“Scrolling is so online, so like 50 minutes ago.”
— Mario Garcia, CEO of Garcia Media, on Poynter’s EyeTrack: Tablet findings

Pad prowess

How to write and design for tablets

78 SECONDS AND OUT People reading news on an iPad spent about 78 seconds on stories they didn't finish. To overcome this bailout point, give readers a reason to stay.

78 SECONDS AND OUT People reading news on an iPad spent about 78 seconds on stories they didn’t finish. To overcome this bailout point, give readers a reason to stay.

Call it the bailout point.

People reading news on an iPad spent an average of 78.3 seconds on stories that they didn’t finish. That’s according to EyeTrack: Tablet, The Poynter Institute’s latest eyetracking study.

So what’s a writer to do?

Place a “gold coin” at the bailout point to keep people reading, Poynter researchers suggest. That could be a provocative question, a juicy detail, a plot twist or another element to regain interest.

If people read at an average of 200 words per minute, that means you’d put a gold coin about 250 words in.

Other bailout points to be aware of:

  • People spent an average of 98.3 seconds on the first story they read on an iPad.
  • People watch videos for an average of 1:15 to 1:30.

Bottom line: Overcome the bailout point.
Give readers a reason to stay.

Here are eight other findings from Eyetrack: Tablet.

1. Design for reading and scanning.

Half of online “readers” actually scan. Same’s true of iPad “readers.” Of the total audience in the EyeTrack: Tablet study:

  • 52% scanned
  • 48% read methodically

But break out older and younger readers, and those numbers change. The Poynter Institute looked at two different demographics for this study.

Digital natives. These 18- to 28-year-olds are among the first adults who don’t have strong memories of life before digital media. Of this group:

  • 75% scanned
  • 25% read methodically

PrintNets. These 45- to 55-year-olds have one foot in the print world, the other in the “Net” world. Of this group:

  • 24% scanned
  • 76% read methodically

Now, don’t decide that young people and scanners have attention deficit disorder: These folks spent as much time as older people and methodical readers absorbing information — they just did it differently.

“It’s the style, not the degree, of consumption,” says David Stanton, managing developer at Smart Media Creative, who worked on the study.

Mario Garcia goes further.

“There’s a scanner inside every methodical reader,” says the CEO of Garcia Media and founder of the Graphics & Design program at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

The reverse is also true: Scanners often read methodically once they find what they’re looking for.

2. Alert! Beware of distractions.

Not 99%, but 100% of study participants responded to alerts instantly, says Sara Quinn, Poynter Visual Journalism faculty member who directed EyeTrack: Tablet.

Just a reminder that all tablet readers are distracted readers.

3. Marry images and headlines for navigation.

EyeTrack: Tablet tested three navigational templates. In an exit interview, participants ranked them:

1. Carousel50% of study participants preferred this template.

Like NPR and Pulse, the carousel template offers an appetizing buffet of photos and headlines.

Downside: Because there’s no editorial hierarchy, this approach may be overwhelming.

FAIR AND SQUARE Most participants preferred this carousel navigational design.

FAIR AND SQUARE Most participants preferred this carousel navigational design.

2. Traditional35% of study participants preferred this template.

Like The Boston Globe and The New York Times, it offers a dominant photograph and lead headline, plus headlines for each of the other stories in the publication. Readers can find stories under four headings: news, sports, business and life.

Downside: Readers can’t see all the stories on offer.

HIT THE HEADLINES This traditional tablet newspaper design ranked second among study participants.

HIT THE HEADLINES This traditional tablet newspaper design ranked second among study participants.

3. Tile15% of study participants preferred this template. Like Flipboard, this template offers four images that highlighted one story from each category, but no headlines.

Downside: The lack of headlines made the stories in this template “mystery meat,” said one study participant.

Researchers felt that this design would have performed better — maybe best — if there had been headlines. “Marrying headlines to photos,” Garcia says, “that’s a glorious union.”

READ ALL ABOUT IT This tile template was the least preferred, probably because the lack of headlines made these stories "mystery meat."

