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Is Your Writing Readable? 3 Concepts to Master for Copy That Converts

May 24, 2016
Aaron Polmeer

By Isla_McKetta

A string of numbers: 09112001

Posted by Isla_McKetta

You know you’re supposed to write scannable copy. But do you know why?

On the average Web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.
Jakob Nielsen

Nope, it’s not just that. Although the tiny fraction of attention readers have for your content is always important to keep in mind. But instead of another “write for the F-pattern reader” article, let’s dig into the psychological underpinnings of how readers process information. You’ll learn ways to make your content more memorable and how not to disenfranchise any audience members who struggle with legibility, however unintentional.

Don’t worry; you don’t have to immerse yourself in academic theories for the next three weeks. I’ve waded through those dusty tomes for you, and I’m here to report back on how readability actually works. I’ll also suggest some implications for your content. This’ll get a little wonky at times, but I hope you’ll learn something from my research. I know I did.

These are the concepts I’ll cover and where they fall on the legibility, readability, and comprehension spectrum:

  1. Chunking (readability)
  2. Word recognition (comprehension)
  3. Universal design (legibility)

1. Chunking (readability)

In the field of user-experience design, ‘chunking’ usually refers to breaking up content into small, distinct units of information (or ‘chunks’), as opposed to presenting an undifferentiated mess of atomic information items.
Kate Meyer

Chunking was first identified by George A. Miller in “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.” While the article focuses on how many items we can hold in our memory, Miller goes on to suggest that we can remember more items if that information is properly separated out for us. For example, this string of numbers (even though it only contains eight digits):

is harder to understand or remember than this unforgettable number:

A string of numbers broken up by forward slashes: 09/11/2001

Those slashes help us parse the numbers into shorter (and more recognizable) units, which makes it easier to understand and remember the information.

The span of immediate memory impose severe limitations on the amount of information that we are able to receive, process, and remember. By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence of chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck.
George A. Miller

So when you’re dividing up your web content with headers, images, bulleted lists, and short paragraphs, consider how those chunks of information are working for you. A listicle of the 100 greatest things about summer might be a lot more memorable if you subdivide that list with headers every 5–9 items. Likewise, if you write single-line-paragraph after single-line paragraph, your reader might get lost on the screen and miss something important. Instead, improve the readability of your content by varying the length of those paragraphs every so often.

2. Word recognition (comprehension)

That wasn’t …read more

Source:: Moz Blog

      

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