From Malcolm Gladwell's MasterClass

Holding Readers: Tools for Engagement

Data is a big part of Malcolm’s stories. Learn three ways Malcolm helps readers digest data and engage with complex ideas in his writing.

Topics include: Create a Connection to Data • Give the Reader Some Candy • Examples of Candy


Data is a big part of Malcolm’s stories. Learn three ways Malcolm helps readers digest data and engage with complex ideas in his writing.

Topics include: Create a Connection to Data • Give the Reader Some Candy • Examples of Candy

Malcolm Gladwell

Teaches Writing

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I spend a lot of time in a lot of my pieces sketching out some kind of theory or framework for the task at hand. So I give you tools to-- to follow along, or to think like I'm thinking, or think like the people I'm writing about-- how they think. And I always feel like the provision of tools is one of the things that compels people forward. So I introduce-- I say, let's-- we're going to tell-- we're going to-- I'm going to tell you a really fun story about X. And then I pause and I say, OK, but in order to understand the story, you're going to need to carry the following tools. Here's what they are. Here's how they work. Here's the theory that explains them. And once I've given you a tool, you're natural next question is, OK, I want to use it now. That I've given you-- you know, in this thing I've been writing right now, there's a very distinct-- there's a very beautiful distinction between displacement and coupling. They're separate things. They don't-- it has no meaning to you outside of the context. But I tell you this whole story and I say, OK, there's two-- there's these two categories-- displacement, coupling. And your-- you know, your natural inclination is towards one. And very often, the truth is the other. And the-- it may not work, but the intention is that once I've given you this little framework-- and then I play a little game, in which I-- I give you a scenario. And I say, well, which do you think it is? And then, that's a kind of break from our narrative. And then I go back to the narrative. But now you've gone back. And you've got this-- you've learned this shiny new-- I've given you this shiny new tool. And you want to use it, right? And I-- my hope is that that desire to use the tool keeps you going. The reader needs a tool sometimes to want to keep going. So give them one. Come up with a fun one, you know. And everyone doesn't-- people don't mind a little time-out to kind of learn the rules of the game. And then they'll plunge back in with renewed enthusiasm. [MUSIC PLAYING] People mistakenly think of data as boring. But in truth-- again, I hate to bring everything back to my childhood. But as a kid, what do you notice about data? What are your first-- what's your-- as a kid, your first exposure to data is the grade you get on a test, right? That's data. Now in my-- I think-- I don't think they do this anymore. But when I was a kid in my little rural Canadian town, you would sit-- in a classroom-- according to your grade on the last test. So the person with the highest grade would sit in the far left-hand corner. The person with the lowest grade would sit in the front, right-hand corner. That is a-- that's-- first of all, that's inhumane and horrible. But it's also-- that's a chart, right? It's a physical chart. And what do you discover when you do that? That kids are enormously interested in the chart. They-- they talk about it. They're obsessed with it. They get upset over it. They're-- it...

Transform the ordinary

Ketchup. Crime. Quarterbacks. Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, these ordinary subjects have helped millions of readers grasp complex ideas like behavioral economics and performance prediction. Now, the renowned storyteller and best-selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point is teaching his first online writing class. Craft stories that captivate by learning how Malcolm researches topics, crafts characters, and distills big ideas into simple, powerful narratives.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Learned the art of gaining perspective and the nuances of building depth to characters and worlds.

This was a good overview of narrative non-fiction that inspired me to go further with my writing.

I am deciding whether to bring a fiction or a nonfiction world to life, and Malcolm's class is helpful for either front. His focus is on the nonfiction work, but the tools he offers are interchangeable. Most importantly, however, Malcolm's passion for the writing process is palpable, and his excitement is contagious. Time to get to work...

I already have published my first book .. and was looking to raise the level on my next books. This course helped me to be aware of what I need to work on to improve in the craft.


A fellow student

It’s very ethereal. In his lessons I’m not seeing any way of executing or any roadmap that I can pursue

A fellow student

I thought it was helpful to be given permission to give empty promises so long as it's interesting.

Jerry R.

Insight for amusing readers as well as inform them. They may not want to read without the candy.

A fellow student

I'm finding Malcolm's explanations quite waffly and high level conceptually. I agree that there is a lot of fuzz.

A fellow student

There are some great gems here about engagement. However, Malcolm shares a lot of fuzzy concepts that would be well served with some examples.

Heather W.

There are some brilliant insights in these Master Classes. I am very keen to download the pdf but they are coming out as gobbledegook - is there something I may be doing wrong?

Gianfranco C.

I like that he not only covers overall writing strategy but also includes practical tips like the use of "candy".

Stephen G.

I like the idea of using candy as a short talking point for readers to be able to talk about, it isn't the whole meal yet it is an important tool. I hadn't thought of using footnotes the way Gladwell suggests - great idea!

Work in Progress

I really appreciate his discussion on data being very relevant to people ONLY if it relates to them. This understanding is what makes him a brilliant writer by taking the time to focus on creating the connective tissue of the material to the reader's mind/experience. He makes reading topics that may be out the of the realm of consideration for most busy people intellectually accessible. His writing seduces people into using their minds more strenuously than they are accustomed to doing. The way Richard Simmons made exercise fun back in the 80's, Malcolm Gladwell makes thinking fun. His approach is that of a communicator, rather than a didactic presenter, and this is what makes him so successful. He really cares about the reader. So many writers who are writing about intellectually challenging ideas don't do the hard work of creating a palatable reading experience for a reader, and their work results in a large sleeping pill shaped like a book. Many of these writers unfortunately create textbooks which deaden the minds of students with boredom. After a diet of such reading, students become convinced that they don't care about any subjects harnessed to the poorly written textbooks. Additionally the students are unable to care about the data related to a subject because the writer has not taken the adequate time to truly consider the reading experience of the reader and ask themselves, "Would I enjoy reading this?" Sometimes I wonder if this type of obfuscation in writing is intentional. Do the authors want to keep the knowledge inaccessible to the masses, so that they can continue to be the "intellectual elite?" Is this similar to professional people using a career related jargon to communicate creating this specialized community where only those who are conversant in the lingo are welcome? Are they intentionally creating barriers with their use of language? Or are they just incompetent writers? Or both? All I know, is that as soon as I sense that a writer is creating a wall of words that makes the experience of writing a headache for me--- I put the book down and "write him/her off as a bad writer. I say this, of course, in relation to modern text. Pre-Hemingway, people were far more verbose in their writing, and one can still be verbose and a good writer. This just demands more skill on the part of the author.

Mary D.

Great concept with candy / meal / or gossip. Sort of slipping it what you want reader to take away . Love the concepts of David and Goliath . Intent matters and all people have deamons in their lives which they must take on an face alone