Did you know that it takes a person between three to five seconds to form a first impression? There are others that claim it is 7 seconds. So, if you’re having a “bad hair day,” or you just had dental work and can’t smile, the person meeting you for the first time could take away an impression that you are poorly groomed and unfriendly. Neither may really be true, but what is true is that people form first impressions quickly.

The same can be said of the first impressions created by the written word. For example, the opening sentences of the first chapter of a book may be the reason we choose to continue reading, or not. How you go about writing a compelling opening in your business communication requires knowing your audience, and understanding what might appeal to them conceptually. After that? It’s about the writing. So if you want your reader to quickly take notice and respond to your communication, follow these three tips.


Three Top Tips for Grabbing a Reader’s Attention

1/ Sharp and Snappy:

Take a cue from newspaper headline writers and make sure the opening sentences, subject headings etc. of your business communications are direct, simple, and sharply written. You may want to look at 10 Questions to Help You Write Better Headlines. Even though the article is geared towards journalists and editors, many of the concepts apply to business writing as well. For example, one of the ten questions to ask yourself is “are all the words necessary?” Often we overwrite, or use jargon, when simplicity would be better.

2/ Active and Direct:

The active voice engages a reader more than the passive voice. If you are not sure of the difference think of it this way. In the active voice, the subject takes action. An active sentence is simple and direct compared to a passive sentence. Grammar Girl uses a great example with the title of the Motown song, I Heard It Through the Grapevine. If the songwriters had used the passive voice the song title would be It Was Heard By Me Through the Grapevine. It’s pretty clear which title grabs your attention!

3/ Vivid and Creative:

While being simple and direct is essential for grabbing a reader’s attention, it doesn’t mean your writing should be dull. Painting a vivid picture through words is often key to grabbing people’s attention. For example, think of the famous quote from Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft: “A computer on every desk and in every home.” In the days before computers were everywhere, that vivid image made people pay attention.


It’s not easy crafting communications that make people take notice right away. If it were, every slogan for every company would be memorable. Every email subject heading would make you want to read the email. But there are skills that can be learned that will help you grab your reader’s attention. And fortunately, it’s a little easier to control your business communications than it is to determine whether or not you’re having a “bad hair day”!

Want to learn how to grab your reader’s attention, in that first interaction? Contact me at The Language Lab.

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