Wouldn’t it be nice if readers dutifully read every scrap of our writing? Don’t kid yourself. They need information, and they need it fast. Your best bet? Create content that can be quickly scanned and that conveys your message unmistakably.
1: START WITH THE MOST IMPORTANT CONTENT
Assume your reader will never make it past your headline and deck. Put your main message in the head. Add context or critical details in the deck.
2: DIVIDE THE REST INTO MANAGEABLE CHUNKS
Nobody wants to wade through a wall of text. If a section of text is larger than the palm of your hand, break it up.*
3: GIVE EACH CHUNK A MEANINGFUL HEADING
Write headings that are clear, not coy. Use terms that help users quickly find the content they need.
4: KEEP PARAGRAPHS SHORT
No more than three to four sentences per paragraph, please. And remember: one-sentence paragraphs are not just legal, but powerful when used judiciously.
5: KEEP SENTENCES SHORT
Aim for an average sentence length of 14 words. Readers drop out in increasing numbers as sentences run longer.
6: USE EVERYDAY WORDS, NOT JARGON
Try help instead of facilitate. Use instead of utilize.
7: AVOID FLUFF AND FILLER
Replace due to the fact that with because. Don’t make a decision to, just decide. Don’t offer best-in-class holistic solutions. Just say what you do.
8: GO EASY WITH ACRONYMS
Limit acronyms and abbreviations lest you create alphabet soup. Think of meaningful words that could replace acronyms: the agency rather than the ODRSC.
9: PUT IMPORTANT POINTS IN A LIST
Don’t bury important points or steps in a paragraph. Make them impossible to miss in a list.
10: USE TEXT BOXES OR SIDEBARS TO HIGHLIGHT CRITICAL CONTENT
Summarize the critical takeaways of a piece in a sidebar or text box. Remember those folks who only read your headline and deck? They might also read the sidebar. Make that content count.
11: DON’T WRITE AT ALL — USE A GRAPHIC
Your brain can process an image far faster than it can process text. Look for places where you can convey a complex idea more easily with a graphic than you can a string of words.
12: USE COLOR
If you have control over the design of your piece, advocate for color. Research shows that color visuals increase willingness to read by 80%.**
* Ann Wylie, 10 ways to reach more readers. Accessed September 29, 2016.
** Green, Ronald E. The Persuasive Properties of Color. Marketing Communications, October 1989.