Capture your audience’s attention within seven words.
You have seven words to get attention. We humans are distracted easily, and we ignore even the most important messages if they take too long to read. That’s why your first seven words are so critical. This applies to the first seven words of your entire message, each page, each section, and even every paragraph. If those seven words are good, your readers are much more likely to read your entire message. The key, then, is knowing how to write an awesome intro.
Seven Words Are Enough
Seven words can summarize an entire message. That benchmark is brief enough that even the most harried readers can get through it. And still, seven words can be enough to convince a reader that your message is relevant, interesting, and worthwhile.
Lengthy introductions suggest a longwinded writing style. This is a turn-off. Only the most invested audiences commit to reading copy like that. And if you’re writing for the web, your drop-off rate goes even higher.
You have one minute, and your minute has begun, and no time will be added at the end, even to accommodate this sentence with all of its baroque dependent clauses and cascading turns of phrase.
Seven words is an approximation. Strong introductions can certainly be shorter. If they’re well-written, they can be longer, too. Still, there’s a reason that seven words is a great target.
Concise Copy Flows
Writing concisely forces you to think deeper. It’s difficult to write a punchy sentence in only seven words. The exercise forces you to choose more impactful language. Lazy phrases transform into vivid verbs. Passive sentence structures get ironed into clean, direct copy. A seven-word limit demands ruthless editing, and it rewards you with a more compelling introduction.
The process of paring down your message to the minimum can develop your writing skills.
Seven-word limits are a helpful gut check. It’s an objective standard to help you evaluate your own writing. It forces you to examine whether your message is easy for readers to understand. It also helps you notice when you’re wasting readers’ attention on clearing your throat.
Avoid Throat Clearing
Amateur presenters say, “Ahem,” into their microphones. I hate that. Approach the podium ready to speak, and proclaim your message from the first sound. The same standard holds for the written word.
Amateur writers often begin with unnecessary prefaces. These extraneous personal thoughts are called throat clearing. It’s a coping mechanism writers use to overcome writer’s block and get into the writing mindset. Consider how the following message is improved by removing the author’s throat clearing sentence from the beginning of the paragraph:
There are many kinds of coffee popular around the world. Espresso is made from fine coffee grounds. It is known for its high caffeine content and usefulness as a base in an array of coffee drinks. And while some coffee novices poke fun at drinkers who say “expresso,” that is actually an accepted variant pronunciation common in Latin European countries.
A seven-word introduction benchmark highlights throat clearing. You’ll notice when you’re writing fluff into your intros. Removing those phrases instantly makes your message more compelling. But it’s not enough to simply nix bad writing. You also need to write introductions that get audiences’ attention.
Write Like a Car Crash
Last night, I drove past half a car ominously reposed on the side of the road. The first responders were long gone, and the steel carcass apparently wasn’t worth salvaging. The intact front pointed skyward like a final prayer, while the trunk rested in the back seat. I’ve never seen a car crash that horrendous, and I couldn’t look away.
Your introduction should be a car crash.
Your introduction should be a car crash. Revise your first seven words until you’re positive your audience will rubberneck through the rest of your message. To assist with that, seven-word transitions throughout your message can steer your readers to the end.
Link Ideas Using Transitions
Coherent messages link ideas using smooth transitions. The first seven words of every paragraph, and especially every section, should connect to the previous main point. Use transition words to make these connections even more tangible. (Transition words contribute to SEO, too.)
Common transition markers include the following:
- That is why
- The reason is
- This is because
- On the other hand
Notice that some of these transition markers become quite long. Weigh the benefit of lengthy transition markers against their impact on readability. And remember that transitions begin at the end of the previous thought.
Your Last Seven Words Matter Too
Every section-ending transition and final conclusion matters. Transitions hook audiences into reading the next section rather than abandoning your message for some distraction. Final conclusions contain critical calls to action, memorable closing thoughts, and the final icing to coax readers into sharing your message for you. All of these objectives are easier to meet when your last seven words are as powerful as your first.
Exceeding Seven Words Can Capture Your Audience
One of my daughter’s favorite bedtime stories is Kevin Henke’s classic Chester’s Way.
Henke’s kid-friendly style is staccato and direct. His crisp phrases rarely exceed seven words. However, there is one anecdote where Henkes dramatically breaks his own routine.
They loved to go on picnics. Once, when Wilson accidentally swallowed a watermelon seed and cried because he was afraid a watermelon plant would grow inside of him, Chester swallowed one too. (2:12)
This long, complex sentence disrupts the general rhythm of the story. While this kind of interruption could have been jarring, Henke’s humorous explanation comes off as a cute aside that adds flavor to the narrative. When executed well, occasionally exceeding a self-imposed, seven-word limit on your introductions and conclusions can add weight to key parts of your message. These moments must be well-written, smooth, and readable. And even here, the first seven words still matter.
Front-Load Your Sentences
Front-load long sentences with key, engaging details. If you attempt a lengthy sentence, your first seven words should grab readers’ attention. Respect your readers enough to engage them from the beginning of your experiment in prose. Withholding meaty content until the end of a run-on sentence assumes that your audience will wait around until you make your point. Unless there’s a comic punchline coming, include something of interest in your first seven words.
Seven Final Thoughts
Making your first seven words count is a just tool to strengthen your writing. The core principle is that writing well requires being intentional. Pay attention to your first seven words, and so will your readers. Once you’ve mastered how to get your point across in just a few words, you can start to break the rules using more flowery language and well-paced variation in sentence length. Learning when and how to break the rules is the essence of art. Well-written copy is no exception. Don’t underestimate the power of seven words.