually meet the above mentioned criteria.
  • Leave out facts and numbers from this part of the article unless there is one easily read number (Five thousand instead of 5.123) that comprises the news or the surprise factor.
  • Leave out background information from this part of the article.
  • Do not start with what was first chronologically.

See article examples in the column to the right.

If you have convinced the reader to go on after reading the headline and the introductory paragraph, you have won the first and most important battle. Your reader has chosen your article out of thousands.

But you will have to keep fighting until the end – meaning that you have to continuously convince the reader to go on reading. This, of course, has much to do with content and relevance (Chapter 5), but it is also wise to structure the article in a way that makes the first parts of the text useful even if the reader stops reading somewhere along the way.
Here are some advices for that, but this may differ from one article genre (Chapter 3) to another:

  • If there is no quote of a central source or actor of the story in the introductory paragraph, place that in the paragraphs immediately after.
  • Then introduce a few facts if they are absolutely necessary to comprehend the story.
  • Then tell the story. (Chapter 5)
  • Later in the article, you can present more background information, more facts and numbers and even a side story or two.
  • In an article for a European audience more facts and more background is often necessary. You may present special boxes with this information