Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Writing for Skimmers and Other Non-Readers

Let's face it; every word you and I write doesn't get read. Even those people who are genuinely interested will skim, scan and then, maybe—just maybe—read what we write.

But take heart. Accept the challenge of learning how to attract more readership. Start by using these tools-of-the-trade for writing scanner-friendly web content, emails, direct mail, blog posts, even LinkedIn profiles.

Punctuation is your BFF. Use it to direct eye traffic, add emphasis to your words, build momentum, break up long sentences, snag attention and more. Scanners look for periods, commas, colons, ellipses, parentheses, em-dashes, etc. to help them skim, digest and decide whether to dig deeper. Use your punctuation pals to deepen engagement. (Can you tell I'm a patron of punctuation?

Be cautious with capitalization. Initial upper case letters (Pet Waste Bags vs. pet waste bags) imply importance or a proper name versus a generic term. The eye lands on them, then tries to figure out why the words are capitalized. Use caps ubiquitously and you'll cause confusion that disengages your scanner.

Related, but different: STRING TOGETHER TOO MANY WORDS IN ALL UPPER CASE LETTERS and your message is difficult to scan and read. In digital-speak, you're shouting and too much noise drowns out your message.

Make it easy to find essentials. This includes important little details such as date, time, location and cost. It's seriously annoying to be interested in attending an event and not be able to find when and where it's taking place. Likewise, product details matter. Yesterday I was interested in buying a bracelet online and all I saw was a stamp-sized photo and price. What was it made of? Did it have a clasp or was it elastic? I tried clicking on both photo and price to no avail. Ouch! Lost sale.

Copy and paste with care. I recently visited an event website that featured the same bio for two speakers. Oops!

Which brings me to this: Have someone else proofread what you write. As writers we often see what we want to see ... not what our readers see.

Make the same point from different directions. Sure, use your words. But consider adding a graph, comparison chart, photo, testimonial, statistic and/or video to support your message. You never know which will catch a non-reader's eye.

Capture interest with captions. Scanners are drawn to images, then they want to know the story behind what they see. Use photo captions as hot spots that encourage people to spend more time reading.

Speaking of hot spots...everything you write has them. But these valuable eye magnets are often ignored by writers.Think of hot spots as where the skimmer's eye goes first. Some hot spots are innate, some you create (as I've done in this post using bold face type.)

Numerals jump off the page; numbers as words get lost in the crowd. Twitter fans also know numerals use fewer characters. Example: 257 vs. two hundred fifty-seven.

Edit for engagement. Unlike a novelist, you've got just seconds to snag your reader's attention. Try these tweaking (aka editing) tips to make your copy/content more engaging and effective.

Button up. Test CTA copy to know which words work best on buttons. Then make sure your buttons are eye-catching using color, size and shape. You never know when a scanner will be ready to click, so test placement, too.

Long sentences and long paragraphs are...long. And difficult to scan, as well as read. Transform long ones into smaller, bite-size pieces. It's a simple edit.  

Interrupt eye flow. Use violators (aka snipes) to draw attention to important message points. While traditional bursts and banners still work, no one says you and your designer can't create your own.

Good luck reeling in more readers!

1 comment:

  1. "Writing for Skimmers and Other Non-Readers" is acknowledges the changing reading habits in the students. 10 Hints You Are New To Photography Many students are interested in scanning.