A 60 Second Guide to Engaging Your Readers

We live in a time poor, information overloaded world.  That means your readers are information overloaded, time poor too.

That makes time (and energy, and attention) a big potential barrier to engaging your readers.

It also means you can use time to your advantage by showing your readers that you respect, and value, their time.

Here’s a rapid fire, 60 second guide to how you can do just that:

Write With Reading In Mind

  • make the time to make it short: the investment you make will save your readers time
  • use plain English, reducing barriers to understanding
  • help your readers to skim and scan your work, with paragraph breaks and headings
  • use lists and bullet points to help your readers grap your material quickly
  • edit for basic grammar mistakes that interupt the reading flow
  • stick to one font and colour to avoid visual distraction
  • edit your work for stumbling blocks - sections that are hard to read quickly
  • cut out excess words
  • write to ‘you’ - it’ll save your readers time wondering who you’re writing for!
  • start where your readers are at - it’ll help them get into the flow quickly
  • structure your work: create a path from the beginning through to the end
  • go for short words, short sentences, short paragraphs
  • keep it simple and keep looking for ways to simplify
  • if in doubt, cut it out

Write With Blog Readers In Mind

  • use really short paragraphs - they’ll help your readers whizz through your work
  • make it quick and easy to comment and provide feedback (ditch the catchpa!)
  • turn off the partial feeds: why should readers spend another few seconds clicking through?
  • break big ideas up into a series of posts - it’s easier and quicker to digest
  • provide links to useful and interesting material, not junk and distractions
  • keep to one unifying idea per post or article, to make it easier to absorb
  • vary your format - some short posts, some long - to stop your readers glazing over
  • monitor your page load time - slow page load means less time to read
  • break up your text with photos and visuals
  • leave white space - it speeds up the reading process
  • get clear on the size and shape of container before you start - your readers will stick with you if the piece matches their expectations

Write Something Worth Taking The Time To Read

  • share something of yourself - it’ll make your readers want to slow down and read more
  • write from your unique perspective - why waste readers’ time with the same old same old?
  • smile when you write: it doesn’t take you any more time, but it warms up your writing
  • write like a human being - it’s still rare enough that readers will slow down to read it

Remember: less is more.  Respect your readers’ time and you’ll earn their respect as a writer… which means they’ll soon be back for more.

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46 Comments

  1. Alex Cristache · · Reply

    Joanna, thank you for your entry. Apart from being a contest entry it’s a wonderful, informational post!

    Alex Cristaches last blog post..Simple Balance 2.0 - Free Simple WordPress Theme

  2. Lillie Ammann · · Reply

    Great advice, Joanna. I’m a big believer in keeping it simple and using plain language.

  3. Alex, my pleasure, it allowed me to pick up some loose ends on respect as well as promote your group writing project. I hope you get some good entries - it’s a worthwhile topic to talk about.

    Lillie, thanks, I try to keep it simple too. Wondered if I’d overdone it with the bullet points here… but I know some people like lists as a reference point

    PS You’ll see I’ve now got the Ajax editor to work. Very perplexing. The previewer I had on before has stopped working, but the editor is now operational!

  4. My Favorite Tips on Writing from Joanna Young « Social Media + the CIA · · Reply

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  5. Brad Shorr · · Reply

    Joanna, Excellent points all. The time issue has been on mind lately. Very hard to find the time read long posts. An occasional rapid fire post like this one is a welcome relief!

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..Whose Smile Warms Your Heart?

  6. Tumblemoose · · Reply

    I think that all too often, writers get caught up in a wonderful prose that will soar them to the heights of popularity. They write for themselves, not the reader.
    I write for myself, in that I love to write, but I always have constant reader in mind.

    George

    Tumblemooses last blog post..Top 10 Top 10 lists for writers

  7. Cath Lawson · · Reply

    Hi Joanna, this is great advice. I know what you mean when you say write like a human being.

    I read so many posts that sound as though they belong in a technical manual.

    And I’m glad you mentioned paragraphs. I’m astounded by the number of people who don’t use any at all.

    How on earth do they expect us to read what they’ve written?

