PR Training

Pass the Skim Test

Make Sure Your Web Visitors Get Your Main Ideas — Without Reading the Text

Online, readers don’t read; they scan.

In fact, in one study, usability guru Jakob Nielsen found that the scannable version of a Web page was 47 percent more usable than an unscannable version.

That’s a pretty huge ROI for some bullets and subheads.

The key to scannability is to make sure your Web visitors can understand the gist of the page by reading nothing but the microcontent.

Microcontent is all those short bits of text that guide the user and provide an at-a-glance overview of what the page is about. Microcontent includes:

  • Headlines
  • Decks
  • Subheads
  • Links
  • Lists
  • Bold-faced lead-ins
  • Highlighted keys wor

To make sure your page is scannable, run the skim test on your copy. That is, make sure your Web visitors can get the gist of your page — without reading the paragraphs.
Embed Your Messages in Microcontent

To pass the skim test, make sure your main points come through in your microcontent. Place your:

  • Main idea in the headline and deck, or one-sentence summary under the headline.
  • Major points in the subheads.
  • Minor points in the links, bold-faced lead-ins and highlighted key words.
  • Series of three or more items in bulleted or numbered lists.

Test Your Copy

Now, have a colleague read just the microcontent: the headline, deck, subheads, links, lists, bold-faced lead-ins and highlighted keys words. She should be able to understand your key points — without reading the paragraphs. If she does, your page is ready to post. If she doesn’t, keep working to craft microcontent that lifts your key points off the screen.

Small Is Big

The ability to make your copy scannable is perhaps the most important communication skill today. Sadly, it’s a skill that too many communicators lack.

If you’d like to learn more about writing microcontent that gets the word out on the Web, please join me at PRSA’s May 21 teleseminar, “Small is Big: Writing Microcontent That Communicates Effectively on the Web.” You’ll learn how to lift your ideas off the screen via microcontent — and make your Web copy more accessible to scanners. 

“This was my first PRSA seminar, and at $150 in this economy I was skeptical if it would be worth it. It was. Ann really delivered, and I know my writing is much more effectively reaching people because of what I learned in this seminar.”

— Angela Monroe,
project and content manager,
 Herzing University


Sources: Ann Wylie, “Little Things Mean a Lot,” Wylie Communications Inc., 2006.

Ann Wylie, “Pass the Skim Test,”

Ann Wylie, president, Wylie CommunicationsBy Ann Wylie, president, Wylie Communications. Ann works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. She travels from Hollywood to Helsinki, helping communicators at such organizations as NASA, AT&T and H&R Block polish their skills and find new inspiration for their work. For PRSA, she presents programs like “Writing That Sells — Products, Ideas, and Services” in on-site sessions across the country. Ann is the author of more than a dozen learning tools, including, a toolbox for writers. In addition to writing and editing, Ann helps organizations launch or revitalize their Web sites and publications. She has served as a public relations professional in an agency, corporate communicator for Hallmark Cards, editor of an executive magazine and consultant in her own firm. Her work has earned more than 60 communication awards, including two IABC Gold Quills.

Join Ann for her teleseminars, Anatomy of a News Release, Pitch and E-Mailed Release: Write Releases That Get Posted on Portals, Help Google Find Your Site, Reach Readers Online and More,” “Go Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: Increase Readership With Feature-style Writing”  and her seminar, “Writing That Sells — Products, Ideas, and Services: Reach Reluctant Readers,” on Friday, March 5 in New York, NY!

About the author

Ann Wylie

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