“It’s the height of arrogance to assume that all of your customers are extraordinarily interested in everything you write — more likely, they’ll read a few pages and scan the rest.”
Jakob Nielsen, ‘the king of usability’
What does Clay Schoenfeld’s rule look like today?
Back in the mid-20th century, academician and communication theorist Clay Schoenfeld recommended the 30-3-30 rule. That is, you should present your message as if one-third of your audience will give you:
- 30 minutes. These folks are readers, and don’t we wish there were more of them!
- 3 minutes. They’re not reading the text. Instead, they’re flipping, skimming and scanning for key ideas. To reach them, you need to lift your ideas off the screen with display copy.
- 30 seconds. With a 30-second attention span, these folks are lookers. They’ll learn whatever they can through an image and a bold headline.
So what does Schoenfeld’s rule look like today? That depends on whom you ask. You may want to follow one of these three rules:
- 10/30/2 rule. According to a study by Microsoft Research, Web visitors:
- Decide whether to stay on a page within 10 seconds
- Are likely to stay longer if they make it over the 30-second hump
- At that point, may stay as long as 2 minutes or more
- 10/21/2 rule. According to an analysis of 50,000 page views by a highly educated European audience:
- Most Web visitors stay for 10 seconds or less.
- The average amount of time Americans linger on a Web page is 21 seconds.
- About 10% of Web views extend beyond 2 minutes.
- 3/10/more rule. According to a 2006 study by University of Hamburg researchers:
- People spend two to three seconds on 25% of the Web pages they visit.
- If a Web page passes that 3-second test, Web visitors spend about 10 seconds scanning the page.
- Pass the 10-second test, and they may stick around for more.
Write for three audience groups.
The solution? Present each message for:
- Lookers, who may give you 10 seconds. Get these folks’ attention with a sharp headline and large image.
- Skimmers, who may give you 30 seconds. Reach them through display copy: headlines, decks, subheads, links and bold-faced lead-ins, for instance. Pass the skim test.
- Readers, who may give you 2 minutes. These folks may read the paragraphs.
Move readers up the attention ladder.
The good news is, you may be able to move these folks up the ladder of attention. If the 10-second view is interesting enough, you might turn a looker into a skimmer. If the display copy delivers real value, you might turn a skimmer into a reader.
But even if you don’t move visitors up the attention ladder, you need to reach each group where they are. You need to write for all of your readers.
Lift Your Ideas Off the Screen
Sixty percent of your audience members aren’t reading your copy, according to estimates by two professors at the University of Missouri. So how can you craft online messages that reach non-readers?
Find out at my two-day Web Writing Master Class with Shel Holtz in Santa Fe. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to use your online display copy — headlines, links and subheads, for instance — to pull readers into your copy, make your piece more inviting and even communicate to flippers and skimmers. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Reach “readers” who spend only three minutes — or even just 30 seconds — with your piece
- Avoid dropping the piece of display copy that 95 percent of people read — but that many communicators forget
- Pass the Palm Test to communicate to folks who will not read your paragraphs
- Make your copy 47 percent more usable by adding a few easy elements
- Add one simple element to increase reading for those whose attention is beginning to wane
Plus, now you can save up to $300 with our early bird discount. But please act now. Discount expires on Dec. 15.
“I learned more in this two-day class than I did in my two-year master’s program.”
Rochelle Juette, senior communication specialist for Washington Closure Hanford
Polish your Web writing with Shel Holtz and me in Santa Fe
Would you like to learn to make your Web pages, blog posts and social media messages measurably easier to read and understand? Build buzz with digital storytelling? Help people find your content?
If so, please join Shel Holtz and me for a two-day Web-writing Master Class on Feb. 11-12 in Santa Fe. And if you register quickly, you can still save $300 with our early bird discounts, which end on Dec. 15.
Fill your toolbox with tricks.
