Getting Looked Over, Without Getting Overlooked: Writing for Scanners and Skimmers


* Scanning and Skimming Practices *

Whether you're writing e-mail messages or Web site sales letters, you need to know how to hold the attention of different types of readers. Even the readers that don't actually "read."

Most readers will either scan, skim, or both, especially when reading online or when reading long pieces. Optimizing the writing on your site for those who scan and those who skim isn't extremely difficult, but it does require an attention to detail.

First, let's take a look at what these terms mean.Scanning--involves looking for particular elements, such as headlines, subheadings, and text that is highlighted, bold-faced, or otherwise emphasized. Scanners read only the elements that "stick out," their eyes moving from one attention-grabbing word or phrase to another.

Skimming--involves looking over the entire page but only superficially, like a speed-reader. Skimmers may see the same elements that scanners do, but they don't focus that much on anything specific for very long. They glance over all of it, just trying to get the basic idea.Most readers do a combination of scanning and skimming. They might scan a page and find a headline that grabs their attention, then skim the paragraph beneath it. Only when they find something really interesting will they go back and read.

Sometimes, the information in the various headings and emphasized text is all the information a visitor needs. In fact, a visitor to a consumer sales site should conceivably be able to make their entire buying decision based solely on the headlines and emphasized text.

It's important to note that scanning and skimming isn't something that was created by the Web. (It just seems like it sometimes.) Audiences have been skimming newspaper headlines and flipping through TV channels for quite some time now.

* 6 Steps for Writing for Scanners and Skimmers *

In the Information Overload Age, consumers have grown tired of sales hype and marketing fluff. They're already predisposed to skimming and scanning. Short attention spans and a high level of skepticism are becoming a part of their nature.

But all is not lost. Optimizing for scanners and skimmers (and turning them into readers) isn't easy, but you can do it if you take a steady approach and revise carefully. Here's an example of how you can do it:

Step 1) Write out the main points of your sales argument (which some will call a sales "pitch," but since I want to persuade rather than "pitch," I look at this process as a kind of debate...hence, a sales argument.) These main points will be your subheadings. List them as a skeleton outline for your piece, and leave space beneath each.

Step 2) Below each main point, write down the main words and phrases associated with each point in your argument.

Step 3) Start writing the body of the piece. Here, you'll explain everything in full detail. People who read the body of your message want details, so you should provide all the relevant information that you can imagine a potential customer might want to read.

Step 4) Take the words and phrases you generated in Step 2 and thread them throughout the body of the message. Make sure they work within the context of the paragraphs (in other words, don't just throw them in anywhere.) Use bold-facing, italics, underlining, or highlights to draw attention to these words or phrases. (Just don't go overboard... too much emphasis can come off as "salesy", and you'll need to only use as much emphasized text as you think your audience will deem credible. An ad for a luxury car won't use as much emphasized text as a sales letter for the latest mail-order kitchen gizmo.)

Step 5) Look at all you've written and come up with a headline that ties it all together with a strong, unique benefit. The headline should generate curiosity and target a specific audience. Statistics and testimonials generally make strong headlines by getting attention and establishing credibility, which is important for making a connection with your target audience.

Step 6) At this point, you've written your first draft. As you read back through what you have, ask yourself a few questions: Does my headline lead logically to my subheads? Do my subheads lead logically to the emphasized text? Does the emphasized text fit logically into the context of the body? Most importantly, can a visitor make a buying decision based solely on the headings and emphasized text?Sometimes, you'll find that certain elements no longer fit the original argument. Your approach may change. That's okay. Revise until everything flows together and makes sense during the first reading.

Never be afraid to go back and rewrite. Always use the strongest material, even if that means deleting half of what you've already written. It's the only way to get your best work.

The truth is, most readers won't make it to the body of your message. That's okay--don't expect them to. Not all of them will be right for your offer.

You need be able to get your points across with good headlines, subheadings, and emphasized text. If you can do that, you won't have to be afraid of how--or whether--your visitors actually read the entire page.

