How To Pass The Skim Test With Your Writing

Gone are the days of people sitting down with a hard copy of a long article in their hands and taking the time to read it carefully. Instead, in this day and age where everything is digital, people are constantly bombarded with hundreds of articles, making them go super-bored, super-fast.

Our attention span is constantly decreasing, and psychologists have seen a staggering drop during the pandemic. As people spend more and more time in front of a screen, the time they devote to any content is exponentially decreasing. According to the Nielsen and Norman Group, readers read on average of 20% of the words on a webpage choosing to skim through the content.

So, how do you pass the skim test with your writing? How do you create content that your readers can skim through and STILL get your message across loud and clear?

The first thing to do is understand what makes people skim - skimming triggers - and create content to solve that. Ready?

Skimming Trigger #1: LONG PARAGRAPHS

People will immediately skim through a long paragraph. Research shows that the ideal length for a paragraph should be around 150 words. Reading on a screen is hard enough, and if your sections are longer than five sentences, your will have lost your readers.

Keep everything sweet and short and up to 150 words. Anything beyond that will exacerbate your readers, and your message will get lost as they skim through your paragraph.

Skimming Trigger #2: BORING INTRO

Your readers have a limited source of free time and energy to devote to an unlimited and ever-expanding source of content.

So they will need to make a split-second decision whether your content is worthy enough of their precious resources, both cognitive and time-wise. A boring intro will have them click through to the next best article.

Your opening lines matter. Make sure you make a statement from the get-go, and you hook your readers from the very beginning.

Skimming Trigger #3: DENSE COPY

A dense copy will immediately put off your readers, and if you are lucky, they might skim through your text, but chances are, a heavily packed copy will scare them away.

If you want your readers to skim through your content successfully, you have to break it down into smaller chunks and make sure each chunk is clearly marked with headings and subheadings.

The Art Of Making Your Readers Understand Without Reading A Single Paragraph

Ok, let’s say that you write short paragraphs, include a riveting and engaging intro, and avoid dense content. That is brilliant, but you know what? There are still people who will not read one single paragraph.

But they are here. They have landed on your content. So why let them click away without at least getting your message across loud and clear?

How do you do that? How do they get the gist of your copy without even reading it?

Well, it all boils down to this: embedding your key messages in other elements of your content other than your paragraphs.

So, here are a few tricks to have up your sleeve for those readers.

Killer Titles

Your titles should let the reader know of your topic. Witty titles are cool and all, but if they do little to inform your reader of your key message, they might as well go to waste. So killer AND informative titles are the way to go.

Subtitles Are Your New Best Friends

Craft genius subtitles that summarize the entire paragraph beneath them. So even if your reader decided to skip that part, they would still get the gist of it from your subtitles.

Links Are Your Go-To Unsung Heroes

Add links in your text. This will guide your readers back to the source of what you are saying. People can rarely resist clicking on that link, so even if they do not read your entire content, they are likely to click their way to your sources and get the gist of your message.

Bold-Faced Lead-ins

Use a bold-faced lead-in if you want to make people stop and read something. It will draw their attention, and a few bold words will stick in their mind and help them understand your point.

The same goes for CAPITALIZATION. If you want your audience to see something immediately, make sure it stands out by capitalizing it.

Lists Are All That Jazz

People may skip a paragraph, but our eyes are naturally drawn to lists. Before we realize it, our brain is already reading and processing those bullet points. They are easy to pick out and remember. So, use them. They really are all that jazz.

Pictures Are A Thousand Words

Ah, the cliche of the phrase that never gets old. Yes, pictures are a thousand words. And if you can back your arguments with a picture, an infographic, a chart, and so on, please do so. Your readers will get the point without reading a single paragraph.

Focus On The Top Fold

Your top fold is the most visible part of your content, and this is where all your energy should be devoted to (80% of your energy, to be exact, according to Forbes). If you manage to convey the gist of your content on the top fold and include a strong CTA from the start, everything else will fall into place; even if your readers skim - or not - your entire paragraphs.

Final Words

Competing for the very limited time and attention of your readers with hundreds of other similar articles can be strenuous. However, if you succeed in passing the skim test with your writing, you will give yourself a competitive edge over all other writers. Follow these tips, and you should be well on your way.

Still not sure how to go about it? Then check out our fabulous writing course, where you will learn the art of conveying your message to your readers without them having to read one single paragraph!