“In a world where everybody is screaming for your reader’s attention, you need your articles and blog posts to stand out,” says researcher and writer Michael Low.
“To stand out you need to make your articles easy to read.”
“Fortunately, readership studies teach lowly-writers like you and me a thing or two about “how” your readers like to read.”
Here’s what we know about your reader and the way she likes to read:
1. She likes short, easy to read sentences containing only one idea per sentence.
Have you ever read a long paragraph only to get to the end and forget what you read in the beginning? It’s annoying. Especially if you are forced to go back and read the entire paragraph again just to get the gist of what the writer is saying.
Instead, use short, easy to understand sentences. And express one idea per sentence. This makes reading easy and keeps the momentum of your piece going.
2. She prefers short paragraphs to long paragraphs.
No more than 5 lines where possible is best for your paragraphs. This is because staring at big, gray blocks of text can be intimidating.
Remember, watching a video or listening to an audio program requires little effort on the listener’s part. But reading takes effort. And the prospect of reading one long paragraph after another can tire your reader.
3. She prefers short, descriptive words and phrases.
Although she understands big, “intelligent” words and phrases, she prefers short, descriptive words and phrases, especially when a shorter word or phrase will do.
But that’s not to say you should replace all long words with shorter ones. The final choice should be to go with words that paint the clearest picture in your reader’s mind – making your message easier to understand.
4. She doesn’t want to think too hard.
Your writing should do the thinking for her. After all, she’s not reading to think. She’s reading to get ideas already thought out for her. So, if you want to explain how something works, for example, spell it out in minute detail. Get it all down on the page. Don’t leave any gaps for her to fill in.
Remember: You need to be detailed, descriptive, and give a full explanation of every point you make. If you leave gaps the reader will pick holes in what you say and quickly turn off.
5. She prefers a list of points rather than multiple pages of unbroken text.
There are a couple of reasons for this:
6. She likes main points to be highlighted and, where appropriate, put into a subheading.
This makes it easier to skim to the points in your article that interest her most.
7. She likes sentences and paragraphs to start with connecting words and phrases.
When you begin sentences and paragraphs with connecting words and phrases you automatically build momentum for your reader. The feeling of momentum keeps the reader reading.
For example, try starting your sentences and paragraphs with words and phrases like:
For starters … if history has taught us anything … speaking of which … in a nut shell … however … besides … if you thought that was good … and another thing … again … why not take it a step further? … warning … fortunately … here’s why … here’s an example … but first, check this out … furthermore … my point is … not only that … look … listen … but that’s not all … and so on.
Now that I’ve hopefully got your brain thinking about words and phrases to open your sentences and paragraphs … create your own file (either in a physical folder or on your computer) where you can collect all manner of such words and phrases for future use.
8. She likes it when you pack your paragraphs with interesting facts.
And she likes it even more when those facts are presented in interesting ways. This is due in part to the age of multi-media and fast-action movies and video games. People’s attention spans are often shorter. Unless you attract and keep her attention at every turn with one interesting fact after another you’ll quickly lose her interest.
9. She wants the font face and size to be easy to read.
Just changing the font type can make your article appear more readable. But the wrong font type or size can turn your reader off.
Also, fonts can be like the emphasis in your voice. The right font can add expression to your writing and bathe it in personality.
10. When using bullet points or numbered points she likes the list construction to be logical and consistent.
You’ll notice every point in the numbered list you are now reading (except this one) begins with the word “she”. I did this on purpose. It’s because the consistent use of the word “she” anchors you to my original point: Your reader prefers to read information presented in a certain way.
This drives my message home more powerfully.
Keeping your bulleted or numbered lists consistent has another benefit: It builds momentum. As the reader sees (even if only subconsciously) the pattern in your writing, she can fly through your text at a greater pace. This increases the likelihood that she will read all the way to the end.
