How to win over impatient readers

by Darren Clare

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In 2000, the average attention span was recorded at 12 seconds. Over a decade later, Microsoft concluded that the average attention span now sits at around eight seconds – less than that of a goldfish.
Is technology to blame for our dwindling concentration skills? Probably. But we’re not just bored. We’re impatient.

Are reading skills dead in the water?

2017’s government stats on internet activity show that a huge proportion of us read news online – around 70-75% of people aged 16-54 prefer this method to print. Despite this, scientists claim that reading on paper is a lot more enjoyable and beneficial to our comprehension and retention of information – worth noting for businesses keen to create marketing collateral in print.
Of course we all love a good story. Yet online, it’s no secret that many of us just read the headlines – eight out of ten of us in fact don’t get past the first sentence. Even if we do, half of us won’t finish reading the content.
Well done if you’ve made it this far. Stick with me for a bit longer…

Why don’t we scroll down?

Fast and easy access to everything online is something we all take for granted. And if we can’t have it all right here, right now, why should we bother?
Not only the way we consume, but the sheer volume of what is available to us online, also plays a role. Countless articles, guides and blogs to sift through on the web has spawned generations of impatient readers, guilty of switching from one piece of content to the next…
No wonder. With our increasingly busy lives, who’s got the time to read a whole thing?
For content creators, this attitude is a significant challenge to overcome.

Images and captions – detrimental to reading habits or crucial short-cuts?

Sometimes the image alone is what draws us in, rather than the headline. Video content is also ever present. If we need visual stimulation to help us read, then each image’s relevance and contextualisation is crucial.
Recently, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding how images can fuel fake news. With a misleading caption, or indeed no caption, the mind can extrapolate a whole range of non-truths from what the eyes physically see.
‘Show don’t tell’ is writing gospel, and images do just that. But sometimes, a brand’s great efforts to portray a message can be totally warped; Dove’s latest advert depicting a black woman removing a t-shirt to reveal a white woman underneath has received criticism and backlash all over the world for its racist imagery. With or without a caption, this advert misses the mark.
Despite their importance, it sometimes seems as if the art of the caption is lost, whether people bother to read them or not.

How do we keep them reading?

Tough question. Perhaps the solution is not only in the construction of language but also in the mind-set of the reader. It’s crucial, therefore, to do your research and understand your audience and make sure that your content connects to their interests, needs or values.
It goes without saying that you need an interesting or newsworthy topic. While a snappy headline might get the initial clicks, your readers will disengage if the information takes too much effort to digest.


If you’re an impatient reader looking for a quick solution to engage impatient readers, try these writing tips, but be warned, this list is neither exhaustive nor prescriptive:

  • The headline should not only be attention-grabbing, but accurately depict what readers can expect from the content to avoid bounce
  • Keep your introductions short and engaging – no hook, no catch
  • Ask questions
  • Include stats and quotations
  • Break up your text – subheadings, one-line paragraphs and short sentences are favoured
  • Embed hyperlinks but don’t overload your article
  • Source relevant images (contemplate your captions…)
  • Find your unique business voice (tone of voice)
  • Be social media and mobile phone friendly – readers often share rather than scroll, so think how your content is presented across multiple platforms to entice new readers
  • Get your CTA sussed and make it clear
  • Try telling a story
  • You don’t always have to offer answers – sometimes the most interesting reads open more questions


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