  8. Ugh - I must be the only person who hates to wade through bullet points. Maybe because I know I’ll never digest so many little capsules of important info. I see the appeal, and I know they are the way to do things now, but I just can’t get over the feel I’m being pushed.

    Must be my age showing. :-)

    Bos last blog post..Cranberries in the Bog

  9. Ulla Hennig · · Reply

    Joanna,
    your article is like a Check list - I think I’ll have it printed and put on my desk just to make sure not to forget all the important list items.
    Bo,
    regarding bullet points: Joanna’s post is a good example for using bullet points. But I’d agree with you in that sense that not every blog post must have them…

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Art on the Ceiling

  10. Jim Murdoch · · Reply

    That was never 60 seconds worth of advice. How fast do you read? Or is the trick to tell your readers that you only want 60 seconds of their time and then, once you’ve got them hooked, drag it out to 3 minutes? Very fly. And, no, I’m not smiling as I write this. I’m a misery-guts and proud of it.

    Jim Murdochs last blog post..Funny Strange

  11. Hi Joanna,
    The rapid fire tips were excellent, though I took more time to think about each of them. The advice on using plain simple language and breaking down to series of articles are the things I may have to consider seriously. Thank you for sharing.

    meghnas last blog post..I’m Back To Normal

  12. Diane Achatz · · Reply

    Joanna, thank you for this marvelous check-list! It’s a real keeper!!

  13. Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk · · Reply

    This is a good checklist for people not already familiar with the points. I’m afraid it didn’t engage me because there was too much information and not enough you in it. I cheerfully admit, that’s probably just me. I’m not the reader you’re writing for, and that’s fine, too. I do check your posts regularly.

    Jean Browman-Cheerful Monks last blog post..Is This Really The Best Use of My Time?

  14. Brad, the point about time is important - certainly is to me as a reader. I can see that rapid fire posts are not everyone’s cup of tea though!

    George, hello and welcome :-) Keeping the constant reader in mind is a good perspective indeed

    Cath, you have writing like a human being down to a fine art. So many different ranges of emotion you share with us - not least a healthy dash of humour. I don’t understand the paragraph thing either. If you read on the web at all you’d surely realise how much of a difference it makes to the reader experience

  15. Hi Bo, no you’re not alone, too many bullet points does come across staccato and can break rapport. I think 30 was probably too many :-)

    Ulla, a check list is a good way of describing it. It’s not my usual style of post but sometimes it’s good to jot a whole lot of things down in place, and hopefully it’ll be useful for readers too. By the way I’ve just added a feature that makes printing easier - you’ll find the print button at the top of each post.

  16. Jim, I do skim read very fast, but you’re right, this is more than 60 seconds. I guess I figured that people would pick up the one unifying idea - think about the time it takes to read - in not too many seconds at all. Those who wanted to keep the list of points would save it and refer to it as a checklist for later.

    I’m not as cheery a person as you might think but I do smile when I write - I just can’t help it, sorry!

  17. Hi meghna, I’m glad you found the tips useful. It’s definitely worth thinking about a series if you’ve got a big or complicated idea to transmit - although they can be a little time consuming (for the writer) it does save you overloading your readers.

    Diane, hello, welcome and thank you.

    Jean, you’re right there wasn’t too much of me in it beyond some of the suggestions that I hold to be important and try and practice. You’re also right that this was pitched at a slightly different audience, and I’m hoping it was useful and relevant to them. Thanks for sharing your feedback with me. It’s an interesting mix of reactions to this one.

  18. Jean Browman--Transforming Stress · · Reply

    Joanna,
    Your list is a great reference. Could you put a link to it in the sidebar under a heading such as Tips For Writers?

    At Transforming Stress I put my Traits of Stress-Hardy, Resilient People and the Optimizing Stress graph as separate pages and include links to them on the sidebar.

    One thing I would add to your list—you say leave white space, but as far as I can tell you don’t explicitly say avoid dark-colored backgrounds. I know of a couple of blogs I don’t read as often as I would if they weren’t displayed as light-colored on black. It’s just too hard for my poor eyes.

