Writing & Storytelling

3 Ways to Reach Flippers, Skimmers and Other Nonreaders With Words

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Web visitors read, on average, just 20% of the words on a page, according to Nielsen Norman Group coverage.

So how can you reach these flippers, skimmers and other nonreaders?

  1. Pass The Palm Test.

Encourage reading and skimming by breaking your text into little pieces.

In other words, pass The Palm Test.

The Palm Test says you should be able to put your palm down anywhere on your message and cover something besides just paragraphs. Under your palm, you should find images, microcontent or other display copy. Something like:

  • Headlines
  • Decks
  • Links
  • Subheads
  • Bulleted lists
  • Bold faced lead-ins
  • Highlighted key words

(Let me remind you that your palm is the fleshy part of your hand. Add your fingers, and that’s your whole hand. Make sure you’re passing The Palm Test.)

Nothing but paragraphs under your palm? That means your message looks hard to read, so fewer people will read it.

Break it up to make it look more accessible. That will increase reading and skimming.

  1. Pass The Skim Test.

The Skim Test says that flippers, skimmers and other nonreaders should get the gist of your message without reading a single paragraph. They should learn everything you want them to know through the display copy.

To pass The Skim Test:

  • List your key messages. You probably have one to seven. (More, and you probably need a different organizing structure.)
  • Assign each key message to a piece of display copy. Put your key ideas in your headlines, decks, links, subheads, bulleted lists, bold-faced lead-ins and highlighted key words.
  • Test them. Hand off your display copy — not your entire message, just the display copy — to someone on your team who has not been working on this project.

If your team member can read back your key messages without reading a single paragraph, congratulations! You have passed The Skim Test.

If not, then keep working. Most of the people you call your readers are actually flippers, skimmers and other nonreaders. Pass The Skim Test to get the word out to them.

  1. Don’t drop the deck.

The deck — that one-sentence summary under your headline — does the heavy lifting in your message. Researchers at The Poynter Institute have learned that:

  • 95% of page visitors look at the deck. That’s enormous in online viewing!
  • They spend 5 to 10 seconds looking at it. We can reverse-engineer that and conclude that they’re reading the whole thing.
  • “It may be the only thing” they read on the page, researchers said.

So if you want people to get your message, then put it in the deck.

Ann Wylie works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. Don’t miss a single tip: Sign up for Ann’s email newsletter here.

Copyright © 2024 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

[Photo credit: ilgun]

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Ann Wylie

1 Comment

  • As usual, a succinct piece of advice. Thank you. However, I got confused about “handing off” copy when talking about fleshy parts of a hand. If people don’t know what a palm is, they aren’t worth worrying about or for you to try to teach them how to design copy.

    Basic typographical design is a beautiful art form in itself.

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