Here at Fredrickson, we use the social media tool Yammer to keep each other in the loop on our individual goings-on and accomplishments. We also sometimes use it to give each other a little break in the day where we can laugh. The latter happened last week when Rebecca Kuhlman, our Director of Visual Design, posted a link to an article on TheOnion.com titled Nation Shudders at Large Block of Uninterrupted Text.
“Why won’t it just tell me what it’s about?” One reader asks. “There are no bullet points, no highlighted parts. I’ve looked everywhere – there’s nothing here but words.” I find it funny that an article is condemned for being “nothing but words.”
Another reader says, “I’ve never seen anything like it…what does it want from us?”
As most of you probably know, The Onion is known for its sarcasm, drama, and ironic humor. However, in this case, the exaggerated reactions described in response to the (fictional?) poorly-written web article are funny because they’re essentially true. This article drives home several important points about writing for today’s audience.
The thing that anyone writing for any online medium wants from readers is attention. And because we all live life at warp-speed, that attention is measured in seconds or milliseconds. We don’t know what to do when we encounter large blocks of text, other than ignore them or avoid them.
Because of this ultra-short attention span, when we are making a point using electronic media of any kind, we must make it concisely. It sometimes might be emphasized with a photo or a different font; if there isn’t something for readers to grab onto, they move on.
And as they move on, they may also make a mental note not to go back to that same place when they need quick, reliable information. Their trust and your credibility can be shot with just one less-than-perfect experience. So the question is: why risk that kind of reaction to your website, intranet site, or email message?
The principles are pretty simple, yet take some special skills and thought to execute. As Jakob Nielsen wrote in his bi-weekly column called Alertbox 13 years ago (yes, it’s been that long!), people don’t read on the web. They scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. So, we as web writers must remember to:
That said, I think I’ve made my point.