How Professional Writers Keep Readers Hooked

When people read your writing, do they immediately get what you mean? Do they respond the way you want them to?

Or do they quit halfway through? Do they get confused, or completely misinterpret what you mean?

Maybe you have no idea, because they never seem to take any action.

Or maybe you get so tangled up in the writing yourself that you rarely get around to publishing anything.

If this sounds like you, I’d be willing to bet that your amazing ideas are being demolished by a wonky information hierarchy.

Information hierarchy is the order in which your writing should be laid out, so that there is no point where the reader gets stuck, confused, or bored.

When the information hierarchy of a piece of writing is on point, it’s seamless. You don’t even notice it, and you can keep on reading and reading without any distraction.

Good information hierarchy is why you stay up half the night gorging yourself on a great book.

But when it’s not working, it’s a disaster.

(It’s like those dogs who forget how big they are and go cannonballing around the house wrecking everything.)

A bad information hierarchy will frustrate the hell out of your readers. It will leave them confused and feeling like an idiot, which will make them stop reading the piece (and less likely to try again with the next thing you publish).

Whether you’re writing blog posts, emails, books or reports, information hierarchy is absolutely critical.

It’s just not discussed very often, and I think that’s because for many really gifted writers, creating a great information hierarchy is fairly intuitive.

But most experts forget how much they know compared to people outside their field, and so information hierarchy really never gets any attention.

So let’s map it out. To build a great information hierarchy, there are three critical things to understand:

1. What does your reader need to know first, in order for everything else to make sense?

What is the most logical, most engaging way to order the information so that it’s irresistible for the reader to go through it?

Don’t assume they are starting with the same foundation of knowledge as you. Lay it out for them, starting with the most basic elements, and then layer on each new point or idea, so that they never have to take a big leap to keep up with you — they should be able to take one small step at a time.

2. What do they need to believe or accept as true to continue to engage with your argument?

What emotions need to be activated and built up so that they will be ready to take an action?

If you assume that the reader shares your exact world view, or that they’re in the right mood to hear you out, there’s a good chance you’ll lose them. Make sure you’ve laid out the problem they’re facing, and the consequences (and the potential for a solution), so that they’re paying attention when you ask them to act.

3. Are you making the most effective use of your assets?

Think of every element you include in a piece of writing as an asset within a portfolio (the piece of writing as a whole).

The headline and subhead (or subject line and preview text), the lead (the introductory paragraph), the body text, the big reveal, the testimonials, the conclusion and call to action — each one is an asset that can deliver a big pay-off.

The way you deploy those assets will determine how valuable each one will be, and how valuable the portfolio will be.

Before you send off a piece of writing, ask yourself: Is this the right place for this piece of information? Is this the right place for this testimonial? Is this the most powerful point at which I can use this asset?

That way, your reader will have a strong understanding of what you’re talking about, a clear emotional connection with your argument, and the momentum to tie it all together and take action.

I’ll be sharing a few other under-rated writing strategies over the next few emails, so if you have a question about something technical in your writing, hit reply so I can share the answer with everyone.