How to Write Article so Attractive the Reader is Glued to the Page

    how to write posts - boy with chewing gum

    Have you ever had chewing gum stuck in your hair?
    It’s memorable, isn’t it?

    It certainly was a memorable for my little friend Inge and her mum. Inge and I were playmates at preschool. She had beautiful, long, platinum-blond hair. Her mum was proud of how beautiful her little princess looked. Until something unfortunate happened.

    See, one day we were experimenting with chewing gum – and suddenly a big gob of gum got stuck in Inge’s hair. I tried to wash it out. Didn’t work. I tried to brush it out. Didn’t work. Then I cut it out. That worked fine. Except, I wasn’t very good with scissors yet, and I somehow managed to create a big bald patch in that glorious head of hair. As you can imagine, Inge’s mum wasn’t very happy with me…

    So, that’s what gum does to hair.

    Imagine you could write something that had the same effect on our minds. It would stick so well that people wouldn’t be able to get it out. Without having a lobotomy, that is.

    There are writers who’ve done that.

    Andrew Marvell, the 17th century English poet, created a celebrated line: “A green thought in a green shade”. And here is a contemporary slogan, also ultra sticky: “Just do it” I bet you’ll know what brand that is!

    There’s an interesting book by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath, called Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die In it they identify six key principles of stickability: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, credibility, emotions, and stories. These six compress neatly into the acronym SUCCESs. Let’s take a closer look at them:

    1. Simplicity

    Reduce every message to its bare essential meaning.

    2. Unexpectedness

    Surprise will get interest right away. But to sustain interest, you need to stimulate curiosity. A good way to do that is to ask questions.

    3. Concreteness

    Use examples. Use concrete images and shun abstractions. The Heath brothers suggest using proverbs in order to transform abstract concepts into memorable language.

    I must admit, I don’t use proverbs much. But I’m going to mend my ways. Here is a Sengalese proverb for you: “What’s the use of consulting a dead man’s horoscope?” I hope that was helpful…

    4. Credibility

    Back up your words. Give examples, and quote other sources to give credibility. [I was just going to write ‘… to lend credibility’, but that means you have to give it back!]

    5. Emotions

    As a writer I need to make you feel something. That’s not really possible if you relay data. I think there are three things we can do to make the reader feel emotions. Tell stories (that’s the next point), use evocative words, and … [please come up with a third point and share it in the comments]. I’m hoping that asking you to come up with the third option is going to make you feel interested, awake, curious, creative, puzzled, or at least indignant.

    6. Stories.

    When you tell a story, you take people on a journey. I recently wrote an article about wisdom on Goodlife Zen and used a story to illustrate it. The story had evocative ingredients, a homeless woman sheltering from severe frost in an underpass , my son – just seven at the time, but wise – urging me to be compassionate. Like all stories, this one served to draw the reader deeper into the human dimension of the theme.

    Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, Stories – these six point seem quite straightforward, don’t they?

    Why do most people fail to use them?

    Chip Heath and Dan Heath identify one main reason why people fail to craft sticky messages. The call it the ‘Curse of Knowledge’.

    The Curse of Knowledge

    A friend of mine recently showed me her press release. She’s a health scientist and had just completed a paper on an obscure point of diabetes intervention. I puzzled over her press release.

    “I don’t understand a single word of this.”
    “But,” she said, “I’ve rewritten it three times in order to dumb it down!”
    “Well, it’s not yet dumb enough for me!”

    The Curse of Knowledge is a condition where the writer can’t imagine what it would be like not to possess her or his background knowledge about a given subject.

    Here’s an example that the Heath brothers used in their book. Compare these two messages which address the same idea:

    “Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically targeted aerospace initiatives.”


    “…put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.”

    The first example is from a Nasa bulletin, the second on is from a speech by John F. Kennedy in 1961.

    One way to combat ‘the curse of knowledge’ is to test what you’ve written. Choose someone who has no idea at all about your theme and see if they can relate to what you’ve written.

    So, what do think about these six principles of stickability?

    I think they’re like fairy dust. When you sprinkle it over your writing it becomes sticky by magic. Whereas the ‘curse of knowledge’ is what happens when the bad witch comes along and casts a spell over your writing – it instantly becomes forgettable.

    How do you want your writing to be – sticky or forgettable?

    About the author

      Mary Jaksch

      Mary Jaksch is best known for her exceptional training for writers at and for her cutting-edge book, Youthful Aging Secrets. In her “spare” time, Mary is also the brains behind, a Zen Master, a mother, and a 5th Degree Black Belt.

