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June 19, 2007

Writing for readers who scan

A couple of timely reminders to structure and organise our written material for readers who are scanning.   (To scan in this context = examine hastily, make a wide sweeping search.) 

The key is to think about visual impact as well as the words themselves.

Muhammad Saleem guest writing at Copyblogger suggests using a diagonal layout:

Readers will often read content diagonally to determine its usefulness before giving it a proper read. And in order to pass this direct filter test, you need to write for “diagonal” readers who scan your content from headline to close in a zig zag pattern.

Kenneth Davis at Manage Your Writing boils the theory of scannable layout down to two key points which are easy to remember and apply:

  • Use headings and bullet points
  • Put the most important material at the top

These principles apply to writing for the net, where people have access to a vast store-house of information and scan material very quickly to find what they're looking for.  But the same factors apply in business writing where readers are often overwhelmed with paper and want to find what they need quickly and easily.

It's another way of helping your readers access your material - and enjoy the experience.

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