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Just yesterday I read a fascinating article. The content was fascinating. It took me a lifetime to get through it though, because it was so poorly written.
I read a lot. I’m currently on a reading challenge: 100 books for 2013. Besides the challenge reading, I read lots and lots of articles, and blog posts. I’m constantly on the hunt for great stuff to share on Twitter and Facebook.
The reality is that you’ve got to get through A LOT of material to find great pieces.
It goes without saying that if you are going to read a lot of material, you should probably have a system. I do.
When it comes to reading online content I use three tools: scanning, skimming and fast reading.
I first scan, to get an idea of what the content piece is about. Scanning tells me whether or not I should go deeper. If I like what I see, I then skim. Skimming means going a bit deeper with the content. At this stage, I can determine whether or not the piece is worth sharing. If it is, I simply do so and move onto the next piece of content.
The third tool, fast reading, is reserved for content that is interesting. Not just something that I think is share-worthy, but something I’d really like to know.
The tools allow me to move quickly through lots of content. And here’s the thing… if your content doesn’t work when I put my tools to use, I will simply and quickly, click away.
I’m not alone.
Above all else, provide good content that is applicable and useable.
That said, let’s get to the big four ways you can keep your readers reading!
1. The Magic of the Subheading
Ah yes, the subheading. These can be hard even for me. You want to be a little clever, and a lot informative. The idea with a good subheading is to get the reader to read it and become curious.
Subheadings get read during the first phase, scanning. If a subheading is interesting enough, it will stop me. At that point, I head back up to the top of the article and start skimming. Use subheadings to attract your reader’s attention; subheadings can be a powerful tool.
2. The Power of Bold
Research has shown that the brain likes interesting, not sameness. When we find a page of text in front of us with line after line of words, we have a tendency to tune out. If, however, you throw something in a little unexpected, like a bolded word or phrase, the brain loves it. The brain will say, “Hey, you, yeah you, stop I wanna see why that word is in bold!”
Scanners and skimmers love bolded text. When used correctly, it allows those of us who use scanning, to quickly see the important points in the article. The bolded text can be an interesting or intriguing word or phrase. The more the chosen text incites curiosity the better. It will take a scanner right to the next level: skimming.
3. Italics Not So Good
Italic, on the other hand, doesn’t do too much. It’s actually hard to read, unless it is bolded as well. While scanning, italic can be easily missed – stick with bold. While skimming, if you’ve been able to keep your reader reading, italic will likely get missed. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don’t.
My preference is to see an italicized word also bolded. If you want to keep me reading, an italicized word that is also bolded, will get my attention.
4. Keep it Simple
This is a big one; block after block after block after block of text. The wall of text doom! It is impossible to scan, skim or read for that matter. It can be a very quick way to lose your reader. I, generally, click away instantly.
Your audience just doesn’t have the time to figure out whether or not they have the time to start in on a wall of text. Readers need clues. If we are faced with reading every single word, just to find out if we want the information, you’ll lose us. Fast.
If you’ve been following along, you’ve learned to enhance the reading experience with subheadings and bold. Now, you can take it one step further. Cut those paragraphs down. Online reading is different for readers than paper-based reading. We need smaller chunks of text in front of us.
Small paragraphs help readers read faster, and when interrupted, it’s much easier for readers to find where they left off. Imagine trying to find your place in a block of text on a computer screen. It makes my brain hurt just thinking about it. Don’t do it.
In the end, as difficult as it was to get through that fascinating article I mentioned, I did read it. It was slow going. Because I was interested in the outcome, I had to stick with it. Had I not been interested, I’d have given up after the first two paragraphs.
If you want to keep me reading, make it easy for me to do so. Good writing never feels like work when you’re reading it.
I’m no writing specialist, but I do know when something doesn’t work. And, that poor article was a mess. So, do yourself a favor, start with the big four, and you’ll keep your readers more engaged. After all, without readers, what’s the point of an online presence?