As professional communicators we know there’s a small window of time to spark our readers’ interest and hope that they’ll continue reading. Communication theorist Clay Schoenfeld suggested the 30-second, 3-minute, 30-minute rule when assessing how long someone actually spends on text. In other words, there are lookers, skimmers and readers. While Schoenfeld’s theory was relevant in the mid-20th century, times have changed, literally. A recent Microsoft Research study predicted that online readers spend 10 seconds deciding if they want to stay on a page, 30 seconds if they make it past 10 seconds of glancing, and 2 minutes or more if they resist moving on after 30 seconds.
How can we make our message stick?
In this month’s PR Tactics writing guru Ann Wylie reveals the best ways to “reach today’s online readers,” despite their short attention spans. PR professionals often generate content for targeted audiences and reporters. While Wylie’s article is geared especially toward online readers, it is easily applicable to writing pitches and press releases.
She suggests paying close attention to the seven principles of her “Skim Test” for the best way to reach all readers:
- Main idea – Make this obvious in your headline and deck.
- Major points – These should be your subheads so readers get your message as they skim.
- Most provocative point – Use this as your “callout” to spark interest and get readers to want to continue.
- Visuals to clarify numbers – These are charts and graphs that make your writing visually appealing and easily understandable. Don’t forget to add headlines and captions.
- Series or lists – If you have content that can be listed, it makes text look less dense and more organized. Add lead-ins or subheads.
- Links – Not only should you add links to make your writing more interactive, you should place the links on words that describe what readers will find when they visit them. No more “click here.”
- Other important and compelling points – Add these in captions, keywords, etc. to maintain your readers’ attention throughout.
Once you think you’ve passed the Skim Test, ask someone else to glance at it to make sure your key points are clear as soon as your writing meets the eye.
Whether you’re blogging to the world or sending exclusive material to reporters, every PR professional wants their message to resonate. Be mindful of how today’s technology-driven world has changed the way people read and how long they spend on one thing. Captivate the modern reader and make them want to dive deeper into your message with Wylie’s tips. Good luck!