READ ALL ABOUT IT This tile template was the least preferred, probably because the lack of headlines made these stories “mystery meat.”

They shop; they buy. Study participants looked at 18 elements, on average, in the navigation before choosing the first story to read.

The more elements they reviewed before choosing, the further they read into the story. In fact, people who didn’t finish reading their first story looked at only nine items before choosing.

4. Design for swipers, not scrollers.

The current tablet design convention is to swipe to switch stories, scroll to read them. But participants in this study showed an overwhelmingly strong preference for swiping, at least in photo slide shows.

Participants handed an iPad in:

  • Landscape orientation swiped 93% of the time
  • Portrait orientation swiped 82% of the time

Garcia sees a movement toward design for swiping not only between but also within stories.

“Scrolling is so online,” he says, “so like 50 minutes ago.”

6. Think landscape, not portrait.

In exit interviews, participants expressed a strong preference for holding a tablet in horizontal, or landscape, orientation.

  • 79% preferred landscape orientation
  • 30% preferred portrait orientation


Because that’s the best way to watch videos, they said.

Best practice remains offering readers the chance to choose. But if you don’t have the resources to create apps in both modes, think landscape, not portrait, orientation.

6. Don’t get rid of ‘the chrome.’

Designers prefer to get rid of “the chrome,” the native navigation in browsers. Readers, on the other hand, prefer to use their browser buttons instead of navigational tools build into the content frame.

  • 65% used “native controls” — the browser’s back button instead of the tools built into the content frame.

“This speaks to the importance of the familiarity of tools,” Quinn writes. “People will default to what they know if it’s available.”

7. Focus on photos and faces.

As with earlier eyetracking studies, people tended to enter a screen through a dominant element, generally a photograph. Faces in photographs and videos attracted a lot of attention.

8. Engage the finger.

Tablet design adds touch to the six key elements of electronic communication. Most people keep nearly constant contact with the screen.

  • 61% of participants were intimate. That is, they kept their finger on the screen constantly — touching, tapping, pinching and swiping to adjust their view.
  • 39% were detached. They carefully arranged a screenful of text before sitting back to read.

“Avoid the ‘frustrated finger’ when designing for tablets,” Garcia says. “Engage the finger as well as the brain and eyes.”

About the study

Using eyetracking gear, observation and exit interviews, Poynter watched 36 people interact for 90 seconds with real news stories on an iPad.

Participants looked at one of three prototypes for the project. Each prototype featured the same 20 stories but had different designs for the front page or entryway. Each story included a text narrative, plus a still photo, graphic, photo gallery, video or pop-up.

Reach readers online

Want to master the art of writing for the Web?


Sources: Sara Dickenson Quinn, David Stanton, Jeremy Gilbert and Mario Garcia; “EyeTrack: Tablet Research,” Poynter Institute conference session at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, Oct. 18, 2012

Poynter Unveils Tablet Research Findings: Eyetracking Shows Direct Connection Between Storytelling Form and Engagement,” The Poynter Institute, Nov. 8, 2012

Sara Dickenson Quinn, “New Poynter Eyetrack research reveals how people read news on tablets,” Poynter.org, Oct. 17, 2012

Sara Dickenson Quinn, “Poynter ‘EyeTrack: Tablet’ research shows horizontal swiping instinct for photo galleries,” Poynter.org, May 4, 2012

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“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.”
— Iris Murdoch, British author, in The Bell

Pay it forward

We’re wired to repay favors

When social scientist Randy Garner sent out a group of surveys, he attached either:

PAYBACK IS RICH The reciprocity principle means our audience members feel obligated to return favors we perform for them.

PAYBACK IS RICH The reciprocity principle means our audience members feel obligated to return favors we perform for them.

  • A handwritten sticky note, attached to a cover letter, asking people to complete the survey
  • A similar handwritten message on the cover letter itself
  • The cover letter alone with no handwritten request

The results:

  • Nearly three-quarters of people who received the survey with the sticky note filled out the survey and returned it.
  • Fewer than half of those who received the handwritten note on the cover letter completed the task.
  • A little more than one-third of those who received the cover letter alone complied.

