Writing, scanning and bananas

As a person who does a lot of writing for work, I have fantasies that the folks who read my work read every single word, hanging on each as if it were more important than the last. But the fact is that most people will miss the turn of a phrase or the pun-intended pun, banana especially if it is buried somewhere like here, in the middle of a much larger group of words. Why? Because as much as we would like, people don’t really read online–when it comes to online content, scanning is the name of the game.

Quick–what’s the first thing you read on this post?

I’m betting it’s the sentence right above this one. And I’ll bet, too, that you didn’t even notice the word ‘banana’ slipped awkwardly into the first paragraph, a chunk of text that introduces the notion that people don’t read blog posts word-for-word; they scan them quickly and then determine what pieces to read.

This recent blog post on Social Media Today reiterates some of granddaddy of usability Jakob Nielsen’s advice on writing for the web and making your text easier to scan. It’s a good reminder to all of us (myself included) who are trying to effectively communicate online.

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Ken Mac Garrigle

Good points.

Also, heard at a Gov blogging workshop recently that you should write for the web at a 7-8th grade level….

…perhaps this is considered an *insult* to an important (?) government author having to allegedly *dumb down* their web dissertation/ treatise? (-:

I read somewhere else that most government sites are at a 12th grade level (*formal* writing, yes – but too hard to read).

Amy Hooker

I’d heard that too about writing for a middle school grade level…

I think that web sites can have both kinds of writing, actually–both the ‘hard’ stuff and the ‘easy’ stuff–but I think that the more technical, formal writing needs to be something that a visitor has to kind of work to get to. If someone wants to read the dissertation, by all means we should let them! But we don’t necessarily want to paste the dissertation’s executive summary verbatim on the home page…

Mark Danielson

I saw the banana! Thank you – Nice article, great link. This web writing is hard.

From that site:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. – Mark Twain

Adriel Hampton

I did read the bold sentence first. I used to do newspaper design and headlines – same issues were always coming up. Visual design is just as important as the writing.

David Harrity

Nice article, maybe we can all join hands and get rid of “utilize” and “utilization” in government documents instead of simply “use”.