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Stand out from the crowd: create "entry points" throughout your article to draw the reader in.

How often do you open up a new magazine and read it from cover to cover, front to back? If you're anything like me, it's not very often. More likely I'll toss the latest issues of whatever comes in the mail onto the coffee table and hope to get to them eventually. And when I do, I flip through them first, sometimes from back to front, to see what might be worth reading. If it's a business or professional publication, I'll probably skim for articles that are especially relevant to my work. In the case of The New Yorker, HI skip ahead to the cartoons and maybe read the shorter pieces and reviews, saving the 10,000-word articles for a rainy day. Something like Food & Wine or Fine Gardening I'll put aside for when I have more time and can concentrate on planning my next dinner party or cutting back the geraniums. Sometimes I dog-ear a page or two for future reference.

What is it that prompts the casual reader to choose one or another article for either immediate or later reading? Of course, the headline. Whether you're reading a newspaper, magazine, press release or web site, you know within a few seconds if the headline is intriguing enough for you to continue through the article. (For tips on writing attention-grabbing headlines, see page 14.)

But the headline isn't the only element that draws the reader in. Good publications include other "entry points" that might spark interest. Photos and illustrations attract attention, sure, and if you have them, by all means, use them. But you can also use text in the form of subheads (some people call them breakheads), callouts (also called readouts or pull quotes), charts, captions, factoids and sidebars. When you work with your publication designer, you can use these elements to create an eye-catching, information-packed layout that can make even the most time-strapped reader give your story a second look.

Let's talk about subheads

Subheads quite simply break up the copy. They not only provide a nifty way to shift editorial gears, but they also create some space on the page. Add a little color or an unusual display font, and you have an even more eye-catching element. A recent issue of Rock and Ice, a magazine about rock and ice climbing, included an article titled "The Stonemasters" that featured a gothic-styled font for its headline and subheads--a departure from the magazine's usual font family. While you don't want to include so many different fonts that your publication looks like it's having some sort of schizophrenic meltdown, using one or two occasionally can have a dramatic impact on a story.

You don't have to use subheads to transition from one topic to another; you can create the same effect by using a drop cap or changing the typeface or color of the copy. For example, Wired often sets off a new section by adding a line space and putting the first four words of the subsequent paragraph in boldface capital letters. This technique works well in short articles, too, where space is at a premium but you still need to create some sort of pause. Garden Design used it recently in "Bionic Botany" to highlight four groups of plant scientists ("The hybridizers," "Sharp-eyed plantspeople," "Old-fashioned plant breeders" and "The lab guys") in a single-page article.

Calling all readers

"Nobody could stomach dishonoring The Stonemaster, even if the consequence was a pine box."

Whoa! What's going on here? This callout ran across a spread in "The Stonemasters" feature I mentioned earlier. This is exactly the kind of callout that can draw in a reader. What is this "Stonemaster," and why is it so revered? And who are these people willing to risk life and limb for it?

Callouts can be long or short, actual quotes or paraphrased copy. The important thing is that they somehow capture the essence of the article--and, of course, that they provide just enough detail to make the reader want to find out more. Make sure it's dear what you're talking about; change pronouns to proper names, for example, or identify what "it" is.

"We were young, healthy men-about-town, with strong handshakes and easy smiles. We were confident we could take Grandma's food without giving up our freedom. We were fools."

You probably wouldn't know it from reading it, but that Hemingway-esque callout is from an article in Gourmet (February 2004). Imagine the casual reader, flipping through the magazine looking for yet another way to cook chicken, and coming across that. Huh. Maybe this is worth reading. And maybe I'll make Grandma's Roasted Cornish Game Hens too.

Too much information

Sometimes you find you have just a little too much information. Maybe it doesn't really fit so nicely with the flow of the article, or it's sort of a how-to section. No problem. Pull it out and turn it into a sidebar. Add a bullet point or two. Write a right-on headline, and voila, you have yet another entry point to your story.

For example, a recent article in Yoga Journal titled "The Art of Escape" talked about what makes a perfect vacation. The writer described one trip in particular where she managed to leave behind her laptop but "made the mistake of checking my voice mail...." While her travails were entertaining, where does that leave me, the reader in need of a vacation and therefore not much interested in "the art of escape"? Why, reading the sidebar, "Create the Perfect Getaway," which presented a meditation on planning that trip.

You may have noticed that CW magazine (and others) uses what we call marginalia--short items tucked into the margins that add some new information to the story. Just a paragraph or two, these can be calls-to-action (for example, where to buy an author's book or how to participate in a survey) or even a really short sidebar.

Unfortunately, not every article you write or edit will be as exciting as you'd like--those benefits plan updates, those executive interviews, those how-to's on upgrading to the new software. But by using a few well-placed comments or notes, you can attract readers who might otherwise have passed you by.

Do your headlines say 'Read me'?

Whether you're writing a feature article, a press release or an ad, you need a headline. But you have only a few seconds to make an impression. Make your headlines work from the get-go by keeping in mind the following: Use verbs. Active headlines are interesting headlines.

Be accurate. Don't force the reader to figure out what the relationship is between the headline and the article.

Keep it short. Don't try to include too much information in a headline. Focus on one key point. If you have room to write a deck, too, then include additional explanation there.

Use common references. Sometimes the best headlines are plays on famous quotes or idioms. But be careful of puns--sometimes they fall flat.

Avoid superlatives. Too many adverbs and adjectives can bog clown your point


Sue Khoclarahmi is managing editor of Communication World.
COPYRIGHT 2006 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:editor's angle
Author:Khodarahmi, Sue
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2006
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