Slowly, too slowly it might seem, your nonfiction article is taking shape. You've sorted out the structure and the flow and given it unity to ensure that it is not only readable but un-putdownable. The final thing you need to sort out is to make sure the editor will actually read it. So now we need to work on the hook.
It might seem strange leaving the hook until last, especially when one of the first things we learn as writers is to give our articles a good hook. However, in order to write a good hook, one that will 'catch' the reader's attention, you might find it easier to wait until after you've written the first draft of your article.
There are very good reasons to do this. Once you've written your first draft, you know the focus of your piece. You know what topics are addressed and how they are dealt with. By writing your hook after you've written your article, you can be sure that your hook won't be a false one, the red herring lead that we dealt with last time. You know that your hook won't mislead people into reading your article (and cause them to be disappointed once they've done so). Also, by writing your hook last you can ensure it leads seamlessly into the rest of your article.
So, how do you write your hook?
First of all you need to know the difference between a 'lead' and a 'hook'. While some writers treat these terms as interchangeable, they are technically very different. Your lead gently draws the reader into your article. It sets the scene. Your hook is what compels them to read further.
For example, here is the lead I wrote for an article on food allergy in children for Home and Family magazine.
Gerda Guy had previously had a similar experience with her daughter Amy. She gave her egg "when the baby books recommended" and watched in horror as her daughter's lips swelled up and her airway started to close.
This is not a hook. It gently introduces the reader to the story and so is a lead. The hook came immediately afterwards to encourage the reader to carry on reading:
Hooks compliment leads in that they give your reader another reason to read your article to the end. A good hook answers the reader's unspoken, but nevertheless ever-present questions of: "why should I read this?" or "what's in it for me?"
So the first step in writing your hook is determining what your lead is and what your hook is. Then make sure that your hook not only follows on naturally from the lead, but is engaging enough to make people want to read on.
However, you can have leads that are also hooks. These are especially useful when word counts are tight and you have a lot of information to convey. Here's a lead that is also a hook from an article on the Battle of Trafalgar for Timetravel-britain.com:
This lead not only set the scene but also added a "why should I read this?" hook on the end, in that not many people are aware of these invasion plans. Wanting to know more about these plans would (hopefully) encourage them to read on.
If you've worked out your focus, your hook will come straight from that. There are four basic hook types:
Let's see how this would work with four sample articles:
Hook Type 1. An article looking at how to reduce the likelihood of your children developing food allergies. In this article you would need a lead to set the scene, either telling the story of a child with an allergy or stating the facts about food allergies in children. The Hook: But can you actually do anything to reduce the chances of your child developing a food allergy?
Hook Type 2. An informative piece on unusual day trips in London. The lead could be the hook: "As I emerged onto the street behind the crowds queuing for Madame Tussauds, and my eyes slowly adjusted to the glare of the sun, I felt slightly superior to my fellow tourists. I had seen the real London."
Well, wouldn't you want to know what they'd been doing?
Hook Type 3. An article on how to get fit while sitting at your desk. Lead on how exercising is beneficial for help, with recent statistics to make it more timely. The Hook: But you don't need to go to the gym to get these benefits; you can exercise effectively at your desk.
Hook Type 4. An article on the hygiene hypothesis. A lead on how food allergies are increasing in the western world. The Hook: We have to ask, why is it that only children in the western world are developing these allergies? Are we somehow to blame? Is the increase in allergies in any way linked to our increased use of chemicals around the home? Could it be that by cleaning our homes we are killing our children?
So now take a good look at your article. If you've already written a hook, test it. Does it promise the reader any benefits for reading to the end? Does it tease them with a promise of useful information? Does it bring together chalk and cheese elements from your story? Does it ask them an outright question? If it does, does your article answer the question?
If your hook does none of the above, rewrite it. Keep working on your hooks until they flow seamlessly from the lead into the text and until they actively engage the reader's curiosity. If you haven't yet written your hook, then try out one of each style and see which one works best. Take your time with this; the hook can make or break your article, as can the ending of your piece.
We're nearing the finishing line. The lead is perfect, the hook really hooks and you know your words flow seamlessly, the only thing left to sort out is the ending.
