Be concise and be clear
You’ve heard this one a million times. Tight, concise, easy-to-read pieces are heaven for readers. Long, complex, convoluted ones are just confusing.
Very often, the longer you write, the less you hold a reader’s interest.
If you can’t say it simply in just a few words, then you’ve lost readers. Write short, write lean, and write clearly, so you don’t have to waste words explaining what you’ve just written.
Keep it short
Not your writing (although that’s a good idea), but your line length.
Interestingly, people actually read longer lines faster. But fast reading isn’t necessarily what you want them to be doing. You want readers to be absorbing what you wrote, understanding your message, and reading comfortably as well.
So go for short. Set your page layout so that it’s not full width, or if you need that full width, keep sentences short and use plenty of paragraph breaks.
100 characters per line is optimal for speed — but about 45 characters is best for reader comfort.
Stick to three
3 is a magic number.
It’s said that people can process 7 bits of information (more or less) at a time. But the number that’s most compelling is the one we like the best: 3.
So have 3 bullet points. 3 steps, 3 strategies. Use the number 3 as often as you can.
Not only will you capture better reader interest by doing so, but you’ll improve your readers’ ability to remember what you’ve written. We tend to chunk information into groups of three, and recall those triads more easily.
Watch your tone
It’s easy for writers to assume readers can pick up on our mood and tone from our writing.
After all, we certainly know our feelings, humor, intent, and state of mind at the time we write. But for readers, it’s clear as mud. They’re guessing at your tone — and they may guess wrong.
Here’s an example:
Was I exasperated and rolling my eyes? Smiling and gently teasing? Acidly sarcastic? Or maybe just eating toast and reaching for the bear-shaped bottle?
As a reader, you have no idea unless the words around that phrase cue you into my written tone.
Talk Food, Sex, and Danger
Go check it out. It’s good. Seriously good.
In this resource, Susan mentions that our brains always ask the following questions:
Can I eat it? Can I have sex with it? Will it kill me?
Nice for you, too, because if you want people to pay more attention to your writing, bring up those big three (there’s that number again). Use stories and examples that touch on aspects of food, sex, or danger.
Add descriptors or associative words. Pair it with a nice picture, if you’d like. It’ll glue them to the page.
Time and again, I see writers spooling out long, chunky paragraphs.
No, no, no.
Make it easy for people to read your work. The easier it is, the more they’ll get your point and enjoy reading — and that’s what you want.
Reading online is tiring (yes, even for you fresh-eyed Gen Ys out there). So you need to do everything you can to make it less of a strain.
- No more than three sentences to a paragraph, please, and keep those sentences short.
- Add bullet points and subheads to guide people along.
- Oh, and bump up that font size, would you? Tiny means squint, and that’s no good.
Stay on topic
I know how tough this one is — I commit the crime of wandering too often myself, and have to make sure I don’t stray too far from my main point.
If I add too many points to a piece of writing, readers get confused about the main point of my post. They’ll be confused about yours, too.
Building an outline helps. Decide on the main point of your piece and create three (!) sub-points that support it. Make sure each one ties back to the message you want to get across to readers, and make sure each sub-point is supportive and relevant.