Science of Writing for Online Readers


Science-of-Writing-for-Online-ReadersWriting for print media is difficult but writing for web-media is more difficult. This is a fact that every web writers or administrators must know. That is why on-line writers, should be clever in attracting readers to read their blogs or websites.

Good articles attract readers, while bad contents pushes them away. You do not want your bounce rate getting too high, right? To help you, why don’t we analyze readers on-line reading behavior on its roots through few scientific theories and studies.

Gold fish Attention Span

Ted Selker, an expert from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes that people’s attention span changes according to the things they often do. On-line, people are exposed to hundreds of websites and millions of information. The amount of data is just too overwhelming that they started to have shallow interest to many things. Eventually they “get into a habit of not concentrating”. BBC news reports a comparison on the attention span of modern human to that of a goldfish, which is exactly nine seconds.

It is important for content writers to catch that attention of a reader even before he snaps out of this time period. If a user happens to visit your page and saw things that he doesn’t like, then your bounce rate will increase. Compel him to read by using these few tips:

Attention-grabbing Headlines: Remember your headlines must say it all. By simply reading the title, the readers should already be compelled to read. A statement of fact or asking a question can easily grab their attention.

Light Layout: Keep your layout light and simple. It is pleasant to look at, and it does not feel suffocating. Viewers will appreciate it if you use bullets and subheadings to break long paragraphs.

Images and Videos: This is already a fact. Images attract audience so you have to make sure that every pages have relevant and interesting photos. If possible, use infographics to lessen paragraphs but still inform people with facts and data.

Slow Loading Pages. Akamai and Jupiter Research found out that “Four seconds is the maximum length of time an average online shopper will wait for a Web page to load.” 75% of 1,058 people notes that they won’t visit a website again if it takes too long to load. Remember, on-line readers have very short attentions span, they won’t wait for you if they can easily look for another page to visit.

Theory of Information Seeking Behavior

Thomas Wilson described Information Seeking as the human action on the consumption of information. He notes that it is purposive and people seek information according to their goals or interests. If you want your blog to gain more traffic, write something that people are interested of reading.

Make use of Google Trends to know what people loves reading. Google Trends “gives you a glimpse into the topics the world is searching for.” Each search can be sorted in different categories like politics, entertainment, shopping, nature and many more. To use it for topic creation, choose a category related to your site. Choose a word and then analyze its search patterns. There are “breakout searches” in the rising topics that gets 5,000% increase while others get 1,000% or lower. With this data, you do not have to worry about getting traffic and what to write on your next blog. Google Trends makes it very easy for you to encourage people to visit your site.

google trends

Google Trends. Photo credit:

Transactive Memory

Human memory is limited and it cannot store every information it takes. Psychologists believe that in a group of people, each person will depend on other member of the group to remember certain information. For example: You are good in mathematics and your brother is good in english. If you have a math assignment, you quickly turn to him for help. Likewise, if he is working on his english essays, he asks for your help. Your brother doesn’t care to improve his grammar because he knows that he can ask for your help.
Daniel Wegner is one of the experts who explored the possibility of a collective memory rather than an individual knowledge. His graduate student, Betsy Sparrow explored the theory in a modern setting. She found that people rely on digital materials (e.i computers) for source of data, instead of memorizing it on their own.

Clive Thompson, famous technology writer and author of Smarter Than You Think, tells that digital materials are actually better partners for transactive memory. Because it gives more than the answer to your question. It can share stories, news, books, videos, and other media related to your inquiry. Using the internet as your “transactive memory buddy” is like being paired with millions of experts. These experts input what they know online, and it is shared to people who seeks their knowledge.

This proves the dependence of people towards on-line information. People do not memorize data anymore, because they know that information are readily available in the Internet. Smart phones even make it easier for people to consume these information. If on-line readers like your blog, they will bookmark it or add it on their “list of followed blogs” to visit again in the future. Some users makes use of social media to share and save the information they like. It also becomes their reference for future questions.

F-Shaped Reading Pattern

Eye tracking devices monitor the behavior of people when reading web contents. It is found that they read on an F shaped pattern. Two strips horizontally and then goes down with one vertical line. It is not an exact shape, but rather an area where people read. The experiment notes other points in the reading behavior:

Users don’t read each part of the page. Readers’ interest depends on the first two strip of the page. If they don’t like the first paragraphs of a content, they won’t continue reading.

They easily track emphasized words, so they easily see heading and bullets.Emphasized words other than the usual text easily attracts their attention. This is why Headings and subheadings are important in writing contents.

The layout of a page must suit the reading pattern of users. If not, then the user will only read the less important parts.

Prioritize the upper right part of a page because this is where users initially look at. An image in that area helps to compel them to read on. In writing your contents, the lead or opening paragraph should be short and attention-grabbing.

Learn from journalists. They believe that a lead should be limited to 20-25 words. That should already tell the main idea of the news. They use various types of leads such as narration, question, quotation, ironic or contrast, punch lead and many more. Since newspaper readers are usually businessmen who does not have the luxury of time, every news has to be short and attention grabbing.

Media Systems Dependency Theory

The web transformed Internet as part of the society. It builds on-line community of world-wide audience. This leads to the appointment of Internet as new mass medium. This highlights an important communication theory, which is Media Systems Dependency Theory. It says that the more people use a medium, the more it becomes part of their life, and the more it affects them.
Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin DeFleur determined three media needs.

Need to know what is happening around them.

People needs source of information. Newspaper, TV, Radio and other media provides these news. Even feature stories that tackles soft news are very important to people. Now, rely on the internet for these needs. The web conveniently provides this wherever and whenever a person needs it.

Need to have a meaningful and effective life in the society.

Each person wants to have a sense of living or utility in life. And media provides that with the information they get from it. It makes them talk about things, socialize and learn. From gossips, politics and to educational stories, they feel part of a living society.

Need for an escape from the stress of the “real” world.

When tensions are high, they need fun a place where they can forget all their problems. Media can provide that. They cry when they watch touching movies; They feel happy when they listen to music; They feel sympathy towards underdogs they read on news. Internet can provide all of that.

These three media needs show how important Internet is to people. It is their source of information, relevance to the society, and escape to the reality. Every webmaster should invest on these needs. Like businessmen, once they supply these needs to people, people will come to them and take it.

Make sure that your website or blog provides these needs to people. Be informative, teach them something and make them entertained.

You do not have to know these scientific theories by heart to improve and optimize your websites. But knowing them and analyzing how these theories affect the actions of people when reading web contents helps. Atleast when you look at various writing tips, you won’t just follow and see whether it will work or not. Knowing the science behind these tips teaches you more than just writing contents for your website- but writing contents for your readers.

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