Do You Write For Everyone?
Some people like it short and sweet, others like the winding road of good writing.
Solution: Write enough information to please everyone, and utilize headings and an opening summary to please your most-hurried readers and make it simple to consume your information quickly.
When it comes to delivering information, written or otherwise, there’s a fine line between too much and too little. Few people master the art and like many others I struggle with it myself. I tend to be too wordy when writing and too short when verbally explaining things, and I’ve never figured out why. That’s not a lead-in, I really haven’t.
As Sheriff I would have lots of citizens coming to me with a problem, deputies wanting to discuss a report or wanting to update me on something, and being pulled from every direction (phones ringing, deadlines, committees, County Commissioners, etc…) I’d tell them to just give me the summary version. I couldn’t possibly process everything effectively unless it was condensed; otherwise I’d have to neglect one thing for the other.
The Secret Recipe – How Do You Like It?
What does this have to do with you and I? Everything. I’ve come to realize that in general there are two types of people when it comes to processing information, and you don’t want to alienate or lose either as a reader. Some people want lots of details and love to read (and have the time and processing ability), while others only want the summary version (maybe they have a limited attention span or very little time). The point… think about what’s being said AND how it’s being received. Too often we’re only thinking about what we want to say without thinking about the needs of the reader. They “want” your information or they wouldn’t be on your page.
Write for everyone using good headings that stand out.
I’ve already admitted that this is a weakness of mine, even if I recognize the importance of it. I have to work at being more clear and concise by using an outline… I’ve always hated outlines and despite expert advice to the contrary I’ve seldom used them. But it does, truly, help create a more crafted article that is likely a better read. We’ve all been to sites where it became painful to read anymore, and then there are those geniuses who have some sort of natural-born ability to lay it out perfectly.
Take Pat Flynn over at SmartPassiveIncome.com for example. I’ve loved reading his blog because he has a way with words that solves the problem I’m talking about here. Whether he does it knowingly or is just blessed I can’t say, but take his post on the state of backlinks for example. It’s an older post so keep that in mind when dissecting the relevance now. The point is how well he lays out the post. He states the problem or question, then uses great headlines to make it easy for someone to skim through it and get the meat of his message.
If you’re making points then highlight them with bullet points.
Highlighting important nuggets with bullet points or call-outs further aids your rabid readers. But to further add to the importance of bullets, they help everyone else remember the important stuff, too.
When people land on a story, they very rarely make it all the way down the page. A lot of people don’t even make it halfway. Even more dispiriting is the relationship between scrolling and sharing. Schwartz’s data suggest that lots of people are tweeting out links to articles they haven’t fully read. If you see someone recommending a story online, you shouldn’t assume that he has read the thing he’s sharing. – Slate.com
That quote is from a great article by Farhad Manjoo at Slate that starts out like this: “I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone.” This is another great tactic… no one wants to be a quitter. 🙂
Feed the important stuff, make it easy to consume.
- Answer the question or problem in the opening summary.
- Treat highlights like breadcrumbs so “scrollers” have a reason to stop and engage.
- Compelling images can extend a waning attention span.
- Obvious questions like “How do you like it” give a subconscious pause that might keep their interest longer.
- Personal connections tend to get more engagement. Talk about yourself and relate to them. How often do people walk away while you’re talking to “them”?
In the end it comes down to doing our best to connect with our readers. We may fall short but I’m betting they’ll notice the effort. Have you made a strategic effort (SEO aside) to write on purpose in order to better connect with your readers? I’d love to hear your tips and techniques to write better. For me, my goal is to write better today than I did yesterday.