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Irresistible Reading: Psychology’s 6-Tip Guide to Great Writing

Posted By Ellen Jackson 16th of March 2017 Writing Content 0 Comments

Irresistible reading: Psychology’s 6 tip guide to great writing | ProBlogger

There is plenty of great advice around for creating compelling blog content. We read it, but knowing something and doing it are two different things. The missing link is often understanding the why.

Why is great writing irresistible to your reader? And how to you do more of it? Here’s six tips from psychology for creating content your audience can’t resist.

Tip 1: Don’t write like a psychologist

It has taken me years to unlearn the habits of indecipherable academic writing. Dry, disinterested and difficult to read, it’s the opposite of clear communication.

“Your reader should be persuaded by the message. She should not notice the words” was the sage advice of a once-upon-a-time writing tutor. Good counsel that could be spread to better effect around university campuses methinks.

Tip 2: Elicit emotion

Use words that your reader automatically associates with an emotion. ‘Angry’ and ‘fearful’ describe emotions but ‘cruelty’ and ‘spider’ trigger real feelings. When we read our brains recognise and process each word, one by one. A neutral word elicits no particular response. An emotionally-charged word lights up part of the brain’s limbic system – the bit that triggers your emotions. What you feel you will often remember. Want to create memorable content? Use words that make your reader feel something.

Tip 3: Tell a story

Human beings are wired to look for meaning in everything we see – or read. In 1944, 34 college students were shown a short animated film of two triangles and a circle moving across a screen. When asked to describe what they saw, all but one interpreted the scene as a complex story complete with characters interacting with one another. There were fights and drama, scenes of innocence and rage. Nothing is without meaning to the human mind.

Enthral your audience with a story – a beginning, a middle and an end. Find something that matches their experience and creates a connection. You can keep it simple. Your reader’s brain will fill in the blanks.

Tip 4: Speaking of simple

The writing process is cognitively complex. To write well, you engage a lot of brain power. You’re focused on the bigger story or purpose of the piece while juggling the individual words and imagining how your reader will interpret it. All at the same time.

Keep your sentences short, your language simple and your point clear. You work hard to write well so that your reader doesn’t have to work at all. Reading should be seamless and painless.

The added bonus? Studies show that writers who use simple language are seen by readers as smarter and their work as more impressive.

P.S. To keep it clear, don’t forget to edit, edit, edit.

Tip 5: Imagine

The best way to connect with your audience is to give them what they want, but when you’re writing you can’t always ask. Your next best strategy is to use your imagination to connect with what they want to read, not what you want to say.

Understanding another person’s intentions, goals and beliefs is known as Theory of Mind. Imagining their feelings is empathy. Both are uniquely human skills. Before you lay finger to keyboard, sit and ponder your reader, her interests, her problems, her challenges and her dreams. Sit in her skin and imagine her life and experience. Now go ahead and write what she wants to read.

Tip 6: Practice

Becoming an accomplished writer is a lifetime’s pursuit. Writing what you know for your benefit can be done by the time you’re 25. Conveying what you know for your reader’s benefit takes a lot longer. Practice is the key, so go forth and write!

Ellen Jackson from Potential Psychology is ProBlogger’s psychology expert and a specialist in how people work. She writes, teaches, coaches and consults to organisations across Australia. Ellen can teach you everything you need to know to be happy at work and in life.

About Ellen Jackson
Ellen Jackson from Potential Psychology is a psychologist who does things differently. She writes about people and why we do what we do. She coaches, she teaches and she helps workplaces to do the people part better.
  • Hi Stacey,

    I think writers struggle because they approach writing in the wrong way.

    The more I learn about writing the simpler, and quicker my writing gets.

    Keep up the great work.

  • Hey Ellen,

    To craft a content worth reading takes so much time. I have been learning for a long time and many aspects of academic writing are unrevealed.

    I totally agree with the point of imagining. You should imagine what your readers would want to read.

    Making your readers connect requires the use of emotional words. I like the example you have given related to anger and fear.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.
    ~Ravi

    • I’m glad it’s helpful Ravi. Crafting good content does take time – and practice – but it’s very worthwhile too.

  • Love the simplicity of this post & some really great tips in here too. Thanks!

    • Ah that’s wonderful feedback Tim. Thank you. My aim when writing is always to make complex topics simple. Glad it hit that mark for you.
      Ellen.