In two days, you’ll have time to cram your writer’s tool bag with tricks — hard-to-find but easy-to-implement techniques that will help you:
- Fill In the Blanks to Content Marketing: Write tipsheets, case studies and survey stories better, easier and faster with our formulas and templates
- Get the Picture With Social Visual Communication: Reach audience members instantly through images, infographics and Instagram
- Build Buzz Through Digital Storytelling: Engage followers and inspire them to share your stories
- Write For the Small Screen: Prepare your messages for mobility
- Help Readers Find You: Get discovered, read and shared
- Cut Through the Clutter Online: Make social messages easier to read and understand
- Lift Your Ideas Off the Screen: Communicate to skimmers with online display copy
Plus: Learn social secrets from Shel Holtz.
Shel Holtz has been helping communicators reach readers online since Al Gore invented the Internet. In his sessions, you’ll learn which social channels are emerging, which to ignore and what free apps you can use today to reach your customers and clients online.Shel is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology. There, he helps organizations communicate effectively online. Shel is an IABC Fellow, a Founding Research Fellow of the Society for New Communication Research and a Platinum Fellow of the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media.
He has written six books on communication and co-hosts the first and longest-running communication podcast, “For Immediate Release.” He consults with the International Monetary Fund, Robert Half International and Intuit, among other organizations.
I always leave Shel’s workshops with dozens of tips and tools I can use instantly to get the word out on the Web. Now you can too, in this workshop.
Meet me in Santa Fe.
Each year, thousands of writers, artists and other creative folks visit Santa Fe for inspiration and ideas. Named one of just a few “Creative Cities” in the world by UNESCO, Santa Fe is home to Georgia O’Keefe, native craftsmen, world-class culinary artists — and our spring social media-writing workshop.
Why not make a long weekend of it? With rooms at the La Fonda on the Plaza — Santa Fe’s oldest, best known hotel — going for just $119 a night, you might as well stay a whole week!
Bring your Valentine. I’m bringing mine. For years, my husband and I have visited Santa Fe in February to celebrate Valentine’s Day and my birthday (Feb. 13, if you were wondering, and it just happens to be my chocolate birthday. Again. Every year. And yes, there will be cupcakes.)
I, for one, will be staying long after the workshop ends to get a soak and massage at Ten Thousand Waves, dine at Geronimo and Coyote Cafe, shop for turquoise at Governor’s Palace, ogle the collections at the Museum of International Folk Art and breathe in the fresh Sangre de Cristo Mountain air.
Maybe we’ll run into each other!
Save up to $300 until Dec. 15.
I have no doubt that this Master Class will be the best money you invest this year on your social media writing. But you can save money, boost the return on your investment — and get a cheap Valentine’s Day weekend in Santa Fe — with our early bird specials and other discounts.
“My purpose is to make what I write entertaining enough to compete with beer.”
New York Times spider story shows and tells
The best stories ride up and down the rollercoaster of abstraction, showing for attention, then telling for meaning, then repeating the process again and again.
This New York Times piece does exactly that, adding color to a complex scientific piece with:
- Narrative line
Unexpected Complexity in a Spider’s Tiny Brain
Here is something to keep arachnophobes up at night.
The inside of a spider is under pressure, like the air in a balloon, because spiders move by pushing fluid through valves. They are hydraulic.
This works well for the spiders, but less so for those who want to study what goes on in the brain of a jumping spider, an aristocrat of arachnids that, according to Ronald R. Hoy, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University, is one of the smartest of all invertebrates.
If you insert an electrode into the spider’s brain, what’s inside might squirt out, and while that is not the kind of thing that most people want to think about, it is something that the researchers at Cornell had to consider.
Dr. Hoy and his colleagues wanted to study jumping spiders because they are very different from most of their kind. They do not wait in a sticky web for lunch to fall into a trap.
They search out prey, stalk it and pounce. “They’ve essentially become cats,” Dr. Hoy said.
And they do all this with a brain the size of a poppy seed and a visual system that is completely different from that of a mammal: two big eyes dedicated to high-resolution vision and six smaller eyes that pick up motion.
Dr. Hoy gathered four graduate students in various disciplines to solve the problem of recording activity in a jumping spider’s brain when it spots something interesting — a feat nobody had accomplished before.
In the end, they not only managed to record from the brain, but discovered that one neuron seemed to be integrating the information from the spider’s two independent sets of eyes, a computation that might be expected to involve a network of brain cells.
