smart writers guide their readers’ skimming habits

how often do you read a full blog post?

If I’m honest with myself, I only read a full blog post about one out of ten times. I’ll start out faithfully taking in all the words, then I’ll get bored, or rushed, and I’ll skip a line, then two, then before I know it, I’ve skim-read the entire thing and am closing the browser window.

I’m not a real speed-reader

When I do that, I don’t always manage to take in the full message of the post or article. Don’t get me wrong, I read fast. I only know of one person who reads faster than me, and I think he cheats as he seems to be inhaling text rather than reading it. I’m dating him. True speed-readers glance down a text, their eyes taking in several lines at a time, absorbing the overall meaning, imbibing it, and coming away with a decent understanding of the topic. I actually read all the words, in sequence. Most of the time…

if you write to be read…

I write often, and I write a lot. I write for fun, in blog posts about interesting or helpful topics, in my journal to keep slow down life and think and, of course, for work. I write fountain-pen-on-paper, or electronically, mostly online. In the latter medium, I guide my readers through my text in a very blatant manner.

…structure is important…

They taught me to structure my writing, to separate ideas into paragraphs, to create an outline of my main points (A, 1, 2, 3; B, 1, 2, 3, …) and to support each with quotes, examples, evidence, etc… Rudimentary mechanisms of writing dissertations, which one is usually taught between the ages of 12 and 18.

…but guided skimming is best for web writing

Look at this post, it has headings. Reading each of the headings summarises the content of the paragraph below it. So much so, that you don’t truly need to read the paragraph at all. This is part of the guided technique I am referring to. Headings that tell a story on their own are very useful to ensure readers get the gist of a story without needing to read all pieces of it.

it’s like cheating, but not quite

It helps them safely skip to the part they care about. Another trick, which you may have noticed sneaking in, is to highlight parts of text by making them bold. Readers’ eyes will be drawn to that text, ensuring they pick up the parts you think most important.