  • I recently visited Seth Godin’s blog and his writing style is genius. Brief. Short. To the point. Made me want to read his entire blog in one sitting!

    • Oh to write like Seth hey Rosie? I feel the same way.
      Ellen.

  • edit, edit, edit!!

    Pretty funny how you can stress over getting a blog post right, publish it, come back a week or two later and find tons of things to edit!

    Thanks – Lots of great advice here

    • Happens to me all the time Phil! Glad you like the tips.
      Ellen.

  • Regarding point #4, if anyone is trying to simplify their writing the Hemingway App is really useful. I like to toss my posts in there during my editing process to find any confusing and complicated sentences.

    • I use Hemingway too Ben! Certainly helps you to simplify.

  • Ellen,

    I recall that feeling of what is was like when I started writing, especially on the web.

    Many years back, I found my writing to be highly technical, stilted and rather dry. I most likely wrote like a doctor needing desperately to sleep.

    I have been discovering recently that storytelling is innate with people and as you state, more so when one evokes strong emotions for the reader. This I also feel will be an aspect of writing for me I shall always attempt to improve on.

    • Improving my storytelling is a goal for me too Jason. I’ve even considered dabbling in fiction and short stories to upskill too. Haven’t quite ventured there – yet ;-)

  • Hi Ellen,

    Understanding your audience is such an easy thing to learn, yet a difficult skill to master. I really think eliciting your audience is the most valuable tip – as when we read something a specific word or phrase can really grab our attention in powerful ways.

    – Sam

    • It takes a lot of practice. One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing for me is that I’m always learning. I’m not sure you ever ‘master’ it.

  • This was helpful. So helpful that I read all the way to end!! I have started batching, but didn’t know that’s what it was called (THANKS!).

    • I’m glad I wrote it well enough to get you to read all the way to the end. That’s high praise indeed in the online world. Good luck with your writing Arav.

  • Hello Ellen,

    Writing a good and appealing content needs a lot of efforts and time. Giving a personal touch to the post is really a great way to connect with your readers emotionally. I really like the point you have mentioned here in this post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    • I’m glad you like it Vishwajeet. I hope the tips prove useful!

  • Hi Stacey,
    Like tip 4 : speaking of simple.
    “The simplest form is not always the best, but the best is always simple.” – Heinrich Tessenow
    It’s not easy but if writer can do , it’s perfect !
    Thanks

  • Hi Ellen,

    In writing Story is really helpful for tracking attention of readers. Actually, readers love to read a story and a story will be popular if it has the simple writing style.
    If a writer would have a good imagination, the story would be a nice one. Your post is well written and your 6 points are interrelated in writing.
    Thanks for sharing such a nice article.

    With Best Regards,
    Salauddin Bepari.

    • You’re very welcome Salauddin. I hope it proves useful to you.

  • Hey Stacey,

    Everyone likes communication and with the help of online writing can be great idea to share personal thought, experience and emotions. Blogging not only changes your life, it also changes the life of the reader. And because blogs are free for the audience and open to the public, on many levels, it is an act of giving.

    We know very well, everyone like authentic story – it forcefully makes people in deep analyse about subject. But thing is that we need to put effective stories in our content so that audience can easily digest with more fun. Eventually, thanks for sharing your thought with us.

    With best wishes,

    Amar kumar

    • I love the idea of blogging as an act of giving Amar. What a wonderful way to think about it. I hope this gift helps you :-)

  • Its really hard to connect the users with your blog if your focus is just to convert. Writing a simple content and engaging content is useful for reader as well as for your blog.
    I think that no matter you are good at writing or not. you can master it with time easily. Just read others blog and learn from them.
    Thanks for the amazing post.

  • Every time that a reader stops reading, whether to figure out the meaning or just to laugh at a typo, there’s a chance they won’t start again. Your job as a writer is to make the reader’s job as easy as possible. All of these tips are focused on that.

    • Michael, a writing mentor of mine says that the job of every sentence is to get the reader to read the next sentence. That simple idea has helped me a lot. I hope these tips help you too.

  • Thank for these tips I actually did not think about doing some of the suggested tips. This really helped a lot. Thank you for taking time out for your busy schedule to post these tips.

    • You are very welcome Carl. I’m glad they’ve given you some ideas.
      Ellen

  • Awesome post! I am about to start writing a new article for my blog and I will use these tips to make my post more interesting. Quality doesn’t have to be pages long but you do need to get to the point and provide the reader with the answer!

