The digital pie is growing fast as people increasingly consume content from screens instead of more traditional mediums. The ubiquity of smartphones and tablets lets us bring an immense world of communication, information—and distractions—almost anywhere we go. Plus, few would argue that real life is simply more complex and moving faster than it was just five short years ago.
All of this poses potentially huge challenges for writers hoping to capture readers’ attention and make points that stick.
Attention deficits: the disorder of the day
When electronic publishing was still in its infancy, studies showed that subjects consumed digital content at a slower rate than they did printed matter. But as web design improved, e-readers evolved and screen resolutions climbed, new reports tended to refute that claim.
Still, research continues to suggest that people approach digital content with a state of mind less conducive to learning than they would its conventional cousin. What’s more, there has been a 394 percent increase in digital media consumption on smartphones over the past four years, and a 1,721 percent increase on tablets.
No need to quote Gartner here. Today’s audiences are distracted as hell.
Fight for that share-of-moment
Assuming your work will compete with a hissing cappuccino machine, LOL texts, Facebook alerts, that yummy chimichanga, screaming babies, and snarky boyfriends, keep these tips in mind:
• Think mobile design first
People absorb a story through both words and visuals. The more effectively they’re arranged, the better a storyteller you will be. Enlist a good designer that knows best practices and responsive design techniques. Start with a rough comp that shows all major elements in place with text greeked in; then write to the word count.
• Craft a subject or title they can’t ignore
Sad to say, but amid the hurly-burly we call the digisphere, your work may compete for clicks with winners like Woman Marries Duck, Kim Kardashian’s Fashion Shocker, or Is Your Home Slowly Killing You? Without stooping to sensationalism, your subject or title must grab attention.
• Start with conclusions
Use the inverted pyramid approached when you write. Make your big point at the beginning, then expand upon it.
• One thought per sentence, one idea per paragraph
This makes assimilating information much easier. Also, keep paragraphs short (three or four lines of text tops).
• Use bulleted lists whenever possible
If you’re listing more than two examples of anything, break them out into bullets; avoid long tracts of copy like the plague.
• Insert lots of meaningful heads and subs
People tend not to read from screens, per se, but scan. Help them get the gist quick with more headings and subheadings than you would normally use. Make sure they speak to the subject matter, too, not your quest to be clever.
• Incorporate links
Links stand out from normal text and help explain what the page is about. They also enable you to cut word count without depriving the reader of details they might want.
As digital technology continues transforming the way we process the world, mediums will evolve, consumer preferences will change, and writing will need to adapt. Yes, style and voice may suffer. But, even stripped down, reprimanded and taught some discipline, the written word will always be a powerful persuader.