How To Help Your Reader Glide Through Your Writing
3 Simple yet underrated ways to keep your reader on your page.
When do you read?
I’d love to read on my desktop for an hour every day and read articles with my full attention — but this doesn’t often happen.
Instead, I often read on my phone in between looking up at my daughter playing tennis, while waiting for the bolognese sauce to infuse its beautiful flavors, or while sitting in the passenger seat on the way to a farmer’s market.
Why do you read?
When I browse through my Medium homepage to read, there are a few reasons I open an article:
- The headline solves a problem I think about all the time
- I like the writer and always love the tone and messages they share
- I’m curious about a topic and want to learn more about it
- I need a pick me up
- I’m browsing for writing ideas
I can’t wait to devour content I feel will make my life and my day that little bit better. I want to learn, be entertained, find better ways to do things. I want to feel like I’m understood and less alone.
Most of the time, the content itself is what will make it worth me opening.
But the way it’s presented determines whether I read the whole article — or stop after a few lines.
How do you read?
I want a smooth, easy read. Something easy to skim especially when I want to quickly get to the gist of what the writer is saying.
Why does knowing where, why, and how our readers consume content matter?
As much as we would love our reader’s full attention, busy lives mean they too, often read on the go. Their eyes glaze over if they face a wall of text or have to think too hard about what something means.
Our readers are a gift.
To treat them with the consideration and gratitude they deserve, let’s give them a smooth, easy, enjoyable experience when they read our writing.
Here are 3 ways to do this:
1. The next most important thing after your headline
Most writers realize how important a headline is. Our headlines need to urge our reader to give us a go. Our subheading nudges them a little more.
But what’s not spoken about as often is what happens afterwards.
We get complacent. Our first few lines are sloppy.
Yet one of the world’s greatest copywriters, Joseph Sugarman tells us why the first sentence matters:
“The purpose of the first sentence is to get you to read the second sentence”
You see, if your first sentence doesn’t capture their attention, they’ll tune out as quickly as my 6-year-old does when I tell her to get dressed in the morning.
The same goes for your second sentence, the third. And every line in your article.
The first sentence has the same purpose as our headline: to keep our reader enraptured. To lure them onto the next line.
How to write enticing first lines
Check out these 4 examples of enticing first lines and why they led me onto the second lines:
I was intrigued and curious to know more.
“ Every time I write and talk about personal finance, people ask me, “But how I do make more money?”” — Darius Foroux in Give Me 5 Minutes And I’ll Give You 5 Ways To Earn More
I can relate to this and it makes me curious to find out more.
“ One of the most famous and influential figures in the history of Western art, Vincent van Gogh, died having sold only one painting during his lifetime.” — George J. Ziogas in What To Do If You Are Feeling Unappreciated
I was surprised and curious about where this is going.
“ I don’t feel like writing this article right now.” — Itxy Lopez in To Be a Better Person, Figure Out Who You Don’t Want to Be
This was an unexpected start yet so relatable. It makes me feel like I’m not alone.
Craft your first sentences with care.
2. Make your writing easy to skim
Many of us are used to writing with paragraphs. It’s what we’re taught in school. Write the main idea in the first sentence. Back it up afterward with supporting points for that main idea.
You can easily end up with 10 lines in a single paragraph.
How long do 10 lines look on mobile? How long do 5 lines look?
If you present your readers with a wall of text as high as the Great Wall of China, they’ll look at it and run.
While you may read a book from front to back, it’s much easier to get distracted when reading online — web pages only have 10 seconds to grab our attention. Many times we get much less than that.
“People tend to minimize interaction cost and maximize the benefit they get from the work they do. Economizing on time means fewer fixations — looking at fewer words.” (Nielsen Norman Group)
It doesn’t mean you need to write monotonously. Format your writing so it’s easy to understand and glide through quickly.
How to fix hard-to-read writing:
3. Test on mobile
No matter how much effort has gone into writing a great article, it doesn’t mean a thing if it’s too hard for your reader to view.
It happens a lot. Many writers don’t bother to read their drafts on mobile.
As writers, we can’t ignore this — up to 70% of web traffic happens on mobile phones. And it’s expected this will increase to 80% in 2019.
We need to consider how readers read on mobile. They prefer short, simple content — and take longer to read complex writing on mobile.
If it’s too much effort to read they won’t bother. Even for content they’re interested in.
I check every Medium post on my mobile at least once — usually 2–3 times. And most times, I pick up mistakes I didn’t see on my computer. I shorten paragraphs and format as mentioned in the last section, Make your writing easy to skim.
Don’t ignore mobile:
- Read every draft in mobile
- Cut out unnecessary content
- Make it simple and easy to read
Summary: How to help your reader glide through your writing
The greatest gift we can give our readers is to help them flow easily through our writing. Three ways to do this include:
- Craft your first sentences with as much care as headlines
- Make your writing easy to skim
- Test on mobile
This is how we can show gratitude to our readers for giving us their precious attention.