Statistically, You’re Not Going To Read This

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We’ve all heard it before: people don’t read, they scan. But yet, we never really try and do anything about it. Or at least we never do anything effective about it. Sure, things like bold and italics do help, but they don’t solve the underlying problem that people don’t read.

Which is a problem for people like me. It takes a good couple of hours to write a WPShout post so I’d like to think it’s appreciated. Turns out I’m wrong; in this post we’ll find out how.

Competition?! You didn’t tell me!

I recently ran a competition on WPShout. No, not that one with the twenty or so premium themes up for grabs, but another, discreet one. It was in my post about backing up WordPress; I didn’t make a big thing of it on purpose as I wanted to make sure that only actual readers entered, not people who’ll come to the site, enter the competition and never come back. I thought if I made a mention of the competition in the opening paragraph then most readers would take a look.

I was wrong, again.

Of the twenty commenters, only nine entered the competition.

I find that astounding; you can usually expect 1% of people who view a page to leave a comment and usually these are the people who’ve read the article thoroughly and then have something to say. So it was a bit of a surprise to see that less than half of all commenters had read the whole article (although I’m assuming people who commented but didn’t enter didn’t see the bit about the competition).

You might read this bit

So then, if you can’t change a habit (of not reading), what can you do?

Subheadings. They’re great for breaking up bits of text into readable chunks.

You can also use really short paragraphs.

Or bold, that works too.

Recently on Shout I’ve been trying to halt people scanning by using “alert” boxes, like the one just above. In these I can summarise the main points I’ve just made so if people don’t want to read the whole thing, they don’t have to. Importantly, they halt people scanning. If something’s bright yellow, you’ll give it a second glance.

A good readable font at a decent size is a must, too.

Built into WordPress

Thankfully, all of the things I’ve discussed are really easy to do with WordPress. Obviously with the WYSIWYG post editor you’ve got bold, italics, subheadings (you’ll want “Heading 2″ or “Heading 3″ from the dropdown that has “Paragraph” by default).

These alert boxes are a little more tricky though. Only a little, mind you. You could just go into HTML view and type <div class="alert"> and </div> around the bit you want to highlight, but that’s a bit of a pain; I’m using the post editor buttons plugin so I just have to click a button and it gets added for me. As far as I’m aware you can’t just add it to the dropdown, but I’d love to hear if anyone knows how.

The alternative

There is an alternative that almost guarantees people read the whole of a post: an awesome art directed post. Jad does them beautifully and I’ve no doubt that they make people stop and read for more than anything I’ve mentioned here. The only caveat is that they take an age to do!

So there we are. Quite a short post. Hopefully you’ve read it and now have bit of a better of an understanding of how to just break up posts a bit to make them easier to read.

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About the author

Hello, I'm Alex! I started WPShout in 2009, just before my 16th birthday. Get in touch with me, I'd love to chat. You should also follow me on Twitter :)

24 Comments

  • Just wanted to let you know I read the entire post, word for word :)

  • Touche…
    I didn’t read the other article so luckily I wasn’t part of the statistic :) although I admit I probably am usually.

    Hope there wasn’t something I missed in this post…

  • I read your post because you told me that I wasn’t going to read it. Then, you told me that people scan and don’t read. That sealed it! Nobody is going to tell me what or what not to read! Ha! I showed you!

    …damn good article!

  • First!

    No, seriously. Have you ever noticed how many people actually race to post idiotic comments on blog posts? Lengthy tutorials being published at 11:05 AM often receive “Thanks for the article” comments at 11:06 AM. Which is just a sad “first!” comment attempt, really.

    Most of the time there’s no real communication. No real interaction. Comments are way too often used just to “place yourself” on that page.

    Audience is dumb, reading is fatigue, discussion is effort.

    Television made it this way. As you pointed out, art directed posts could help, because they “tease” you with the immediacy familiar to the television medium (images) and then you read the content (not “all of it”, obviously!).