Too many beginners tend to rush this part of the article. They see the word limit approaching and just squeeze in a short ending sentence to bring the piece to an end. Now, whilst endings don't have to be long, they do have to be good.
But what makes a good ending?
A good ending leaves the reader feeling satisfied and pleased that they've read the article. Endings should not be so abrupt as to make them feel as if the magazine has failed to print the last fifty words, nor should they ramble on aimlessly recapping what the article has already covered. Your ending should not feel as if it has been 'tagged' on to the end of the article. Just like the rest of your article, it should flow seamlessly, following on logically from what has gone before.
But how should you construct your ending?
Generally speaking there are two ways of ending your article:
If your story was a chronological report, or a retelling of an event that happened, such as our Portuguese doctor and the World Cup, or our cancer charity runner, then you end your article with the end of the story.
However, the most effective way of ending your article is to look at the hook you developed and use this to end your article. You can do this in two ways:
Completing The Circle Endings.
These are, perhaps, the most satisfying of all endings. They enable you and your readers to re-visit the issue introduced in the hook and to review what they've learned about it having read the article. They are also very easy to write in that you can think about the ending when you are focussing in on your article and developing the outline of what you will cover.
Here are two sample hooks from last time and appropriate endings we could use to illustrate the completing the circle ending.
Hook Type 1. An article looking at how to reduce the likelihood of your children developing food allergies. The Hook: But can you actually do anything to reduce the chances of your child developing a food allergy?
The Ending: Yes, food allergies are on the rise. Statistics show that they have doubled in the past ten years and scientists fear that this increase shows no signs of abating. But now you know how to reduce the risk of your child developing a food allergy, hopefully your child will not be one of these statistics.
Hook Type 2. As I emerged onto the street behind the crowds queuing for Madame Tussauds, and my eyes slowly adjusted to the glare of the sun, I felt slightly superior to my fellow tourists. I had seen the real London.
The Ending: As I climbed the last few steps back into daylight, I caught the eyes of a man standing at the 'one hour to wait' mark for Madame Tussauds. I walked over to him. I couldn't not tell him about what he was missing.
This sort of ending can also be used to confirm to your reader that they have in fact learned something from your article, as in this ending from a travel article at Timetravel-britain.com about English dialects.
In Mockney 'well' is used to mean very, as in this article was 'well good'. So in conclusion and I hope by now you can translate it, I'd like to say 'appen tha'll agree wi'them. I hope tha has a reet grand trip and tha's made up with it. As for me, am gan yam.
To understand what these means, you'll have to read the article at TimeTravel-Britain
Un-hooking the hook endings.
These are very useful if you have posed a question in your hook and answered it in your article. Your ending should confirm that you have answered the question and again provide your reader with a sense of satisfaction on finishing the article.
Again let's look at two hooks we used last time to illustrate how they can be used.
The Hook: Is the increase in allergies in any way linked to our increased use of chemicals around the home? Could it be that by cleaning our homes we are killing our children?
The Ending: While some scientists remain skeptical of the hygiene hypothesis (explained in article), they cannot rule it out as a possible trigger for allergies. I know one thing for certain. Mrs. X won't be using any more anti-bacterial cleaners in her home, and after talking to her, I don't think I will be either.
The Hook: But you don't need to go to the gym to get these benefits; you can exercise effectively at your desk.
The Ending: So, go on, before you reach for that digestive, reach up and stretch your abs instead. You know your bank balance and your body will feel better for it.
A piece about how to buy great Christmas presents might begin with a scene setting sentence such as: "Do you dread Christmas morning? Many of us, it seems, prefer Christmas Eve to the day itself. Why? Because on Christmas Eve, those beautifully wrapped presents under the tree are a source of wonder and excitement. On Christmas morning they're just another bunch of uninspired and often unwanted gifts.
The Ending: Now you know how to buy the perfect gift, you can be sure that your family and friends will be just as excited about their presents on Christmas Day as they were on Christmas Eve.
But if you're running out of space, a quick ending can be just as efficient. Such as: "Now you know how to write endings, you'll know I'm going to stop here."