The Art of Writing for the Reader Who Skips

For centuries, we all relied on printed materials for our reading pleasure. Books, magazines and newspapers used to be the only source of written information.

We all know the invention of the internet has vastly changed all our lives; how we read information is no exception. Many people now turn to online publications – websites, blogs, forums, and more – instead of traditional print materials.

Studies show our brain processes online information differently than offline content. However, many bloggers still fail to recognize this difference. If you don’t optimize your web content for online readers, your message will be lost.

The Art of Writing for the Reader Who Skips
Image credit: mpclemens

What is the Difference?

In his book, Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read, author Stanislas Dehaene shares his insight.

When taking in content offline, readers are able to slip into a deeper state of concentration. They process large chunks of text and narration without any trouble. Therefore, the writer can take more time to develop the point. Also, visual cues are less significant offline.

An alternate portion of the brain analyzes online content. Therefore, the visual display needs to be different when writing for a blog or website. Our brain is condition to scan, skip around, and skim the material. This restless behavior is regularly rewarded; clicking on a link will provide your brain with a new set of images and content.

Effective Content for an Online Audience

It doesn’t matter what you are writing – a blog post, a magazine article, or an eBook – the author’s ultimate goal is to understand and get the audience to read, absorb and accept the take-away message. The content is considered effective if this happens. This is an important concept to note.

Effectiveness online isn’t defined by the number of words the reader takes in. In fact, according to Dale’s Cone of Experience, readers will only remember 10% of what they read anyway – no matter if they read 20 words or 1,000. The key is to get them to read the most important bits of information before they move on.

When an author writes a newspaper article, he or she has a very specific audience in mind. The print publication might reach a very narrow geographical demographic. However, when an author writes for an online publication, the audience is much more diverse.

Online Audience
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Online readers can come from all over the globe. This makes it more difficult to meet every reader’s needs. It is the copywriter and writer’s job to present the content so the key information is easy to take in. Readers can easily find the information that is important to them and then move on.

How can you make your online content easy to read for those who scan the article, skip around the text, and ultimately leave? Here are some suggestions.

Tips For Writing Content that Appeals to Online Readers

Be sure to take these four tips into consideration when writing online content.

Tips
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1. Headlines

Headlines have always been important – for online and offline publications. However, they are much more important for online content.

The headline is almost always the first thing readers will see. Whether they see the headline on a search results page or on the website’s homepage, it will make or break the content. If the headline doesn’t draw readers in, they will simply click on a different, more appealing headline.

Use a compelling headline that will draw readers in. However, don’t get too creative; be clear and give the readers a thorough understanding of what the post will be about.

2. Active Voice

Many writers struggle to master the difference between active and passive voice. It is especially easy to slip into passive voice if the writer is avoiding the first person.

However, the author can get to the point much quicker with active voice. Writers can easily implement active voice by starting the sentence with a subject (noun), following with strong action (verb), and ending with the direct object.

3. Visual Appeal

Your online content needs to be visually appealing.

  • Avoid long, dense paragraphs. Use short (3-4 sentences) paragraphs that get right to the point.
  • Restrict each sentence to a single idea. Avoid multiple clauses with information stops (commas, semi-colons, etc.).
  • Use bulleted and numbered lists when appropriate.
  • Always use san serif fonts for the article text. San serif fonts were specially designed for online, low-resolution publications. The extra space between these letters enhances readability online. The complexity of serif fonts decreases clarity and can become blurry and pixelated. If you must use serif fonts, restrict their use to headlines and smaller blocks of text.
  • Use bold to highlight key pieces of information. It is easy to believe the majority of the content is important, but use this feature sparingly.

4. Word Count

There is no set word count. Generally speaking, it is safe to use as many words as you need to get the point across.

Writer Dave Copeland offers a helpful suggestion though. He suggests writers use a 3-2-1 formula. For every 1,000 words, writers should have:

  • Three subheadings: Use one-line subheadings to break up the text and organize the information. Follow the same rules laid out for headlines (attention grabbing yet concise).
  • Two links: Online readers love links. They help the reader go deeper and better understand the topic. Plus, they lend the author credibility.
  • One visual: Choose a photo, chart, infographic, or video to help prove your point. However, don’t place a visual aid into the content just for the sake of having one. Always make sure it advances the story.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, too many bloggers and online writers fail to grasp the importance of customizing content for their unique readers. Amazing content can easily get overlooked if it isn’t formatted properly.

Take the time to understand the difference between online and offline publications; this knowledge will make a huge difference in your overall success.