Scannability: A Guide to Reader-Friendly Content

Let’s be honest.  Today’s readers are distracted.  They’re multitasking – consuming information from a variety of sources all at once.  They’re interrupted by a near-constant influx of communications – texts, emails, social media interactions – coming from several devices.  They have more and more information to consume and less time to do it.  The result is a massive drop in beginning-to-end reading and a rise in scanning.  In fact, today’s users only read about 20% of the text on an average web page.

Content creators have to operate under the assumption that users will be scanning their content rather than reading every word.  The best way to promote further reading is to make content reader-friendly, that is, to present content in such a way that users can quickly find key points and determine if the topic warrants further reading.  This reader-friendliness, or scannability, can be accomplished with the following techniques.

1. Numbered/Bulleted Lists

List based-articles (such as this post), often called listicles, have become the blogging go-to for a reason; they’re convenient for both readers and writers.  Listicles provide clear divisions between sections, allowing readers to browse the main points of an article at a glance.  Even bulleted lists tend to be organized in order of importance, so readers get into the meat of the information right away.

Numbered or bulleted lists are useful outside of listicles as well.  In other content, a short bulleted lists can help to drive home important information like product benefits.  Numbered lists are ideal to outline ordered information, like the steps in a process.  In either case, the list helps to call attention to key information and break up text blocks.  Bulleted or numbered lists work well in introductory outlines or closing summaries.


2. Headings and Subheadings

In any form of written content, listicle or not, headings and subheadings are very important.  Consistent style conventions in headings and subheadings will help readers to identify breaks between major and minor points.  Descriptive heading and subheading text will help users to quickly find the information they need.


3. Introduction/Abstract

Shorter pieces of content should start with a simple introduction, providing some background information on the issue to be discussed.  Introductions can be anywhere from a sentence to a paragraph.  In many cases, this can be enough information for the reader to decide whether or not to read on.

Longer documents should contain an abstract.  The abstract outlines the topic and the points that will be covered.  Abstracts are usually a paragraph or two in length.  An abstract is your chance to win your reader’s attention.  You should mention key points without fully explaining them, enticing the reader to continue reading.


4. Short, Focused Paragraphs

Your content should be comprised of several concise, topically-focused paragraphs.  Each paragraph should be about three to five lines in length and focus on a single idea.  The main idea of each paragraph should be conveyed in the first sentence of the paragraph.  Think of each topic sentence as a mini-introduction to the paragraph.  Such a construction allows scanning readers to quickly navigate to the desired information.


5. Images, Graphics, and Quotes

Though not always applicable, relevant visual elements are an effective way to make important information stand out.  Annotated pictures or example screenshots can illustrate a point without needing to read any text.  Graph and charts can replace long explanatory sections.  Quotes illustrate a point, while adding credibility.  In general, visual elements help to put space between text blocks and create more appealing content.



Let us know what you think:

  • How often do you fully read a piece of content?
  • How quickly do you make the decision whether to read or not?
  • What are your formatting preferences?




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Comments (2)

[…] designed to suit the needs of its audience. In most cases, this will mean keeping assets brief and scannable. It could also take into account options like image-heavy content (which can be consumed quickly) […]

[…] Another great thing about listicles is their scannability. It’s very easy for a reader to skim a listicle if they’re short on time and to zero in on the most interesting entries. […]

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