Write to reward the scanning multitudes

17 Feb

 To write effectively we must understand how people choose content online.

Content not tailored for the scan reader is wasted effort.

Content not tailored for the scan reader is wasted effort.

Words are precious. Many are written, but few are chosen.

 

Watch someone use a TV remote, or track arrivals and departures at the airport, or view the major news channels, with scroll bars, turn cubes and sidebar pulldown boxes.

How do people read? They don’t read in a traditional fashion. They scan.

Michael Gass on Social Media Today notes the Nielsen Norman Group’s research finding that 79 percent of test users scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. Nielsen text construction tips:

1.       Highlighted keywords 

2.       Meaningful sub-heads 

3.       Bulleted lists

4.       One idea per paragraph

5.       Inverted pyramid style – conclusion first

6.       Half the word count (or less)

 

 

Nielsen’s research also found that users detested promotional writing style – marketese. Start to sell and we start to scan right through your efforts.

From years of newspaper page design (Gannett and McClatchy papers) and constant guidance from Poynter Institute “eyetrack” studies, I absolutely agree. Content not tailored for the scan reader is wasted effort.

That’s a shame. Just a little design help (usually resisted) improves the chances that a reader will consume. Write it right for reward.

 

 

 

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