About The Author

Matthew Cobb is an independent copywriter. Visit www.cobbwriting.com to learn more about his freelance copywriting services or to sign up for his monthly e-publication, The Copy and Content Clinic.


MORE RESOURCES:
RELATED ARTICLES
On Giving and Receiving Feedback
Writing is a personal and introspective process. To share with another what we wrote is to risk.
Make Your Mark Upon Humanity
The greatest gift you have to give to yourself and humanity is the book, the song, the poem the artwork or invention that is locked away within your consciousness.All of us have this gift that needs to come out.
How To Write Your Book Within A Week
Everyone has a book inside them, or so the saying goes. But few people get that book out.
Writing Is Not Life-threatening
Some writers complain that writing is arduous work requiring long hours and little pay, which is often true especially for freelance fiction writers. Today, everyone wants to be a writer and with word processors and computers it is easy to put thoughts down, but it is not always effortless to be published unless one self-publishes or uses a vanity press.
Writing Styles for Fiction: Which Voice to Use
I recently set up a website to promote a new suspense novel. Once it started receiving hits I began getting questions about why I chose to write in third person.
The Importance of Writing Clearly for Business
Creating written documents reveals so much about you and your business skills. Your writing tells the reader about your educational background, pride in your work and business expertise.
Writing Dialogue That Make Your Characters Come Alive
Characters in a good novel really carry the story along more than any other concept in writing. A problem I too often see in my clients' writing is stale dialogue; the kind that sounds like every character is the same person.
Write On! - Key Components of Successful Business Communication
Written communication is often the first impression you make on potential customers, business partners, or employers. Because of its significance to your marketing message, it is one of the most important aspects of your business.
Top Ten Reasons Its Great To Be A Writer
10 - You will always have a job. As long as people want to read, other people like us need to write.
Writing Made Them Rich #2: Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens was born in Portsea, England, in1812. His father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office,stationed at Portsmouth.
Effective Editing: It Spells the Difference!
If you think proofreading equals editing, then you're wrong! Editing is a lot more than just scrutinizing your manuscript for misspelled words or missing punctuation marks.As a whole:Edit only *after* you've written the *whole* piece.
Writing as a Gift
What am I supposed to give Anthony as a wedding gift? I asked Kristin, my bridesmaid and person-who-was-married. I mean, what kinds of things do brides give their grooms? I was thinking of hiring someone to clean the house before we left for the honeymoon so wed come back to a spotless house.
Multiplying Sales As A Writer
Often, time is an enemy of writers. Sales seem slow andchecks too small.
5 Reasons People Like Technology White Papers
A good white paper is a paper that makes you look good.You look good when your white paper makes sense, when it's readable, when it concentrates on benefits and examples, and when it's easy to get.
The Myths of Writing: Have You Bought Into These?
There is an image most people carry of the artist (think Van Gough's self-portrait, the one with his ear bandaged), working in solitude in a barren garret in a dark corner of the city. Everyday is a struggle.
Beginners Blues: How to Collect Samples, Testimonials, and References as a Freelancer
Beginner's Blues: How to Collect Samples, Testimonials, and References as a Freelancer by Brian S. Konradt of BSK Communications and AssociatesMy samples are self-selling.
The Unwritten World Of The Reality Of Letterwriting
You may wonder why I have chosen this title of this post. Well from my experience is that it is really hard to put the feeling into words about what letter writing means to me.
How I Became a Syndicated Columnist -- And You Can Too!
Real Estate has "Location, location, location," and writing has "Clips, clips, clips."When people ask me how I became a syndicated columnist, I usually say, "it just snowballed.
How to Build A Success Freelance Career (Part 1)
In the current job market, many editorial workers have turned to freelancing as a matter of survival. I receive many queries from applicants regarding how to go about freelancing.
Masquerading As Novel ~ Can Author's Work Convey Important Perceptions?
While novels do not usually attempt to convey concepts about the need to protect ourselves, this one does. For Sale By Owners:FSBO.

Home | Articles Site Map