We Are Reading Differently
“Browsing the Web is more like snacking – but I live on snacks. Sam Trammell
We quickly look for something that’s educational, entertaining, or enchanting when we read. And sometimes, when we’re writing we decide that a quote sums up the point.
In this case, you might be wondering who is Sam Trammell, and what does he know about writing. He’s an actor on the TV series, True Blood, who also happened to be a proofreader at Merrill Lynch.
Perhaps reading legal jargon does qualify him to distinguish a meal from a snack.
Twitter Didn’t Help the Situation
In the early days of Twitter, most of their posts were sent via SMS, or text messages on the phone, which had a standard length of 160-characters, thus the restriction. Taking a cue from these shortened messages, writers today are paring their words down, too.
Write Shorter Sections (Snacks) Using Subheadings
We all know that snacking takes less time than the seven-course meal.
Unfortunately, quick reading often translates to readers scanning and not reading an entire post. Knowing this, many writers struggle with how to write a satisfying article with one that respects readers and their time.
Pepper Your Paragraphs
So, how can you write that compelling article? You write as they read, and that might include peppering your post with obscure but interesting facts often gets your readers to the next paragraph.
“My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” ~Nicholas Carr, author of Is Google Making Us Stupid?
Use Subheadings to Attract their Attention
Although Carr’s comment can seem disheartening, it helps to understand the facts. From: Nielsen Norman Group Evidence-Based User Experience Research, Training, and Consulting
- In 1997, the world’s first study of how users read web content summarized the findings in two words: they don’t. Instead of carefully reading information, users typically scan it.
- In 2006, the eye-tracking research found that users frequently scan website prose in an F-pattern, focusing on words at the top or left side of the page, while barely glancing at words that appeared elsewhere.
- In 2019, we’re even guilty of scanning our email. It’s no longer a good idea to write just good paragraphs and use correct punctuation. No, it’s better to give them bullet points, or even subheadings, especially if you’re selling something.
The recent research quantified this finding: given the duration of an average page view, users have time to read at most 20% of the words on the page, so make those words memorable.
Titles Whet their Appetite
My title is directive, telling you the reality of life on the web. In spite of this, I can and do tend to augment a serious, pedantic writing style of mine with humor – i.e., the reference to meal or snack.
E. A. Bucchianeri sums it up quite well: “Tempted to type meaningless twaddle all the time on Twitter…with alliteration, no less!”
Taking a cue from this, pick your topic – in this case, meals, snacks, 140 characters, and writing, then consider your tone.
Formal, Casual, or Slang: Choosing Your Words
Just as a speaking voice can adopt a tone – conciliatory, condescending, put out, or joyful, your written voice has a tone as well.
- When your topic is serious, then humor might not be the appropriate voice.
- Do you consider yourself an authority on the subject? Then slang, lingo, and buzzwords might diminish its value to your readers.
- Is your post, light-hearted? Then don’t preach.
Make sure that vocabulary, syntax, and phrasing reflect your tone appropriately. There is more leeway in our tones today, and our vocabulary reflects this casual, almost conversational tone.
If you have been writing for a while, and get comments from your readers, you have an understanding of what they like, which helps you determine the tone. If you are writing from a place of authority on a subject, use language that is particular to that subject.
For instance, I write about addiction and recovery. As such, I use phrases and vocabulary familiar to those in recovery. However, I will often link, as I did with the word ‘syntax.’ I do this for recovery or writing words that might interest a reader and allows them to learn more about a particular word. Are you writing to a younger audience? Then you might include slang, lingo, and buzzwords for them.
Tones for Your Next Article
What are some tones you can use to convey your emotions in your post?
I live in the south, and I might include a particular phrase used colloquially here. For instance, if someone says something snarky about living in a rural area and being a dumb redneck, I might use, “You know, I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday” as a comeback; telling them that I’m not dumb.
However, someone from another country or even parts of America might have trouble comprehending that reference, so make sure that your references either have a universal understanding or give your readers a link so they can gain more knowledge about a word or phrase.
Write For Humans, Not Search Engines
We search through Google and get sites promising content only to find pages that merely give us keywords, not content.
Content and Body: Meat and Potatoes First
Give a potential reader the substance of your article in an excellent summary and let them find it quickly. Now they know what you are serving them, the main course – the body and content of your article.
Learn to respect your reader’s time. Give them breaks from the words and let them decide where to focus. You can do this with:
- Graphics or images next to the relevant information
- Important information in bold
- Italics for emphasis
- Videos to reinforce your information or set an overall mood or theme
- Subheadings that direct their attention to what they want
Adding to the Buffet of Words
Metaphors, like meat and potatoes or buffet of words, work to convey a complex idea that has universal appeal. If I continue it, people may be curious about the other offerings. Therefore, I will continue with words that reinforce the concept.
Some people do want more than meat and potatoes. How much more is the issue. Don’t overwhelm them with useless words to impress, nor dumb down an article.
“And let me make the radical statement that I don’t believe that you can say something profound in the 140 characters that make up a tweet.” ― Bernie Sanders
Use appropriate vocabulary, but offer the least complicated or most straightforward word possible. It makes reading a delight instead of a chore. Impress your readers with the simplicity of your article discussing a complex issue or subject.
Respect your reader’s time. If they have to ask what is on the buffet line because it does not look familiar, or your words are too academic, archaic, or seemingly sophisticated, your reader is gone.
Make your conclusions appealing, also. You may think you are sweet, delightful, lovable, and engaging and want to add your personal experience to your article because your family thinks you’re so interesting.
That is like dessert; some readers will pass on the bloat and extra calories.
It’s okay to add your personal experience about your article’s subject if it will help your reader, inspire them, motivate them, or encourage them. If you know that your knowledge, skill, or life event will summarize and conclude your article with more information for your reader, present it. Making your article unique and interesting because you have a different perspective on the subject is what can set you apart from other writers.
Remember, we can all serve fruit, but your addition of a mint leaf, or the extra chocolate sauce will set it apart.
Just make sure that your conclusion is as tasty, delicious, and satisfying as the body, not some store-bought confection you threw on the table as an afterthought or added words to meet a word count minimum.
When you’re ready to write, I’m prepared to read. Consider joining our growing community of writers with a submission.
Two Drops of Ink: The Literary Home for Collaborative Writing