Why Your Audience Doesn’t Read What You Write And What You Can Do About It

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This post will take you about 2 minutes to read. Will you make it until the end?

Probably not.

In a text longer than 100 words, people tend to read only 20 % of it. This text is 298 words long, so you’ll probably just scan through it, looking for keywords and highlighted phrases.

When you write you want people to read every word of it. But that’s not the reality. People read less than you think.

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5 things you should know about how little people actually read

To reach as many people in your target group as possible and be able to improve your communication, there are some things you should know about how much of your article people are likely to read. Or rather, how little they actually read.

Hard facts*

  • Most people will only read the headline and the first lines of an article.
  • People tend to scan rather than read online.
  • People stop reading if the article contains words they do not understand.
  • Web users at most have the time to read little more than 20% of the words on a webpage during an average visit.
  • Most employees spend less than a minute to read the company newsletter or an article on the intranet.

5 things you can do to get your message through

Based on the knowledge of these facts, there are a few easy things you can do to improve your communication and increase the understanding and reading of your message.

  • Write clear and informative headlines which draw interest to the rest of the article.
  • Put the most important information first.
  • Use a clear and simple language that anyone can understand.
  • Keep it short.
  • Highlight keywords and phrases so they are easy to find when scanning the article.
* Source: Jacob Nielsen’s studies via www.nngroup.com
Photo credit: European Parliament via photopin cc

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About the author

Anna Rydne is an award winning and highly skilled communications specialist with +13 years of experience in the field of internal and external communication, PR and marketing. What distinguishes her from others in her field of expertise is that she treats communication as entertainment. It's simple to explain why: if it isn't funny or relevant enough, people switch channel. Anna has a special interest in personal branding and she believes the road to success is trying. Based in Stockholm, Sweden, she's determined to uncover the secrets of how successful people and companies communicate. She tweets about all things comms, social media and marketing @CoSkills and writes for SteamFeed.com once a month. She holds a bachelor's degree in psychology. Contact her at communicateskills@gmail.com.

12 Responses to Why Your Audience Doesn’t Read What You Write And What You Can Do About It

  1. Sue Horner says:

    Yes, against all odds I made it to the end! Thanks for breaking up the copy with bolding and bullet points, both excellent strategies for getting a message through. I admit that when I click through to a post and it just goes on and on and on, I will abandon reading because it takes too much effort.

  2. Akash says:

    Hi Anna,

    Wonderful article. And to the point!
    Some facts were the ones that have been observed first handedly. Other’s were, still, an eye opener.

    Hope to make better use of these tips.

    Cheers!

    – Akash
    authorSTREAM Team

  3. In a world where content is king, I find your post helpful. Thanks for the tips and for sharing this to us as well.

    • Anna Rydne says:

      Content is king, but also overwhelming sometimes. That’s why these facts are good to keep in mind when creating the killer content for your brand or website. Keep it short and keep it concise, and it’s more likely to cut through the media noise. Thanks for commenting, Napoleon!

  4. Jon says:

    Hi Anna, another great read thanks! I wonder if you could reference the actual report you draw these “attention span” stats from. I had a quick look on http://www.nngroup.com and gave up after a few frustrating minutes with no luck! This is a subject I’d like to do more research on, thx!

  5. Thanks Anna – good points here. Nielsen Norman Group’s a great place to get research-based evidence to back up your case.

    And I appreciate that you practice what you preach (e.g. keeping it short and highlighting key words). Some bloggers or even “industry experts” fail to do that!

    Some other things we can do to encourage people to read on are…

    1. Write from your audience’s viewpoint – make it about THEM! Here are a few concrete ways you can do that:
    (I blog about presenting, but the tips below apply to written comms too.)
    http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/answer-peoples-key-question-first-framework-part-1a/

    2. For 12+ specific examples of ways you can “keep it short”:
    (Please do comment on my post if you have other examples)
    http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2011/12/31/minimise-blur-firstframework-part-1m/#bb3

    3. Also, use relevant (and intriguing or insightful) images, as you have in your own post. People often do that in blog posts, intranet articles or newsletters, but it’s worth doing even in emails too. I find it challenging, but here’s an example where I did manage to do it:
    http://remotepossibilities.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/5-ways-to-be-a-top-presenter/#whats_in

    4. Use bullets, tables, charts etc to break up the copy and make it more scanable. Along those lines, a favourite tip of mine is to format juicy snippets from the text as callouts, and if you add a Tweet button to those, you increase engagement by making the audience more active.

    Anyway, thanks for such a succinct and useful post!

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