Psychology-based Tactics to Engage Readers


Posted May 19, 2020

Skillful writing is about more than just stringing words together in a satisfying way.
Good writing is about achieving specific outcomes, anything from entertaining the reader to triggering some desired action. That requires an understanding of human psychology and how content impacts readers emotionally.
In other words, your readers have quirky little human brains, and if you know how those brains process information, you can structure and present your content in a way that's more likely to have the effect you intend. In business, that's critical to success: engaging your readers’ psychology means generating more desirable business outcomes, like increased sales and continued customer loyalty.
But what are some specific psychological tactics you can apply to improve your writing?

Tell stories.

People find narratives more compelling than abstract concepts or raw numbers. According to Chip and Dan Heath, authors of The New York Times bestseller Made To Stick, consumers are more likely to donate money after hearing "the story of an individual in need rather than data about an entire impoverished area.”
They’re right; data must tell a story. Only data contextualized within an engaging story can move audiences. As Stanford University Professor of Marketing Jennifer L. Aaker says, "When data and stories are used together, they resonate with audiences on both an intellectual and emotional level."

Use social persuasion.

Including proof of widespread social acceptance can sway uncertain or resistant audiences. Entrepreneur Magazine reports on a study that analyzed public service messages trying to convince consumers to use fans rather than air conditioning. They found that "telling people that 77% of their neighbors were using fans was more effective than telling them that they could save $54 a month."

Give readers all the information they need to act.

Award-winning Rutgers University psychologist Howard Leventhal famously studied the impact of handing out brochures on the likelihood a person would seek vaccination against tetanus. One pamphlet focused exclusively on educating about the disease; the other included information on how to get vaccinated. The group that read the latter brochure got 25% more vaccinations than the former group.
Even upping the fear factor in the first pamphlet by using scarier language and graphic pictures made no difference. People were more likely to seek a vaccination if they were guided toward it. Some psychological tricks are very easy; If we want our readers to take a desired action, just tell them how.

Inspire reciprocity.

Doing something nice for your readers can trigger feelings of reciprocity that makes them more likely to do something nice for you (like make a purchase). Put plainly, it's possible to buy goodwill. And it doesn’t take much; as psychologist Norbert Schwarz says, "It’s not the value of what you find. It’s that something positive happened to you.” Sometimes the act of writing is itself a goodwill gesture. Making valuable information available for free through white papers and eBooks is often enough to inspire their sense of reciprocity so that you can solicit personal information like email addresses or even make a direct sale.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 30 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations. Links: Internal, Think With Google,, The American Psychological Association, The Baltimore Sun