Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Holding Readers: Tools for Engagement

Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson time 13:40 min

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.

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


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...

About the Instructor

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.

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Malcolm Gladwell

In 24 lessons, the author of Blink and The Tipping Point teaches you how to find, research, and write stories that capture big ideas.

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