When Garner added his initials and “Thank you!” to the handwritten note, the response rate shot up even higher, report Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini, the authors of Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive.

Made to stick

Call it the Reciprocity Rule: Our audience members feel obligated to return favors we perform for them — even when that favor is just a thank you note.

Reciprocity is one of 6 principles of persuasion outlined by Cialdini — the emperor of influence — in his seminal book Influence.

It’s the human condition to reciprocate.

“We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided for us,” Cialdini writes. “If a woman does us a favor, we should do her one in return. If a man sends us a birthday present, we should remember his birthday with a gift of our own. If a couple invites us to a party, we should be sure to invite them to one of ours.”

Reciprocity is the heart of content marketing: Give your audience members a lot of value (and position your organization as the expert in the field), and people are more likely to want to do business with you.

We also see reciprocity in social media: Your audience members are more likely to retweet you if you retweet them first, link to you if you’ve linked to them, like you if you deliver a lot of value.

Just say thanks.

In another study reported in Yes!, this one by Wharton’s Adam Grant and Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino, participants gave someone feedback on a cover letter. After they sent their comments in, participants received a request from the same author to review another cover letter.

  • One group received the request only.
  • The other group received the request with the words, “Thank you so much! I am really grateful.”

The result: The expression of gratitude more than doubled the response rate.

In a follow-up study, Grant and Gino found that when participants received a note of thanks and gratitude from the original cover letter writer, they were more likely to repeat the favor for a different writer.

Finally, Grant and Gino looked into how expressions of gratitude would affect employee motivation. They performed this study in a fundraising call center, because, they said, fundraising is often a thankless job filled with rejection.

For this study, the director of annual giving visited the call center and told the fundraisers, “I am very grateful for your hard work. We sincerely appreciate your contributions to the university.”

Employees who’d received the thanks made 50% more calls in the week following the director’s visit. Those who didn’t get visited and thanked made the same number of calls.

Power up reciprocity.

Make reciprocity more effective by making your gift or favor more:

  • Significant. When waiters gave diners two mints after their meals, tips increased from 3.3% to more than 14%. Why? “Two seemed significant, where one seemed pro forma,” write the authors of Yes!
  • Unexpected. The surprise of the director showing up to thank fundraisers probably contributed to the visit’s success. If she’s hanging out on a daily basis, it probably wouldn’t be as successful.
  • Personalized. Garner’s hand-written “Thank you!” with his initials increased response among those who received his survey to fill out. The reason: Personalization is more persuasive.

Move your audience to act

Want to deliver copy that gets read?

How can you use the Rule of Reciprocity
in your own communications and campaigns?


Sources: Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B. Cialdini, Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Free Press, 2008

A. M., Grant and F. Gino, “A little thanks goes a long way: Explaining why gratitude expressions motivate prosocial behavior,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98, 2010, pp. 946-955

Noah Goldstein, “How to Increase Your Business by Showing Your Appreciation,” Inside Influence Report, Oct. 12, 2010

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“If you’re going to kick authority in the teeth, you might as well use both feet.”
— Keith Richards, rock star

Authority rules

Experts are most trusted, says Edelman’s Trust Barometer

Trust saw some big changes in 2011:

  • Trust in credentialed experts (70%) and company technical specialists (64%) is on the rise. It’s the “Authority Rule” of persuasion.
  • Trust in “a person like myself” and regular employees has declined, possibly because of “over-friending.”
  • People need to hear messages three to five times to change behavior.
  • To stand out and build trust, communicators need to communicate across several spheres of media.

Or so says the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual study of global opinion leaders.

THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS Credentialed experts and company technical experts are now the most trusted sources of information.

THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS Credentialed experts and company technical experts are now the most trusted sources of information.

Trust me.

People are most likely to trust:

  • Credentialed experts — 70%, up 8% over 2011
  • Company technical specialists — 64%

They’re least likely to trust regular employees, who are down to 34% from 42% in 2006.