    • @Glenn — I don’t imagine putting gum in your crush’s hair won you any points? (LOL)

    • Glenn says:

      I had a grade school crush on a girl so I put gum in her hair. A few years later we dated but I dropped her. She grew into a beautiful powerful attorney, an amazing woman. Sigh.

    • I like that you have simplicity being #1. The goals with my new blog, Rank Higher, Make Money!, is to be as simple and effective as possible. I don’t want to waste people’s time with gimmicks or tricks. I want to simply provide real value for readers. (which Write To Done does so well!) 😀

    • Janice says:

      Great post – really crisp and useful. I’m going to check out the book. Great acronym, too; I really need to work on the first S – I’ve been trying for years! Thanks!

    • I wrote copy for an organization’s annual report recently, and the person I was writing for said, “We’re sending this to CEOs. They’ll understand it.” If you find yourself justifying your writing with this type of rationale, you should stop and rewrite. Clear writing doesn’t need justification.

    • Josh says:

      For anyone wondering about the book, what Mary has provided pretty much sums it all up.

      I read it about a year ago, and this was a great refresher. I still remember their first story about the kidney heist!

      You can read my review of the book at:

    • I definitely want my writing to be sticky. Thanks for a great post with sticky ideas Mary.

    • This seems a pretty sensible list to me, and I particularly agree with the concept of storytelling in writing. It’s what the reader hangs on, whether it’s fiction or compelling copy. There needs to be a human element to everything we write, in the sense that we instinctively require something we can recognise. Stories help us do that.

    • Mary, I love this post.

      The book you mentioned, “Made to Stick,” is a book I’m going to have to read.

      I think emotions is a really good one. When people convey their point with passion, it really has a tendency to stick.

      I want to get better at all of the pointers you’ve outlined.

    • Excellent topic. Sometimes, the less you say, the more of an impact you’ll have.

    • I guess I’m going to have to break down and shell out money for that Heath book. Maybe I should tell them we’re long lost relatives and they should just send me a copy (and maybe we are!).

      Anyway, maybe a third way to write with emotion would be to tell the truth. We do a lot of writing to avoid the truth, but rarely tell it. When we do, it speaks with an authority and smacks people in the face in a way that is totally sticky. That would be both truth in content and truth in voice; no copycat copy allowed.

      Great article and useful too!

    • Thank you for writing this. Really useful stuff that we tend to forget.

    • Writer Dad says:

      Everyone loves a story. I’ve found the most success when I sit at the keys and simply spin a yarn. You can tie all the other tips into this one, but engaging people in a narrative, no matter how simple, is sticky like a pool of honey.

    • Julie says:

      Great timing! I’m actually just in the process of re-reading Made to Stick. And believe me, there aren’t too many non-fiction books that I re-read!

    • Tabita says:

      The fairy dust comment was definitely unexpected and generated the emotion of happiness. I’m off to!

    • David Barnes says:

      Writer’s Coin… I work with a lot of authors, and I’ve noticed that their emails are often more readable than the text in their chapters.

      Writing off the cuff tends to be:

      – Simple — you just say what you mean
      – Concrete — you talk usually about things you’ve seen or heard, rather than a complex idea that needs research and planning before you can talk about it.
      – Emotional — because you’re writing how you feel right now.

      Being unexpected, credible, and using stories takes a little more planning — but you can lose the other stuff. It’s a tightrope.

    • It’s interesting that some of the “stickiest” posts I’ve written were the ones I thought about the least. I just wrote it out real quick and published it and then was shocked at the response. I’m guessing it has to do with my tone being really conversational, like I was at a bar talking to a buddy or something.

      The stickier I try to be, the more forced it feels sometimes…

    • Mr. I says:

      Using stories definitely helps to grab readers. I will try this in my upcoming posts.

      Excellent post.

      The title was so catchy that I had to come here to comment just after reading the title!

    • David Barnes says:

      Great post, Made to Stick is one of the best books I’ve read.

      I wrote a related post a few weeks ago — it talks about how to write illustrative stories and make them sticky…

      “How to use short stories in your tech writing”:

    • I want my writing to bash people over the head with “My gosh, I’ll never forget this!!” specks of joy.

      Sometimes it happens, sometimes not. But the journey is always worthwhile.


    • Definitely, sticky! Thanks, Mary, for a lot of great ideas! : )

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