Think back to your high school or college days here for a minute. Have you ever been to a party where the noise collectively gets higher and higher to where you have to yell every word in order to get heard? Someone – usually the giver of the party – has to tell everyone to be quiet or the cops will get called.
It gets quiet for a few minutes, and then it progressively gets louder, prompting the same guy/girl to make the same announcement sometimes several times during the night. The quiet times, though few and far between, are your only opportunities to share your message, tell your story, or drive your point home.
With writing, your paragraphs are the noise that makes it hard to get the message, and the quiet times are your short sentences that get your point across.
Write for the Scanners
Many readers – myself included – are scanners. They/we want the message as quickly as possible and don’t want to have to read through a bunch of muck to get to it. It’s important to include some content that will get read by them. As a writer, you need to use the quiet times to convey your message.
Here are three ways to target your scanners and make sure your message gets read:
- Use one-line-one-sentence paragraphs. While this attempt might make your high school English teacher cringe and mark up your paper with red ink, your scanner is more likely to read that sentence and absorb your message. When you use a few paragraphs and then pepper in some short, meaningful one-line-one-sentence paragraphs, your scanner will read those sentences first and decide if s/he wants to read the previous paragraphs.
- Use bullet points or ordered lists. By giving the scanner a list of items to read in ordered fashion (numbered or not), you will be giving them a reason to read what you have to write. They may not read what the list is about unless they’re interested early on, so engage their interest in the first two points. Preface the list with a one-line sentence so that it’s easily understandable what the list is about.
- Use bold or capitalization to capture attention. We scanners are looking for information quickly, and one thing that stands out are bolded or capitalized words. If you bold one sentence in a long paragraph, I can guarantee that it will get read. The rest of the paragraph may not, but that sentence definitely will. Use bold words sparringly, though, because if there’s too much, the scanners won’t read any of it.
By using any combination of the above techniques, you will be sure to grab the attention of the majority of your readers. In this blog post, I’ve used all three techniques, and if you’re reading this sentence, I did my job as a writer.
Use the quiet time, and get your point across.
And if you’ve done this or do something similar, please let me know. Does this technique work for you? Do you use something similar?