It takes more than an interesting idea, a case study, facts, or other content to write an HR article that engages readers. You need to apply key strategies to hold their attention for the duration of your article.
Here are six steps for crafting articles that resonate with readers:
Choose a single compelling theme
If you try to cram multiple ideas, each with various facts, perspectives and backgrounds, readers will not know where you are taking them and will quickly lose interest. Instead, choose one compelling story line and build upon it, perhaps with several layers, but be sure everything reverts back to the central idea.
Compare these two openings for an article on increasing employee engagement:
- Unfocused—too many themes: An engaged worker is more productive, according to many studies. In order to engage employees, companies need to cultivate a positive culture, offer workplace training that sparks their careers, develop teams that support each other and encourage managers to have more face-to-face communication with direct reports.
- Laser-focused on a single theme: If you want to engage direct reports, speak to them more — face-to-face.
Trim the fat
Somehow, many of us got the idea that the more words we write, the smarter we will sound. While most people recognize the fallacy of this statement and the importance of succinct writing, old habits —maybe from submitting all those academic papers—can be hard to break. You need to train yourself to eliminate every word, sentence, or paragraph that does not contribute meaning.
Compare these two pairs of fat versus lean sentences:
- Fat: All employees must submit time sheets on a daily basis.
- Lean: All employees must submit time sheets daily.
- Fat: It has come to my attention that most first-year employees do not understand their benefits package.
- Lean: Most first-year employees do not understand their benefits package.
Now let’s see how many words are wasted when conveying generalities and specifics rather than just the specifics:
- General, then specific: In the fourth quarter of 2019, we significantly increased the percentage of enrollment in soft skills training. In that period, 40% more employees completed these courses compared with the fourth quarter of 2018.
- Specific only—enough: In the fourth quarter of 2019, 40% more employees enrolled in soft skills training than in the fourth quarter of 2018.
Getting right to the specifics shortened the sentence by 12 words (from 33 to 21).
Write with style and rhythm
While “Get that rhythm!” is great advice for singers, musicians, and dancers, you as a writer need to ensure that your words flow. The more they flow, with a natural rhythm, the more readers will pay attention and the easier it will be for you to create a cohesive, well-organized article.
Rhythm starts with a strong style—defined as the conscious and unconscious decisions you make while planning and writing documents. These include sentence structure and length, paragraph type and length, organization, and use of graphic elements like boldface, underline, and italics.
Some of these choices are subjective and depend on factors such as the publication’s style or your own preferences. But other style choices are more black and white and can reveal the quality of your article. Two of the most frequent style errors are using there instead of the true subject and choosing passive verbs or weak nouns instead of active verbs. See the next two examples.
Avoid using there as a false subject and replace it with the true subject.
Compare these two sentences:
- There (false subject) are four more subject matter experts who need to be interviewed before we develop the technical training program.
- Four more subject matter experts (true subject) need to be interviewed before we develop the technical training program.
Unleash verb power.
Strong active verbs, as opposed to weak passive verbs or hidden verbs (verbs disguised as nouns), will energize your writing. Compare these two pairs of sentences:
- Weak: Most of our division heads are in agreement that regional meetings should be in Chicago.
- Strong: Most of our division heads agree that regional meetings should be in Chicago.
The first sentence uses the weak verb are with the hidden verb agreement. In the revised sentence, the active verb agree replaces both of them.
- Weak: Please take the operations manager’s suggestions under consideration.
- Strong: Please consider the operation manager’s suggestions.
Here the hidden verb is consideration combined with the passive verb take. The active verb is consider.
Use transitions to unify text
We have heard the phrase, “No man is an island.” And neither is a sentence or paragraph, both of which are part of a broader set of ideas that need to be connected. Enter transitions. They include simple words like also, but, so, and still as well as phrases like on the other hand, as a result, to make matters worse, and many more.
See the value of transitions when comparing these two versions of a paragraph about a banking initiative:
Wiring money is a relatively simple procedure. Many of Lind Bank’s customers had for several years been making errors that delayed the completion of their transfers. Mixing up the routing and account numbers was an example of the common mistakes they made. The bank distributed a one-page Wire Transfer Guidelines to customers in 2017. It found that 40% fewer errors were made by customers since the guidelines were introduced.
Connected with transitions
Wiring money is a relatively simple procedure, but many of Lind Bank’s customers had for several years made errors that delayed the completion of their transfers. For example, they mixed up the routing and account numbers. To address this problem, in 2017 the bank distributed a one-page Wire Transfer Guidelines to customers. Since then, 40% fewer errors have been made.
Separate your ideas
Among the most frequent organizing mistakes writers make is scattering information throughout an article instead of dividing it into single-point paragraphs or sections. You cannot just automatically write ideas the same way you processed them—from your mind or another source—because they likely will not be in a logical order. As a result, the reader may get confused or lose interest.
To separate concepts and make your article more readable, use subheads before each major section to clue the reader about where you are going next. This process will also help you organize your ideas as you write. Plus, subheads avoid that long and often-dreaded blob of text (i.e., long paragraphs) so common in academic writing.
Sometimes you only need simple subheads, such as when reporting on the cost of four major types of employee benefits: Medical, Disability, Life and Retirement. But when you are trying to lure the reader into your topic, consider explicit subheads that prod the person to say, “Tell me more!”—like in the song, “Summer Nights,” from the classic 1978 movie, Grease. request
Compare these two pairs of ordinary versus explicit (“Tell me more!”) subheads:
- Ordinary: Cyber threats
- Explicit: Data encryption can stem soaring cyber threats
- Ordinary: New Recruitment software
- Explicit: New recruitment software assesses skill and personality match
Another strategy for separating ideas is using subcategories for long lists of bulleted text. See the difference in readability between these two lists of banking products:
Too many bullets—hard to process
Below are some key growth areas:
- Student checking accounts
- Cash reward credit cards
- Money market accounts
- Elite level credit cards
- Certificates of deposit
- Checking overdraft protection
- Platinum select credit cards
- Access select credit cards
Separated into subcategories—more readable
Below are some growth areas:
- Student accounts
- Overdraft protection
- Access accounts
- Money market
- Certificates of Deposit
- Cash rewards
- Premium Select
Close by reiterating the main theme
Without simply repeating the opening paragraph, underscore your article’s key messages. You could incorporate the bigger picture, bring up new evidence to support your position, provide another reason why the topic is important, or offer a specific call to action. Below, see how I did it for this column!
Today, editors are besieged by countless submissions, many of which fail to make the grade. Engage them—and ultimately your readers—with a compelling and cohesive article. Hone in on a thought-provoking and relevant theme and follow these steps to make your text flow smoothly from start to finish.