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Hooks: The Most Powerful but Least Understood Writing Tactic

What’s a hook?

It’s the concise expression of the idea behind an article, email, or video that fires up a user’s interest at first glance. 

So, it’s the headline on your article, the copy in your social post, your email subject line, or the opening caption of your social video or carousel.

The hook is the most important thing to get right for busy users scrolling through endless content streams. 

And while the advent of social media and email has sharpened interest in the idea, like much else, it is as old as communication itself. 

David Ogilvy wrote this about advertising copy half a century ago:

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.” 

And yet, the need for a hook is still undervalued, and sometimes ignored. 

This is frequently likened to fishing without any bait.

In experiments I ran at the World Economic Forum, a well-thought-through hook could generate a 10x, sometimes a 100x, increase in engagement. 

So the stakes are high. And it is worth sorting out your hook before you commit time and energy to produce a piece.

What makes a good hook?

The role of your hook is two-fold:

1) To grab the attention of a busy scroller 

2) To create enough curiosity to leave them wanting more

That’s a lot to achieve with a few words, so you should spend quality time with your hook formation. 

To be effective, your hook needs to tick most, if not all, of the following boxes: 

  1. Concise: Because my time is short, and I will see your ability to write a succinct hook as a signal you’ve taken the same kind of care with the full piece. 
  1. Accessible: I want someone who speaks my language. If you are over-formal or use lots of technical terms, I will worry you’re not right for me. As a result, strong hooks tend to sound conversational. 
  1. Relatable: I need someone who can help me. So I want to see an understanding of my challenges and concerns. This means successful hooks identify specific ‘pain points’ (and their solutions). 
  1. Trustworthy: I need to know you’re credible and won’t waste my time. Ways to convince me include data points, references to entities with strong reputations, and personal experiences.  
  1. Intriguing: Because I’m only going to watch your full video or click through to a longer piece if you’ve piqued my interest but not given away the full story 

What types of hooks are there?

There are lots. And this is just a selection of those types that worked well at the World Economic Forum and for which there are particularly sharp examples from Buzzfeed – widely regarded as very good at hooks.

1. Address ‘pain points’ and offer solutions

These could be the hurdles faced by individuals, teams, societies, or even the World! 

The essence is to express the pain point succinctly and then either present the solution or promise lots of ideas for those who read on.


42 Quick Solutions For the Small Annoyances in your Life 

>33 Seriously Easy 10-Minute Organizing Ideas

Entity X is doing Thing Y to Tackle Problem Z

Guatemala is stopping trash from entering the sea using special plastic-catching barriers

Scientists say taking an ‘Awe Walk’ can transform your mental health

2. Promise to explain something succinctly

The world’s a complicated place, and those who take the time and trouble to decode it for others get rewarded with attention and loyalty.

Costa Rica is one of the world’s happiest countries: Here’s what it does differently

QAnon explained in less than two minutes

Those that tackle controversy get an additional topicality boost

17 Things You Should Understand About Abortion, As Told By Women Who Have Had Them. 

What is the Metaverse? And why should we care?

3. Share Astounding Statistics

Memorable factoids are wonderful indicators of accessible and interesting content. 

You’re more likely to live the American dream if you live in Denmark

More plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050: Report offers blueprint for change

The Netherlands has become the world’s second-biggest food exporter

4. Build Curiosity

‘Curiosity gap’ hooks are associated with clickbait headlines that promise the world and deliver little. But well executed, they retain engagement power.

8 sexist laws you won’t believe still exist

15 money lessons people learned the hard way in college

5. Heart-warming personal stories

Hooks for human interest stories require something more – a dash of intrigue or wider education.

John’s Crazy Socks:  The father and son team that spreads happiness

Just 21 really good things that happened during quarantine

  1. Good news

Because mainstream media does such a thoroughly effective job at explaining how bad things are, there appears to be a gap for those with a more positive outlook and stories to back up their optimism.

Global health: 4 reasons to be optimistic despite current challenges

Ranks society’s biggest problems, and we’ll give you a reason to hope for a better future