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This chapter is from the book

Keeping It Chunky

How do you deal with all these issues? It’s simple—you have to present your information as concisely as possible.

This is, perhaps, the key difference between online writing and writing for traditional print media. Every aspect of what is read online must be short and quickly scanned; you don’t have the luxury of creating dense and flowing prose.

Where print enables, even encourages, the writing of lengthy, involved passages, the Internet does not. Effective online writing recognizes the challenges arising from people with short attention spans reading on small screens and adjusts accordingly. People don’t have the attention span to read long passages online, so you give them shorter passages. Small, low-resolution screens make reading lengthy passes difficult, so you make your text shorter and better fit to backlit screens. It’s a simple matter of adjusting your writing to the medium.

You do this in a number of ways. You have to organize your content into more but shorter sections, keep down the sentence length, and even simplify the language you use. When you’re online, shorter is better—however you accomplish it.

That doesn’t mean delivering less information. Despite the attention span and screen size issues, many people still want and need a certain amount of information. What this means, then, is that you need to write and format that information in a way that is easily scanned on small, low resolution screens by people with short attention spans. Piece of cake!

I find that a good way to approach this is to think of your content not as something that’s read in detail, but as something that’s glanced at or scanned. That is, you want to present only as much information as a reader can absorb in a single glance. In most instances, that’s a screen’s worth of information, certainly no more, sometimes less.

That doesn’t mean that you’re limited to only a screen’s worth of text. If you have a longer message (and you might for a given web page or blog post), spread it across multiple screens. Don’t expect readers to scroll down a long page; instead, have them click to view another full screen. (It’s true; web readers would rather click than scroll. I’m not sure why.)

This approach also dictates paragraphs that can be scanned in a single glance and sentences that don’t roll on and on for multiple lines. Again, it’s all about making your content scannable so that it can be absorbed in a glance.

What you end up with, then, is content that’s been chunkified—broken up into short, easily digested chunks. Chunks of information is what you want—chunky text, you might say.

The goal, then, is to chunkify your text—break it into easily browsed chunks. You can do this via a variety of methods, all of which involve making things shorter.

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