Originally published November 2019, Updated June 2024

Does this sound familiar? You labor over a document or an email, finally submit it, then have someone ask you a question you answered with your writing. Obviously, they didn’t read what you wrote and you start to wonder, “What was the point of all that work?”

Whether it’s lazy-ness or busy-ness in the workplace today, people are more likely to quickly scan what you write and not fully absorb what you’ve said—no matter how long you labored over it. (And that’s just a nice way of saying people aren’t reading what you wrote. And that’s not necessarily your fault.)

Does have to be this way? No. You can take steps to get your stuff read. You can write so people will keep reading what you wrote—saving you time later when you don’t have to explain, elaborate or elucidate because they got what they needed the first time.

list of 10 ways to keep them reading graphicLet’s talk about how…

Below you’ll find 10 tips to engage your readers and move them along so they stick with you until the end.

1. Ask questions.

Have you noticed how many times I’ve asked questions in this post? Yeah. That’s intentional. Questions engage people. They want to keep reading because they want to know the answer.

2. Use shorter paragraphs.

Shorter paragraphs make your writing more visually appealing. Our eyes get tired when faced with big blocks of dense text and it’s easy to stop reading rather than force ourselves to get going. (Unless of course we’re reading a really good novel!) Shorter paragraphs break up your text to make it more likely the reader will keep reading.

3. Use bulleted or numbered lists.

Like shorter paragraphs, lists make your writing more visually appealing. Plus numbers keep people engaged because after 1 they want to see 2 and so on.

4. Use transition words.

Transition words like first, secondly, thirdly, next, finally, another, in addition, also, and in conclusion help to move your reader along. Think of your writing as a path you’re leading them down and these words are like signs along the way.

5. Use power words.

When you use power or strong words, your writing is more dynamic and therefore more engaging to keep your reader reading.

6. Write in the active voice.

An active voice is also more engaging. Remember, the passive voice uses “to be” and the active voice doesn’t. “The car was being driven by the dog” is passive. “The dog drove the car” is active.

7. Tighten your text.

As with power words and active voice, writing that’s tight and concise can keep people marching along because they’re not stumbling over clunky words or phrasings. Compare these before and after examples. Do you see the difference?

  • “How far into the prospect’s evaluation period of a sale will they engage with a seller?”
  • “How much research does a prospect do before engaging with a salesperson?”

8. Vary your sentence length.

Tightening your text doesn’t mean writing all short and choppy sentences, however. Vary your sentence length and you’ll avoid the monotony of sentences that are all the same length. (See a beautiful example here.)

9. Have a voice.

Avoid writing in a generic, bland or corporate style that your reader has to slog through…because they won’t. Have a voice. Sound like a real human. It’s more engaging.

10. Use cliff hangers.

Cliff hangers aren’t just for fiction. You can use them too, in two easy ways. One is to say something intriguing at the end of a paragraph to get the reader to want to read the next paragraph. It promises some nugget of information if they keep reading. For example:

  • “Bad bots attack websites in every industry, but some far more than others. How vulnerable is our business? Read on to find out.”

Did you make it to the end? Then I must have done something right! These 10 tips work for writing at work, business emails, and marketing copy too. They are universal and universally useful. So put them to work today to be a better, faster writer–who gets their stuff read!

Sharon Ernst is a freelance editor and writer at www.weknowwords.com, a teacher and coach at www.betterfasterwriter.com. And a farmer and planet saver at www.literalroadfarm.com.