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Monday, February 25, 2008

Do You Write Scannable Content?

The internet is not a book and few people, including myself, read it as if it were a book. I don't find a large block of text exciting nor will I read it. I'll move on to a smaller block of text, perhaps one or two sentences...hoping to find out what you are writing about. And many times just leave out of frustration!

We live in a fast paced society...people want to gather what they need and move on. When I sit down in the morning with my coffee to check my feed updates there's a lot on my mind. I first scan the titles, marking some to read later, opening the most interesting ones first.

If you got me with your title you will loose me if I can't quickly scan your text and acquire a "mental outline" of what your article is about. And while I'm doing this, I'm asking myself "Can I benefit from this information?, Is it worth reading the entire article?".

Wikipedia refers to this style of writing as "Chunking", and described it as the method of presenting information which splits concepts into small pieces or "chunks" of information to make reading and understanding faster and easier.


So...how do you write Scannable Content?

1. Make your first paragraph a "Grabber".
By this I mean...tell them what to expect...make it interesting yet concise. You have just a few seconds to grab their attention, pique their curiosity, and make them want to read on.

2. Be sure your text size is readable.
If you're not sure about this, ask your friends. Don't choose a smaller text just to shorten your article...if it's scannable people will scroll down to read your next topic. Readability is a big deal. I know there are ways for viewers to increase the print size on their screen...but they won't tend to do this for one blog or one page.

Page color and text color can make huge difference. Experiment by trying different combinations.

3. Use an appropriate page width.
Again, we are not reading a book...if you have to move your eyes and your head to follow the words across the page, your text area is probably too wide. The eyes get lost and begin to skip a line here and there.

The blog on my website came preset and is the perfect page width...and I specifically chose my blogspot layout style, (where you are now) with this in mind. I know the Bible is a book and I keep saying we're not reading a book...but have you ever tried to read a Bible passage where the text was in a single column that spanned the entire page width? Very difficult indeed!

4. Keep your paragraphs short.
This is not an English class...break your text into smaller paragraphs...sometimes even using a single sentence to make a statement. The separation between text blocks makes your article more scannable and the added white space will give the eye a place to rest, making your page more attractive and inviting.

5. Learn to write in "Speak"
Wow....this has probably been my biggest challenge. We are taught "formal" writing in English class and it's hard to change. Your blog needs to "sound" friendly...even though there is no sound! The printed word can be cold and harsh. For a technical blog this might be fine but for most blogs you need to show your softer, friendlier side...without the need for a "smiley face" icon!

6. Use headers and subheaders liberally.
The use of headers and subheaders will improve your visitors experience. Your readers are now able to get an idea of what the content is about before they read it. This is the "mental outline" I spoke of earlier. When this is in place I can move easily between topics.


7. Lists and bullet points
...this is another method useful for breaking up a long boring block of text. Your page will be more interesting to the eye and readers will find your text more understandable.


8. Incorporate Bold and Italic type faces
...This needs to be done artfully and with some taste. Don't splatter them around haphazardly. Set a standard for your site and stick to it. I use Bold to accent important words or phrases and use Italic for quotes, book titles and the like.

9. Lastly, remember images are your friends.
Images add interest to your articles and they attract your readers attention. Use them wisely. I've always felt the image should relate to the text...when it doesn't I feel somewhat misled.


Let me know what you think...was this article helpful, would you like to see more like this?

Links:
Wikipedia ...read more about "Chunking"
My Website...Marsha Robinett Fine Art
My Squidoo...Drawing Techniques


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4 comments:

Jael Bendt said...

I love how you've written this. In my communication studies class, we've found out that many people read the same way they communicate, and I will quote you on this on my next post, as something you said intrigued me "I do not find a large block of text eciting, nor will I read it."

Are you by any chance the sort of person that if anyone starts telling you something and they don't get to the point soon, you start checking your watch? lol if so, you're a time oriented communicator, and instinctively pull your communication habits into your reading habits.

Interesting, interesting.
Check my journal next week, I'll probably quote you there!

Marsha Robinett said...

Jael,
No one has quite analyzed me in this manner...but you are absolutely correct. I'm glad you enjoyed the article.

Staci said...

Hi Marsha, I have been intrigued by your work for several months now, that is since I stumbled upon your work when I was surfing for pencil artists. I have always dreamed of being an artist but I allowed "life" and those who laughed to get in the way but I recently decided I owed it to myself to at least make an effort. You inspire me in so many ways and I can't thank you enough. I have wanted to write to you for a long time but have been to scared but when I read your recent blog it gave me the courage. Once again you pulled me through without even knowing it. I just wanted to say thank you. I look forward to keeping up with you in the future. Many blessings to you, Staci

Marsha Robinett said...

Stacy,
Thank you for your wonderful comments. I know your words will be just the encouragement someone else needs. I took a look at your website and your work is really quite nice...shame on those who laughed.

By the way it was great talking with you, keep up the good work.

My best for your future.

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