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Why Your Readers Scan Your Content and What You Need to Do To Stop It

I recently worked on a project where a company was publishing its annual report.


The document was full of information they wanted to convey to their shareholders, but while we worked together on their words every time I submitted the copy they would stick it on a badly designed page - one that was too busy and confusing and made it anything but a joy to read. 


I suggested they created a new version of the document using simple design fixes that were clear, on-brand, and made their report easy to read and attractive to look at. Something they would be excited to share with their clients.


While many of you may be lucky enough to have a designer or an editor to do the hard work for you - figuring out how to design your words so your reader will want to read it should be part of every writer's toolbox - because let's face it - good design doesn't get the recognition it deserves. We only notice bad design when it wrinkles our brain (see below).

You've probably heard how our audiences are scan readers - how they hate long-form content and don't read everything you write.

But it’s simple not true!

You see, it’s only in the absence of good content and design to direct your reader to the most relevant, interesting, or helpful information, that they'll stumble along, and find their own path of minimum effort. 

They'll search for keywords, become lazy and skip those big blocks of text.

But, great content with good design prioritizes and formats your text to direct readers to what you want them to see.

Typography design's main purpose is to Enhance Readability and Legibility and refers to the art and technique of arranging typefaces, fonts, and text in a visually appealing and readable manner that makes your writing easy on the eyes and effortless to read.


Here are 6 design techniques you should be using to stop them scanning.

1. Establishing Visual Hierarchy


Typographic hierarchy shows the reader which information to focus on—which is most important and which is simply supporting text.


It allows the reader to easily navigate and understand your content.


Vary the font sizes, weights, and styles, to emphasize key points, highlight important information, and create a clear flow of content.

Every design should include three levels of hierarchy: heading, subheading, and body text. You can sort your Content into three separate levels by asking:


Which information is most important?


What do I want my audience to remember?


Why should your audience care?


Level One: What do you want your reader to see first that will grab their attention?


Level Two: What gives the reader clues about what they are about to read?


Level Three: The core of your message - where you go into more detail. 

2. Creating Contrast


Contrast is a critical component when it comes to basic design, and is key to grabbing attention and guiding your reader’s focus.


You can experiment with using 2-3 typefaces for contrast, as well as font sizes, weights, and styles to create contrast between your headings, subheadings, and body text.


(The most common font combination is sans-serif paired with a serif font)


Bigger = more important, smaller = less important.

Apple uses Weight (Making a typeface bolder or thinner) and Contrasting Colour to accent and highlight important pieces of information perfect for the scanner readers.

But be careful - you'll want to use colour sparingly, too many different colours can become distracting and your reader will not know what you are trying to highlight. 

3. Chunk your Content

Break up long text walls. Instead of writing long paragraphs, try writing 2–3 sentence paragraphs. You can also shorten your sentences, while you don't want to sound robotic - using shorter sentences and rhetorics like alliteration and tricolon make your words easy to recall.

4. Add white space and line spacing


You probably have dozens of examples of emails that are one giant block of text that gets ignored because you don't want to invest the time trying to decipher it.


When we add white space to our layouts, we’re not only giving our reader’s eyes a break but creating a clean, easy-to-read design with a sense of balance that helps your reader process the information presented.

5. Simplify Text into Bullet points and lists to guide your reader to your keywords

Lists and bullet points provide clarity and focus for your readers, and quickly highlight important topics.

Especially useful in long content where your readers needs to process information effectively.

6. Add Visuals that enhance and add to your message not distract

The design of your message determines how your content is delivered to your target audience.

Typographic hierarchy makes your words effortless to read. It's a way to organise your content so that it’s easy for the reader to understand and allows them to navigate your content. 

It also makes it a delight to read. You don't need to be a designer but you do need to know the basic design and typography hierarchy because it doesn't matter if you write the best article in the world if no one reads it - And it would be such a shame especially when it's a simple fix.

This issue took me 8 hours to research, write edit and promote can you do me a favour and share it with someone who works in communication?


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