Monday, February 02, 2009

Web Copy in the Newspaper

It finally happened. 

For more years than I will admit, it is my habit to spend Saturday and Sunday mornings supine on the couch, tea and toast at easy reach, reading the weekend papers by the light of the picture window. 

It takes a bit of time each morning to slowly detach from my world and sink into whatever might be happening elsewhere.  I haven’t quite settled in during the front page - it’s just a warm-up - and I’m usually not fully submerged until half way through the first section.

That’s about the point when ‘it’ happened.  I came across an article in which I was mildly interested, if only for a few sordid details.  I wanted to know the details, but didn’t want to read the long article.  My eyes started skimming through the copy, but I didn’t pick up the sordid scent and gave up quickly.  All I wanted were those few details!  My level of frustration seemed out-of-sync with the article’s relatively trivial subject.

The real problem hit me like a wake up alarm.  I couldn’t scan the article as I do with web copy.  That was ‘it’ – and there was no hitting the “snooze” button on this one.

Somehow, to that point in time, I had managed to keep my print reading sensibility separate from my web reading sensibility.  I wasn’t even conscious I had more than one reading sensibility.

I thought I might never be able to enjoy the weekend paper again – I had fallen victim to my web reading ways, which demand scannability.  (In truth, you’ll still have to tilt your head to look me in the eye on a weekend morning).

Web surfers prefer quick, scannable hits of pure information for a number of reasons.  Most of them relate to the sheer volume of information on the net.  Back in the age of print, if you wanted to learn about social issues in Mallorca, a visit to the library might yield 5 books that were generally about Mallorca, and a magazine article about the social issues. 

I just googled “social issues Mallorca” and got 42,100 results.  While the first few are about specific issues, none summarize the situation and, by the bottom of the second page of search results, the relevancy had dropped off to include:

Mallorca Cricket Club - About Us

The A.M.C deals with all the central issues for the Mallorca Cricket Club such as incoming tours, away tours, fundraising, promotional activity and social ...

A web search leads to exponentially more information than traditional sources, but much of it is irrelevant.

In any case, web surfers need to get through a lot of stuff – plus keep 12 conversations and one musical collaboration going on three different social media sites.  They don’t have time for the extra information, until they find what they seek.

Your web copy must be scannable – and we mean any web copy, even long copy.  Whether you use bullets, bolded text, short paragraphs, any combination of these or something entirely new, it doesn’t matter, as long as readers get a clear idea of the contents of your web page from a quick scan.

By Stephen Da Cambra

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