Catching your attention with'teasers' and'pullquotes'

Spilled Ink Issue 0 Jul, 2011

Sometimes we tease you, twist your ear or poke you in the eye, to catch your attention and pull you in...

That line (above) is what writers and editors call a ‘teaser’. It is one of several gimmicks publishers use like red flags to grab your attention as a prospective reader. Another device is the ‘pullquote’ located somewhere down the page in the midst of a story.

A ‘teaser’ is a snippet of text at the top of a story that tells the reader in an instant something about the topic of the article. Teasers help readers peruse the contents of a magazine or newspaper to look for articles of interest. They appear on a magazine’s cover, in the table of contents and/or at the start of many articles. Done well, a good teaser for one story can sell a whole magazine.

Journalists, in their zany way, have other terms for teasers, including ‘eyebrow’, ‘highline’, and ‘overline’. Each reflects its placement high up at the top of the story.

Earlier this year, Anubhuti Paudyal’s feature story in this magazine, ‘Preserving Music, Conserving Identity’, began with this straightforward overline: “The Music Museum of Nepal has been working for more than a decade in retrieving, conserving and then archiving the cultural and ethnic musical instruments of Nepal with the hope of preserving them for the future generation.” Now you know what the story is all about.

Another example is the very short eyebrow heralding Sushma Joshi’s recent article on ‘The Science and Romance of Cheese’: “The various cheeses produced by Pokhara Gourmet Cheese are the talk of the town of lakes.” This sort of matter-of-fact teaser/title combination makes you wonder: ...Romance? ...Talk of the town? ...Lakes? Notions to ponder. Enough to whet your appetite for more.

In a recent issue of the online writer’s blog called ‘The Right Way to Travel’, the blogger asks “When you walk up to a newsstand or to the magazine rack [in a store], what do you do? You skim the covers.” Then, “If a teaser intrigues you, you pick up the issue and flip through it, skimming the headlines.” And, on that basis, you may buy a copy.

Many writers, however, ignore writing teasers, assuming an editor will do it. But if the writers are the experts, shouldn’t they be writing the teasers, too? I think so. So, don’t ignore them, write them. The same for pullquotes.
A ‘pullquote’ is also a snippet of text, but this one is placed in the midst of an article, set off in a larger font, designed to capture (or re-capture) your attention and entice you to read on. Unlike the teaser, a pullquote (or ‘pull quote’ in two words; also ‘pull-out quote’ or ‘lift-out quote’, each with a hyphen) is a direct quotation literally “lifted” from the story and placed strategically nearby.

Pullquotes (like that one) have been used by magazines and newspapers for years, especially in feature articles where they break up a long text (making it easier on your eyes) and reinvigorate your interest. The Australian team at the blog called ‘editeam’ tell us, further, that “A spoken quote is a good choice for a pull quote because it covers the three important ‘must haves’ of a pull quote.” The rules are these: it must be interesting, concise, and “capture the ‘voice’ of the text.” It should also be something obvious, as a piece of information or comment that jumps out at you. And, to be all the more effective, it should be brief, eye-catching, neat and precise (perhaps even clever), noteworthy and relevant.

Teasers and pullquotes have but one objective — to catch your attention.
Have we caught it?
Good reading, writing and teasing!


The columnist is a contributing editor to ECS Nepal. He can be contacted at don.editor@gmail.com. The two blogs mentioned are thetravelwriterslife.com and editeam.com.au/_blog/Read_our_latest_blogs.

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