Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How your audience reads your words

Your future reader.
This isn't good news for those who write sentences and paragraphs about serious ideas.

Screens have changed our reading patterns from the linear, left-to-right sequence of years past to a wild skimming and skipping pattern as we hunt for important words and information, Jean Whalen writes.
One 2006 study of the eye movements of 232 people looking at Web pages found they read in an "F" pattern, scanning all the way across the top line of text but only halfway across the next few lines, eventually sliding their eyes down the left side of the page in a vertical movement toward the bottom.

None of this is good for our ability to comprehend deeply, scientists say. Reading text punctuated with links leads to weaker comprehension than reading plain text, several studies have shown. A 2007 study involving 100 people found that a multimedia presentation mixing words, sounds and moving pictures resulted in lower comprehension than reading plain text did.
Ferris Jabr elaborates in Scientific American:
Evidence from laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicates that modern screens and e-readers fail to adequately recreate certain tactile experiences of reading on paper that many people miss and, more importantly, prevent people from navigating long texts in an intuitive and satisfying way. In turn, such navigational difficulties may subtly inhibit reading comprehension.
My experience with the instructions business website editors give to writers is that they desire short and punchy copy with copious subheads and lists. It's as though they know their readers don't have much patience for reading.

Do we who dwell in the land of serious, thoughtful business writing yield to this? I think not. However, we might anticipate the divergence of our audience into those who are comfortable with the slow, orderly development of ideas and those who are need listy sound bites. Then plan to please both.

No comments:

Post a Comment