    Jean Browman-Transforming Stresss last blog post..What Particle Accelerators Taught Me About Life

  19. Jean, I will think about a way to highlight it… though I’m trying to keep my sidebars clutter free. It’s a constant balancing act! I do want to make better use of the reference style material on the blog though.

    I didn’t mention backgrounds because I don’t feel well enough qualified to say which colours and backgrounds work. I know there has been research done into this including making provision for people who are colour blind but I’m afraid I haven’t (yet) done any in depth reading in this area.

    It’s another one to add to the list of things to learn about :-)

  20. Mantecanaut · · Reply

    I prefer writing pretentious drivel.

    Mantecanauts last blog post..A Matter of Life and Death and The Shipping Forecast.

  21. Hi Mantecanaut

    I guess that would fit into the category of writing something worth reading :-)

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  23. Debbie Yost · · Reply

    Joanna,
    I have to admit, lately I’ve been a little lazy with my writing. I don’t have time to put the effort into it sometimes and I thow something together so I have a post for the day. I do try to stick to several of these principles, but it is nice to have it for a reminder.

    I have one blog I read that she puts all these funky fonts in it. I get it that it’s a trademark of hers and it’s kind of neat, but it can be distracting.

    Debbie Yosts last blog post..Good News - Bad News

  24. Jamie Simmerman · · Reply

    I love bullet points and checklists!
    I like Ulla’s idea of printing it out and using it as a checklist. Thanks.

    Jamie Simmermans last blog post..You Can Help a Desperate Writer!

  25. Debbie, I’m guessing you’re kind of busy with other things… I’m not too tolerant of funky fonts myself. I find them very distracting - and detracting. I think of something’s well written it can do the funkiness on its own.

    Jamie, I’m glad! They seem to have generated a love/hate reaction amongst readers…

  26. Nice one, Joanna.

    That’s why I usually posted short articles that will only take about 3-5 minutes to read on it and will learn a new knowledge after they’ve reading my posts :)

    wilsons last blog post..Quit Smoking and Gaining Back a Healthier Lifestyle!

  27. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Joanna, I love “when in doubt,cut it out.” This is one I have gotten better at doing, but I think can always be improved. All of these tips are wonderful and it’s amazing how the entry so closely matched your theme of the month.

    Karen Swims last blog post..Mid-Week Musings

  28. Thanks for the list :)
    using simple and plain English, is something that I always follow :)

    dinus last blog post..Theme Update API in WordPress 2.7

  29. Wilson, that sounds like a good approach: passing on some material that’s of value but respecting your readers’ time too.

    Karen: you know me, I love working things into my themes!

    Dinu, glad you found it useful. Plain simple English keeps me out of trouble too :-)

    Joannas last blog post..Respect For The Power of Blogging

  30. Jean Browman--Cheerful Monk · · Reply

    I may have missed it, but I don’t see my favorite technique: reading my piece aloud. For me that’s the easiest way to see if the writing flows.

    Jean Browman-Cheerful Monks last blog post..Creating a Sacred Space

  31. Blog Design Studio · · Reply

    Thanks Joanna, for taking part in the contest. You’ve written one wonderful post and I’m sure this will surely help a lot of us who are fighting to build a community around the blog.

    Blog Design Studios last blog post..Does Page Rank matter to you ? Anyway, we got PR 4 today!

  32. Jean: you’re right, I forgot that one. It’s a simple but effective way for checking that you’ve got the flow right. Thanks for the pick up.

    Hi Blog Design Studio, glad you liked the post and I hope it offered some valuable tips. PS Congrats on your page rank!

    Joannas last blog post..Respect For The Power of Blogging

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  36. Ricardo Bueno · · Reply

    I try and stay conscious of the fact that my readers have limited time. I love the fact that they take time out of their day to visit my site so I keep posts short and relevant. You know, “get down to it.”

    Lately however, I’ve been integrating some video into my posts. Not a lot of video; about 1-2 minutes worth. But I’ve also written key points of the video so they can skim through if they’d like.

  37. Ricardo, it’s a good way to stay respectful towards your readers. I think the videos you’ve included have been a nice addition - not too long (I know I get bored very easily if they go on too long!) with the explanation too as to what to expect. Plus we get to see you!

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