Bottom line: Identify your internal experts
and showcase their expertise in your marketing materials.

Breach of trust

“Over the last several years there’s been a decline in trust in ‘a person like myself,'” writes Steve Rubel, senior vice president and director of insights for Edelman Digital.

Some 47% said they trust this group, which is down from 68% in 2006.


“I believe the reason for this is that, as more of us join social networks, there’s been a devaluation in the entire concept of ‘friendship,'” Rubel writes. “A separate survey found that people don’t know 20 percent of their Facebook friends. Consider that ‘unfriend’ was Oxford’s word of the year for 2009.”

Bottom line: Don’t rely on individual employees
or “a person like me” to make your case.

Break through the clutter.

People need to hear things three to five times from three to five sources before it sinks in, Edelman’s data shows. In the most developed countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, that number is even higher — a staggering nine times or more.

TELL ME WHAT YOU TOLD ME People need to hear your message three to five times before it sinks in.

TELL ME WHAT YOU TOLD ME People need to hear your message three to five times before it sinks in.

Bottom line: Get the word out with multiple impressions.

Communicate across the cloverlead.

Repeat your message across multiple media formats — mainstream, new, owned and social — to get heard, the Edelman study suggests.

And don’t rely on advertising to get the job done: It’s the least trusted form of communication, according to the study.

BE EVERYWHERE To get through, communicate across multiple media formats.

BE EVERYWHERE To get through, communicate across multiple media formats.

Bottom line: Communicate across diverse media sources to be heard.

Think Like a Reader

The secret to writing to persuade is to position your messages in your audience’s best interests. (Most communicators position their messages in their organization’s best interests.)

In this session, you’ll learn a four-step process for making your message — and your organization — more relevant, valuable and rewarding to your audience. Specifically, you’ll learn:

  • The formula people use to determine which messages to pay attention to
  • Two rewards you can use to boost audience interest in your message
  • The No. 1 question to answer on your reader’s behalf
  • A two-minute perspective shift that focuses your message on the value to the audience
  • A simple translation process that pushes audience benefits to the top of your message
  • A three-letter word to use to make your message more relevant to your audience

Want to bring Think Like a Reader to your team? Contact Ann.


Source: Steve Rubel, “A Devaluation Of ‘Friends’ May Be Driving Trust In Thought Leaders,” Steve Rubel blog, 2011

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“A pint of example is worth a gallon of advice.”
— Anonymous

‘Don’t light your clothing on fire’

WCB-Alberta teaches safety through ‘The Hunger Games’

Some topics are hard to tackle. Brand guidelines, casual dress codes and safety, for instance, all come across as finger-wagging, nagging stories.

Unless communicators at the Workers Compensation Board of Alberta (WCB-Alberta) are doing the writing, that is. These folks write about safety daily and are great at finding creative ways to tackle this tough topic.

My favorite series to date: Safety and the movies. In this popular package, WCB-Alberta writers scour popular films for safety tips.

These excerpts are from “Safety and ‘The Hunger Games.'”

1) Dress with safety in mind.

rur_130200 (6)

I’m aware that Katniss and Gale live in a post-revolution world where the Capitol forbids them to hunt. However, neither of them ever wears any sort of bright or reflective clothing while hunting in the woods. I know, they don’t want to be seen because then they could get caught. Although it’s unlikely that anyone else would also be hunting in the woods (since it is punishable by death), they should still take precautions to ensure they are seen by potential nearby hunters. Safety first, guys.

2) Don’t light your clothing on fire.

rur_130200 (12)

Cinna had wanted Katniss and Peeta to make a memorable entrance at the Hunger Games tribute parade, but igniting one’s clothing is a recipe for catching fire (yes, it’s the title of the second book, but it’s meant to be a metaphor). Sometimes safety may not always look the most striking (like wearing your goggles or helmet), but safety precautions should always take precedence over fashion. Sorry, Cinna.