  • HEY ALLEN,
    Thankyou, so much for your great tips in such a good way. I started follow these rules to improve my writing skills.

  • Hi Ellen,

    Great post. Yes, simplicity is the most important aspect of a great writing. Simple posts are most engaging and very interesting to read for masses.

    Thanks for sharing some unknown tips. :)

  • Such a great article – I’ve been writing since I was…well let’s just say it’s like forever (I’m 62 with a BA in English, MA in Religion & Culture – Canada) and I’ve spent YEARS un-learning everything you say here. I now write articles weekly online for my web sites (4), blog (1) and a couple of places where I am a regular columnist. I’ve been doing this for 15 years. And I am still learning how to be a good writer :) What is a good writer? One who is actually READ which is to say everything you’ve said here is just spot on.

    • You’ve just made my day Kathleen! Thanks so much for the positive feedback. As someone who has always wanted to write but spent many years deep in academic writing it’s wonderful that I now get the opportunity and that it’s resonating with readers such as yourself.
      I hope you continue to enjoy your journey of ‘learning’ to write. It looks like you’re getting plenty of practice which I’m sure fills your soul.
      Ellen.

  • Great article!
    For those who’ve not yet read it, “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser is a solid read for finding/refining your writer’s voice.
    Actually, I think I’ll give it another look!

  • Hi Ellen. From 1972 to 1980, I was an elementary school teacher. The last 3 years of that I taught special education. Most of my kids were non-readers so I learned how to speak (and write) very simply and with tiny steps so they would learn. (Simple is best)

    Another point – I became self employed in 1980 and have been ever since. I did a lot of training of business owners and in the early 90s, I used evaluation forms at the end of each session. My informal research/ reading of them, taught me several things. You see, in each session, I had things to cover and wanted my students to learn them. I would always use an example from my life (storytelling) to emphasize a point I was teaching. 80% of my students liked this and the other 20% did not. …..The 80% and I were right – storytelling is the way to get attention and for people to learn.

    I guess I was ahead of my time!!

  • Thank you for the tips Ellen, this brings me to the next level.

    I just started writing for my company blog at the age of 32.

    • That’s exciting Peter. Best of luck with it. If you love to write it won’t feel like work at all.

  • I do dig these tips Ellen because I love telling stories and keeping things simple with short, punchy sentences….and blog posts.

    Pondering last nights’ experience here in Thailand. I battled a monstrous 8 inch Scolopendra centipede in the house. Scurried around the crib at lightning speed, I hunted him down and eventually batted him out of the house after searching, scouring and cornering him. It was intense. So I will turn the experience into a blog post which helps folks increases their blog traffic, their blog income and their success. Because we all love a good story. Because story telling is about the #1 form of entertainment.

    I thought of last night, and then what I was doing before the centipede sprinted into the house. I was watching Suits on the Kodi app, Fire Stick style. Been watching shows through Kodi for the past 3 weeks. 1-3 hours a day. As I blog of course ;) Anyway, I love Netflix and the Fire Stick because these shows and movies available on each platform are just stories. Fictional, or made up, I love ’em. Because as kids we are influenced by bed time stories and fairy tales and movies and TV. We love ’em. We dig the entertainment, the emotions they elicit.

    From books to Kindle to movies to online entertainment, to friends getting together to share experiences, we all love a good story. Why not weave tales to bring in more readers and to inspire them to follow and share your work?

    I work stories into every one of my blog posts and into many guest posts too. Few better ways to snag wandering attention spans instantly, and quite easily.

    The secret is to link the story to your blogging niche of choice. Make that analogy. Prosper. That’s the thing about the thing about the thing. Story tell, link and you will grow a rabidly loyal following, just like any successful blogger or author.

    Simple wins. Every time. Because simple is powerful. Simple is easier to write too, as you find your writing voice.

    I am huge on simple because it feels easy and freeing to write crisp, punchy sentences versus long-winded tomes. I also dig the way words flow when I move into short, concise mode, with the odd attention-grabbing longer sentence here and there to add a little contrast to the mix.

    Thanks Ellen, another super post here.

    Signing off from Thailand.

    Ryan

  • Thanks Ellen for sharing these killer tips! As a writer it is our job to effectively relay our message to the readers. I agree that we should work really hard to make it easier for readers to understand your message.

  • I think that no matter you are good at writing or not. you can master it with time easily. Just read others blog and learn from them. Thanks for the amazing post.