Simple fixes for reading (and writing) online


This week it is National Read a Book Day in the UK, and International Literacy Day around the world. I’m a keen reader and a purist, who much prefers a real book to read, however I’m conscious that I’m probably in the minority now as the world continues to evolve. The COVD-19 pandemic has only intensified this shift online, as schools (here in the UAE at least) ask children to bring laptops and iPads in order to reduce the number of touchpoint from shared books and papers.

For anyone writing content that they want others to see, it is therefore becoming increasingly important to understand how reading changes online, and how we therefore have to adapt our writing to suit these new reading habits.

I’ve shared three simple fixes for your writing, to address the following changes in reading habits online:

1. We scan

Often when we read something online we have limited time and lots of distractions, therefore we skim through texts to see if they are relevant to us, and to try and get the general gist of the story. To make texts easier to scan, make sure you’re not writing huge blocks of text. Break content down into smaller paragraphs, with no more than four or five lines each, and lots of white space around them. Think about using lists, bulletpoints and subheaders in order to make the text easier to scan.

2. Our eyes are drawn to visuals

We will automatically look at anything visual or different first, therefore if you have key messages, you need to make them stand out, by using bold, colour, italics, or underlining. At the same time, you want to make sure your images are taking over from the message you are trying to give and distracting your audience – keep them few and focussed, supporting the message you are giving.

3. We don’t read to the end

As a result of scanning, we generally tend to read the first one or two lines, and the first few words from subsequent lines, then the first half a sentence of each new paragraph. You therefore need to condense your writing as much as possible, and front load the key information. It can feel a little counter-intuitive as we’ve all been conditioned to tell stories and share messages chronologically and through traditional set structures, however this is not so effective for online content. We need to put our main message and call to action right at the start, or keep the text very short and highlight the call to action at the end.

If you can adapt your writing in this way, then you should see a much stronger impact in terms of the length of time that people spend on your page reading your content, and the amount of engagement you get from these individual pieces of content. If you’d like to know more about measuring that impact, or other ways to improve your writing for online, please do email me:


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