3) When training, safety protocols are a must.

rur_130200 (13)

The training centre was riddled with safety breaches. There was no net under the ladder when Peeta fell, none of the tributes wore helmets or other protective gear while training, knives and arrows were flying through the training centre instead of in a designated range, and when Peeta went to lift the heavy weight, no one was there to spot him or ensure he was using correct posture for lifting. You’d think the Capitol would ensure safety protocols to protect their Tributes. At least ’til the games start.

4) Don’t shoot at people.

rur_130200 (14)

Katniss shot her arrow in the direction of the game makers to get their attention. Although she is a supremely talented shooter, this is very dangerous. You should never aim weapons toward people (except in the arena, of course).

5) Cuts need to be cleaned.

rur_130200 (7)

When Peeta is injured in the arena, he camouflages himself in the mud. Although this chameleon strategy prevents him from being spotted by the other tributes, he has an open wound which needs to be cleaned. Submerging it in the dirt could only lead to a serious infection (even a blood infection).

Did you notice other safety breaches in “The Hunger Games?” We’d love to hear them!

Whether you’re on the job or training for your own non-hunger games, remember to stay safe and “may the odds be ever in your favour.”

Make Your Copy More Creative

Want to communicate better with creative copy?

How can you use popular movies, TV shows and books
to make your point more creatively?

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“I came away with ideas I’ll use every day. An old dog can learn new tricks.”
— Randy Kilburn, communications advisor, WCB-Alberta

Try the Creative Writing Workout

Practice writing like NPR, The Wall Street Journal or your favorite author

Joan Didion does it. So did John Gregory Dunne. And W. Somerset Maugham.

PLUG IT IN Polish your skills and find new inspiration for your work in Ann's newest workshop.

PLUG IT IN Polish your skills and find new inspiration for your work in Ann’s newest workshop.

They studied the world’s best writers, learned their techniques and adapted those techniques to their own work.

You can do it, too. In this new workshop, you’ll learn to turn your favorite writers into personal writing coaches by modeling the masters. We’ll cover a seven-step system for finding mentors among the world’s best writers, then you’ll practice modeling the masters yourself. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

  • Become a better reader: It’s the best way to become a better writer
  • Avoid ‘creative incest’: Get out of your own backyard
  • Read like a writer: Look for technique
  • Clip, dip and rip: Create a library of masterpieces to model
  • Find the DNA: Figure out the code
  • Take ‘modeling lessons’: Learn your favorite author’s tricks
  • Stuff your toolbox with techniques: Adapt — don’t adopt — others’ approaches


Would you like to bring this workshop to your team? Let’s talk!

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“Ann is truly the ‘Doctor of the written word.'”
— Chris Caldwell, senior vice president, Team Epic

Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.

COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

  • Bloomington, Ill., on March 26. Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for NAMA Heartland
  • Minneapolis on April 30. Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for IABC/Minnesota and Minnesota PRSA
  • New York on June 26. Now They SEE It, a one-hour breakout session for the 2013 IABC World Conference
  • New York on December 2. Write for the Web, a full-day workshop for PRSA.
  • Phoenix on May 15: Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for IABC Phoenix
  • Portland, Ore., on May 9. Make Your Copy More Creative, a workshop for the TOCA annual conference
  • San Francisco on June 6Catch Your Readers, a one-day workshop for PRSA.
  • Tacoma, Wash., on Aug. 14. Catch Your Readers, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound

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.

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Where in the world is Ann?

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:

  • Ann Arbor, Mich.: April 18
  • Austin, Texas: Nov. 7
  • Bloomington, Ill.: March 26
  • Chicago: March 5
  • Cleveland: May 7
  • Des Moines: March 21
  • Detroit: April 17
  • Houston: April 23-24
  • Kansas City, Mo.: March 6-9
  • Memphis: April 3
  • Minneapolis: April 30
  • New York: June 26, Nov. 2
  • Phoenix: May 15
  • Portland, Ore.: May 9
  • Salt Lake City: May 23-27
  • San Francisco: June 6
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 14

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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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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