11. She likes points in your articles to follow a logical sequence.
If your article points out how to do something or tells a story about an event, then, following a logical flow makes it easy for the reader to keep track of what you are saying.
For example, if writing a list of steps, you may begin sentences or paragraphs with: “This is what you do first …” “Then you …” “Thirdly you …” and so on.
When your writing follows a natural sequence the reader feels subconsciously compelled to read on.
12. She likes it when your sentences contain the strongest point at the beginning.
For example, if your article explains ways to buy bargain real estate in a falling market, you wouldn’t say, “Buying real estate during a temporary slump in housing prices is the best time to get a bargain!”
Instead, you’d say,”The best time to get a bargain on real estate is during a temporary price slump!”
13. She likes it when you write in colloquial language.
Such language includes the use of metaphors, similes, clichés, and common figures of speech. Again, start a colloquial language file to keep great examples you can use in your own writing.
14. She likes it when you use words and phrases that paint a vivid picture in her mind.
The trick is to think about what you want to say then see it running through your mind in a vivid movie. Next, simply describe on paper what you see, detailing the colors, textures and even the sounds, smells and temperature.
The goal is to bring your text to life so the reader no longer sees words on a page but a vivid movie playing before her eyes. Even better, paint the reader right into the movie.
Let her see herself interacting with the detail of your article content.
15. She likes it when you use narrative.
Good journalism is dominated by this “he-said, she said” narrative style of writing. And for good reason …
Readers tend to trust you more when you quote others, especially reliable sources.
Plus, using narrative in your writing makes your writing more interesting. It’s like the movie director using different camera angles in the same scene to add variety and hold the viewers attention.
16. She likes it when you are not redundant.
Redundancies slow your writing down. Your reader wants to get your point then move to the next point. She doesn’t want to dwell too long on something you’ve already made clear.
That’s not to say you can’t repeat important points. But don’t beat a dead horse.
If you feel you need to repeat a point for impact try coming at it from a new angle. For example, you can make your point then give an example that illustrates your point. Then, if you feel you still need to remake your point, present it in the form of a narrative, where you quote someone making the point you want to get across.
Another subtle and often overlooked form of redundancy is the use of the same word mentioned often throughout the text. In the paragraph above for example, the word “point” is used too often and weakens the impact of my message.
Yet another form of redundancy is the use of two or more words in a sentence that mean the same thing. “Little babies” for example. Or “young child.” Aren’t all babies little and all children young?
17. She likes it when you give examples to illustrate your point.
Do I need to give you an example here. If so, see the paragraph above this one. Obviously, giving an example makes your message clearer, easier to understand.
18. She likes it when you leave white space (called “secondary leading”) between paragraphs.
“Leading” is the technical term used to describe the vertical space between lines of text – the space between the line above and the line below.
“Secondary leading” is the space between paragraphs. Long blocks of gray text tire the eyes. They give the impression that reading will be “hard work”. Therefore, put a full space of secondary leading between paragraphs as I do in this document.
19. She likes the occasional one sentence paragraph … and … even a one word sentence or paragraph.
I do too!
It breaks up the pace of the message by adding variety to your writing. This makes the reading of your article more interesting. The brain likes variety. In fact the brain needs variety. So breaking your paragraphs up into occasional one sentence paragraphs (or even one word paragraphs) makes sense.
20. She prefers narrow columns of text (of around 65 characters) to columns of text 100 plus characters in width.
Again, this goes back to making your message appear easy to read. Wide columns of text tend to leave the reader’s eyes feeling tired. And tired eyes stop reading. A narrow column of text looks more inviting, and so, the reader finds it easier to agree to reading at least the first few lines.
And if you’ve followed the earlier suggestions in this book you only need the first few lines to turn her initial attention into interest and persuade her to read more of your article.
21. She likes it when your article contains one clearly expressed, useful idea … instead of multiple interconnected ideas.
A good rule of thumb for staying on track is to make sure each paragraph relates to the main topic and even the title of the article you are writing.