One Weird Trick got People to Read Your Story. What Happened Next isn’t Surprising


What seems new in the wild-and-wooly, hyperactive world of the Internet isn’t necessarily all that new.

So-called clickbait, for example, uses a more obvious form of the question lead or headline, otherwise known as raising someone’s curiosity, such as Headless Body in Topless Bar.

That’s a famous headline written by the just-deceased Vincent Musetto for the New York Post. There’s a difference between that headline and most clickbait, however. That story in the Post was compelling.

Boy, was that story ever compelling. There was a headless body. And a topless bar. And a very unusual, gruesome crime. It kept people’s attention.

Keeping people’s attention is important for government communicators, because what we have to tell people takes more than one weird trick.

Here are some tips to keep people reading your story, whether it’s a news release, blog post or any other form of communication. These tips also are useful if you get a call from a reporter, and are looking about for information to fill out a good story.

Save something for the middle of the story. The great writing coach Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute has some tips in this article. Appropriately, you’ll find his tips in the middle of the article.

Stay organized. Think through your story. It can be as simple as “because that happened, this happened.” Or if you’re writing about your work, it can be “we faced this challenge, and this is how we responded.”

Stay organized, part II: If there’s no clear timeline or progression, keep similar material together. Talk about the impact of what you’re doing, or the background of how you got there, or define how widespread the situation is, all in one place. Last week’s blog referenced a timeless book on feature writing that has a good outline for how to do this.

Finally — don’t forget the beginning.

A lot of data-crunching and testing have actually honed the techniques used by copy editors toiling away under fluorescent lights late at night to write just the right headline to get readers reading the next morning. In fact, some have used those techniques to accomplish really cool things. Check out this article if you want an in-depth look at what can be done with what could be considered titillating headlines.

On the other hand, if you just want to see how it’s done, here’s a headline-and-video combination worth watching. Feel free to donate money after watching. It’s a good cause.

Craig Lincoln is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Olivia Jefferson

Great article Craig, love the ironic headline! Really useful tips for how government communicators can make people read dense, but important information they otherwise might not. People may roll their eyes at click-bait headlines, but they really do grab people’s attention!

LaRel Rogers

Craig, thanks for posting this great blog! You forgot to include another tip – include relevant and worthy additional links throughout the blog like you did! Will be reading through all of your suggestions!