What's the secret to hooking your reader?

Published May 22, 2019 | Written by Jeremy Knight

In his role as editor of the online newsletter, The Browser, Robert Cottrell is responsible for sifting through hundreds of news articles every day and handpicking the best five stories for his subscribers.

So what determines what makes the grade and what doesn't? 

In a recent podcast for journalism.co.uk, Cottrell explained the key qualities that he believes are essential in creating a stand-out piece of writing.

Have a great beginning - what's important, says Cottrell, is to strike a solid early impression. An article that holds our attention to the very end is a truly marvellous piece of engineering. We trust our instincts based on the first sentence or two - so if the story doesn't begin well then there's very little chance that it’s going to get better. 

Be authentic - those stories with a personal attachment are often the ones that have the longest-lasting impact. We want to feel we're having a conversation with the most interesting person we've ever met in our life - and that they're speaking from a position of intense, first-hand knowledge. As Cottrell stresses, it isn't always realistic but with the right combination of writer and story it's possible to create something magical. 

Write less - there can be a great temptation, Cottrell believes, to write too much. And these days there are very few constraints on publishing ‘more’. But the more time spent generating shallow or 'templated' stories the less time we have to discover, and to immerse ourselves in, the stories that are really going to stand out.


In an ideal world, every piece of journalistic writing would be compelling, sharp and immersive. But in reality, it is all too easy to churn out templated stories that get hardly read past the first paragraph.


Published by Jeremy Knight May 22, 2019
Jeremy Knight