    This reminds me of an old video I saw, called “the new mediators” (http://vimeo.com/4179118).

    The visual approach is the laziest (for the audience) way to absorb information effectively. Unfortunately the written one, sort of the hardest one to process, is the most accessible for those who need to get their message out.

    Written paragraphs require logical elaborations and, although I’m just “presuming” this fact, they activate different regions of the brain. Maybe regions that require more effort. Maybe region that we’re not used to use anymore.

    That’s why I try not to post short comments too often on other’s blog posts. Most of the time I prefer to not blend myself with those “thanks, great article” comments, typical of “skimmers and skippers”.

    And btw…
    Thanks, great article.

    • Alex Denning

      Well said.

      I try and encourage “intelligent discussion” on Shout, often not approving comments which don’t offer any conversational value, but unfortunately the situation you describe is too often very true.

  • Just wanted to let you know that I mostly scanned this post. :)

  • You got my attention :P

    I’m using extra font for headings and bold for the key words.

    Regards

  • Ok, I’ll admit, I scanned it, then read it word for word. I really should free up more time so I can read word for word. Cheers on the post.

  • For the record I read that post and was aware of competition. I just wasn’t interested in it so saw no point in making my comment eligible.

  • I need to say that I read the whole post even if the layout was a bit confusing. But I need to agree to you: I face the same problem on my own blog. While I got around 20-30 unique visitors a day they are not leaving any comments. Any suggestions what I could do?

    • Alex Denning

      Encourage them to leave comments. Rhetorical questions. That kind of thing. If you actively go comment hunting, chances are it’ll work.

  • What really helps is good typography: I’m using always the reader’s font size and good contrast – and I never had the problems you describe. Maybe this could enhance your site too?
    Without a user stylesheet I find your posts a little bit hard to read. If you wouldn’t offer a fulltext feed I wouldn’t even try.

  • Just wanted to let you know, I tried to read the post word for word – and ended up scanning most of it. Yeah, I have a short attention spa… HEY a squirrel!!

  • I’ll be honest; I made myself stop scanning to read through this and it felt laborious.

    This isn’t a criticism of your writing – it’s quite good – it’s more of a criticism of me.

    I tend to open about 30 tabs a time and skim through them at a breakneck speed.

    I agree with Thomas though, there are some sites that do a very good job holding my attention through all of their content.

    Gawker Media instantly comes to mind.

    Very eye-opening though, and embedding the contest details in a regular post is a great idea for rewarding loyal readers. I will definitely have to use this idea.

  • I read the post word by word most of the time so I can fully digest the content. I do skim and scan other posts, if I find it interesting, then I’ll read it entirely.

  • And who won?…….

  • Statistically, we all going to read this, word by word! What an inspirational post title :)

  • I did actually read the post (fully) might I add! I am relatively new to blogging as such but some useful tips here and I will try and implement some of them for sure.

    P.s. I always read the entire post of someones blog, I did a post yesterday (very little text) in fairness but adding and resizing images and making sure it looks right took roughly 4 hours.

    So I can sympathize with creating articles/posts!

  • I didn’t even click on your backup post because I think I’m fine with my backup solution :P

    Yes, usually I scan the lengthy “English” post. If it’s in my mother language it’s easier to read every word.

    I’d say even if it’s in yellow box, I may scan/skip if it’s quite long.
    Headings can get my attention the most :D

    oh I read every word in this post, but when it comes to comments, I’m quite tired and start to scan again.

  • David

    I read the entire post but I will admit it almost killed me because I wanted to scan.

  • Interesting. And the stats on how many people actually entered your contest is crazy! I typically scan posts as well, but recently I’ve been trying to “slow down” and stop living life so “fast paced” as if I have no time on my hands! It’s good to stop, read something all the way through, and enjoy it instead of inhaling it like a bag of candy, not really savoring the tastes.