Gil Menda, the first author of the paper that was published online in Current Biology last month, collaborated with Paul S. Shamble, Eyal I. Nitzany, James R. Golden and Dr. Hoy, all co-authors, in designing and carrying out the experiment.
The team used a 3-D printer to make a solid frame to hold the spider, then threaded an ultrathin metal wire into the tiny brain. The apparatus and technique allowed them to make a hole small enough to heal quickly, keeping the brain intact and inside the spider.
Then they showed the spider images of prey and other spiders that attracted its interest. They used computer analysis to sort out the electrical activity in the brain picked up by the wire.
Dr. Hoy said the research opened new avenues of study into the brains of spiders and suggested an efficiency of brain computation that would no doubt interest roboticists and artificial intelligence specialists. But more immediately, he said, working with the four young scientists on an interdisciplinary project was enormous fun.
“These are four amazing people.” he said.
“They could have done it without me,” he joked, “but somebody has to sign the checks.”
Cut Through the Clutter.
Plus, the article’s short words (4.6 characters on average!) and paragraphs make this complex scientific story an easy — as well as a breezy — read.
How does your story compare? Are you telling complicated stories in boring ways? Or are you finding ways to bring even your most complex stories to life?
Make Your Message More Creative
Would you like to learn to add color to even the most complex or technical stories? Master the Art of the Storyteller? Become a wizard of wordplay?
If so, please join me in my two-day, hands-on Master Class, Make Your Message More Creative. In this creative writing workshop, you’ll learn how to:
- Craft Creative Leads & Kickers: Engage readers with the feature-style story structure.
- Make Messages Vivid: Paint pictures in your readers’ minds.
- Play With Your Words: Spice up your headlines, leads and sound bites with wordplay.
- Master the Art of the Storyteller: Tap “the single most powerful form of human communication.”
- Make It Meaningful With Metaphor: Clarify complex concepts with analogy.
- Edit, write, repeat: Bring your laptop and a story to work on, write and rewrite, get and give feedback, and leave with a totally rewritten piece.
Plus, now you can save up to $300 with our early bird discount. But please act now. Discount expires on Feb. 15.
“Break it down, so readers can read up.”
Elizabeth Bolen, manager, Global Ethics Communications, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
If it looks easier to read, more people will read it
One technique for making sure even a long story looks easy to read is to use Edmund Arnold’s dollar-bill test.
Arnold, a journalist and design consultant for more than 50 years, said that no chunk of copy should stretch longer than and wider than a dollar bill.
Break copy up.
To keep copy chunks short and easy to read, break up the copy with such display copy as
Passing the dollar-bill test has a side benefit: It gives your piece multiple points of entry — or lots of places where a scanner can dive into the text. Given reading patterns today, that’s a big deal.
The dollar-bill test in action
I think you would agree that this piece, from the Chicago Federal Reserve, does not pass the dollar-bill test. It looks off-putting.
And that’s fine. As long as you don’t want anyone to read your piece.
Test your online communications.
So pull out your wallet. Slap down a dollar bill. And do what you must to make your piece look easier to read.
Now here’s the bad news: The dollar-bill test is for print. Online, it’s the palm test.
Help your team write it right
- Do you ever wish you had a book you could hand to your writers (not to mention your approvers!) that outlines “How we write around here”?
- How would your life be different if everyone on your team was on the same page about what works in writing and what doesn’t?
- Wouldn’t it be nice if all of your pieces were based on proven-in-the-lab best practices for reaching readers — not on your diverse team members’ best instincts?
If so, let me develop writing guidelines for your group. To do so, I’ll review your team’s writing samples and brand voice guidelines. Then I’ll provide guidelines, based on best practices, to help your team:
- Develop story angles that people want to read, not just stories that we want them to read
- Write leads that draw readers in instead of turning them off
- Make every piece they write measurably easier to read and understand
- Get the word out with headlines, decks, links and other display copy that reach flippers, skimmers and other nonreaders.
Finally, I’ll illustrate those guidelines with before-and-after examples from your own writing samples. You’ll walk away with a customized book of guidelines you can share with all of your contributors and reviewers.
Interested in taking the guesswork out of writing? Contact me personally to get started on writing guidelines for your team.
“The more you say, the less people remember.”
