The epidemic of Scan Reading is now changing how we need to write

With gazillions of information coming at us all day long, it is no surprise that the average person has become skilled at Skim Reading. Instead of taking our time with content we instead scan it quickly with the burning question ‘is this relevant to me?’ If keywords and information don’t pop out at us, we’ll leave. If anything is slightly confusing we’ll just opt out rather than take the time to really work it out.

Therefore the content we write online has to be carefully written and thought through, which is actually super simple – you just need to write it as you would say it.

It’s been a bit of a theme for me this week at TheProfile.Company, so I thought I’d just share with you some examples.

I just emailed a prospective client after providing a 30-minute in-depth review of his LinkedIn profile. It was a great conversation so I thought I’d follow up quickly and ask him if he’d rate the session on my Facebook company page. The reply was ‘I have someone doing Facebook for me already’. I was confused. Until I read back over what I had written.

Although I was actually very clear, from a scan reading point of view, I wasn’t. Check it out:

As I mentioned there are several ways I can help you, all of which are listed on my website. Click here to view.

If you benefited from our chat today, I wonder if you’d be open to reviewing it on Facebook? I know you’re probably wondering “why Facebook?” when I specialise in LinkedIn. The reason is that a recommendation on LinkedIn often leads people to inspect the profile and evaluate the quality of my work. If I haven’t actually written the profile it leads to confusion. Thus I reserve LinkedIn recommendations for those whose profiles I have actually written.

If you’d be up for letting people know it was a worthwhile session then please click here. Also be sure to like the page too for more updates and info on how to build your business using LinkedIn 🙂

Instantly I saw the problem. It looked like I was saying ‘if you benefited from our chat today, I can review your Facebook profile for you too’. This actually wasn’t what I was saying at all. Take it word for word and you can see I am asking him to review our session on Facebook. However, since I use the word ‘review’ to explain what I will do for prospects on LinkedIn, it is fitting that with his brain in scan reading mode, he will make the assumption that I am now offering to review his Facebook as well.

I wasn’t.

Thus when writing the message again I will have to re-word it using very differently.

Instead I’ll next try:

If you benefited from our chat today, I wonder if you’d be open to letting other people know by rating it on Facebook?

Note how the use of different words stops the brain from making assumptions.

I also had to feedback something similar to a client this week. The copy she had written was perfectly fine – for printed format. However for the landing page she was writing, the sentence became confusing and unreadable. In fact I only stayed with it because she is my client and was looking for feedback. If she wasn’t, I would have opted out after the first read.

The original sentence read:

Did you know that, online, you’re equally likely to be diagnosed with a brain tumour as with caffeine withdrawal when you search for ‘headache’?

To be able to actually read it I had to stop myself. Take a breath. Slow down my thinking and consciously adjust my mindset. (I don’t know if you’ve noticed having to do the same thing when you switch from surfing online to reading a book?)

The issue with this sentence is that it actually rolls backwards. I don’t know if that is a ‘thing’ and can’t remember much from studying English literature, but in order to understand this paragraph I have to be aware of the words that come before the key points. Paying attention before I’ve decided to opt in and read, doesn’t work with online behaviour.

So the key words ‘diagnosed, brain tumour, caffeine withdrawal, headache’. The defining words is ‘equally’ and ‘as with’. The context is ‘searching ‘headaches’ online’

Instead I suggested a re-write of this sentence to:

Did you know that, online, when you search for ‘headache’ you are just as likely to diagnose yourself with a brain tumour for the same symptoms as caffeine withdrawals?’

While each sentence is actually written just fine, they have very different directions, pace and opt-ins.

Instantly we know we’re talking being online, the context is that I just searched for ‘headache’ and I’ve diagnosed myself. When re-writing I was tempted to write ‘Self-diagnose’ as that is a better use of words. But to put the definer of ‘self’ in before the word diagnose I’ve halted the reader in their tracks again sending them backwards. ‘You’re just as likely to self-diagnose a brain tumour’.

When the brain is scanning looking for relevance and context it is in forward motion and all words need to match this pace. You also need to set out clearly your point. A brain tumour or caffeine withdrawals? Very different. Now I am still playing with this sentence to get the key defining points in, but you can see how spelling it out and staying with the forward motion of the brain helps.

I have to say in my line of work, I am really picky about how things are written and what they are actually communicating. I haven’t a blog post in me to really illustrate my point and draw attention to this laughable sentence yet, but feel the need to rant about it so I am going to share it here with you and ask you ‘What’s the heck?

He invited her to a candlelit dinner, accompanied by a home cooked meal.

So they ate two meals? A candlelit dinner is a home cooked meal surely… Happy writing!