Writing forms a trajectory in the reader’s mind, entering an unknown and nebulous space and preparing it to receive a very specific point. With words, the reader is oriented, then briefed, then informed, then presented with a point. Whether ultimately convinced or moved to disagreement, the mind has been altered to prepare itself for a new idea. As certain as an inoculation, when writing is successful and an idea injected, the mind cannot revert to its former shape and size. Like a cloud gathering ions in advance of a lightning bolt, writing presents the reader with an organized swarm of ideas directed toward a collision, a conclusion, a spark, an “Aha!” The goal of the writer is to change the reader.
Writing for the Web Faces a Daunting Challenge
Once upon a time, books were as precious as gold. The average person had limited or no access to reading material. Even after Gutenberg invented movable type for the printing press, books remained expensive and remained limited by the productivity of professional writers. Writing for a mass audience required a publisher willing to press words into print and sell them. Readers who got their hands on a book had two basic choices: keep reading or stop.
Unlike a generation ago, readers now have too much to read
Writing is abundant, free and one click away from oblivion. Readers have choices. Lots and lots of choices. The writer who could once take for granted the rapt attention of a reader for an entire winter evening, now has seconds to blurt out a few headlines.
The modern audience holds a mouse and knows how to use it
Writing to alter the mind of the reader must now act with quick, sharp blows to catch the mind as the scroll wheel travels down the page. Modern reading uses fingers as much as eyes. Like thumbing through a stack of picture postcards, or comic books, the reader seeks stimulation. What’s next, what’s next, what’s next.
Writing for the Web has evolved to capture the fleeting attention of readers
5 Ways to Slow Down the Web Reader
1. Place content in a list
2. Rely on the reader’s instinct to read each point
3. Order ideas sequentially
4. Avoid long sentences
5. Prepare the mind for a conclusion
Did you feel that? Your mind slowed down to read the list while your fingers rested and accepted a new rhythm established by the list.
This phenomenon, to allow the eyes to hijack control away from the fingers, has given rise to a very common blog style and structure. Take a look at these titles and see if they don’t ring a bell:
Three Remarkable Title Examples:
50 Reasons You Don’t Have to Stay Fat
5 Writing Tips That Actually Boil Down to One (see list above)
25 Celebrities Who Are Dumber Than You Are — Guaranteed!
This artifice has shaped writing into a new literary form: The extended List.
The structure is very much like headlines of a newspaper except without much in the way of stories in between, since a reader unlikely to go back to read them anyway. But at some point your reader does feel the pull of the rhythm. If the lists have been doing their job, reader has slowed to match the pace of the words.
The Reader’s Mind Is Now Prepared to Receive Content
In this space, I could write just about anything and you would read it carefully. Why? Because you have read this far. Your mind has made a commitment to hear a conclusion and a call to action. Yes, there really are specific Web writing techniques that focus the mind and prepare the reader to make a decision. Click below to see a classic collection of free resources that inspired this article.
Free and Very Real Secrets of
Writing for the Web