Fortune in a cookie opened by a writer
Americans average 19 minutes a day reading
The average American reads for pleasure less than 20 minutes a day, according to a new study from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
At that rate, it would take most readers nearly a month to finish Divergent.
How people spend their time
Depending on where they live, Americans spend their time:
- Engaging in leisure activities: 4 hours, 27 minutes a day (Utah) to 6 hours, 8 minutes a day (West Virginia)
- Watching TV: 2 hours, 3 minutes a day (West Virginia) to 3 hours, 38 minutes a day (Utah)
- Using a computer for games or leisure: 19 minutes to 31 minutes a day on weekdays and 22 minutes to 37 minutes on weekends
- Reading: 13 minutes a day (most Southern states) to 29 minutes a day (North Dakota)
Americans spend 58 minutes a day on their smartphones, according to a study by Experian. But only half a percentage of people read on their smartphones daily.
Kids spend less time reading
On weekends and holidays, according to the study:
- Teenagers spend just 4 minutes a day reading for pleasure.
- 25- to 34-year-olds read for fun just 8 minutes a day.
- Americans over 75 spend more than an hour a day reading for fun.
Out of time
Given these numbers, how much time are your audience members spending on your messages? (Find out how much time it takes people to read your piece.)
Sources: Matt Connolly, “You’ll Be Shocked At How Much Time Young People Spend Reading Each Day,” News.Mic, June 20, 2014
Christopher Ingraham, “10 maps that show how much time Americans spend grooming, eating, thinking and praying,” The Washington Post, June 20, 2014
“American Time Use Survey Summary,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 18, 2014
Heather Kelly, “People use smartphones nearly an hour a day, study says,” CNN, May 29, 2013
“Youths Spend 7+ Hours/Day Consuming Media,” CBS News, Jan. 20, 2010
Next steps: Cut Through the Clutter
Want to make every piece you write easier to read and understand?
- Learn more: Read more tight writing tips.
- Get it off your desk: Invite Ann’s team to handle a tight writing or editing project.
- Polish staff skills: Bring Ann to your organization for a Cut Through the Clutter workshop.
- Boost your own abilities: Work with Ann to cut the clutter in your own copy in one-on-one writing coaching. Or find out about Ann’s next Cut Through the Clutter webinar.
- Master tight writing: Buy Ann’s Cut Through the Clutter manual.
- Get more writing tips: Subscribe to our e-zine for free writing tips every month.
- Join the club: Get the whole story in the latest issue of Rev Up Readership. And find dozens of Cut Through the Clutter tips on RevUpReadership.com.
“Excellent. I have so many tools to take back. This will not only help my writing, but will also help build credibility within my organization.”
Jen DiBenedetto, specialist, Communications, Great American Insurance Group
Polish your skills at one of these events
Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.
But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:
- Chicago on April 21 and 22: Make Your Copy More Creative, a two-day Master Class. Master the art of storytelling, metaphor, wordplay & more.
- New York City on Dec. 8: Catch Your Readers, a one-day workshop for PRSA
- Santa Fe on Feb. 11 and 12: Writing for the Web with Shel Holtz, a two-day Master Class
- Tacoma on Aug. 19: Create Content Marketing Pieces That Almost Write Themselves, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
- Your own home or office on Dec. 4 and Dec. 11: Catch Your Readers, a four-session course over Webex for IABC.
- Your own home or office on Jan. 29: Make Your Copy More Creative, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.
Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.
Want to polish your skills? Keep up with Ann’s latest two-day Master Classes.
Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program
Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.
Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:
- Bentonville, Arkansas: Feb. 24
- Chicago: April 21-22
- New York City: Dec. 8
- Philadelphia: Dec. 18
- San Francisco: Dec. 2
- Santa Fe: Feb. 11-12
- Tacoma: Aug. 19
Save even more: Ask about my communication-association discounts and second-day fee reductions.
Contact me to discuss piggybacking.
Want to polish your skills? Keep up with Ann’s latest two-day Master Classes.
The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:
- Presenting writing workshops for John Deere Company and Banfield Pet Hospital
- Developing writing guidelines and story templates for Baylor Scott & White Health
- Coaching writers at the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association
Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.
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