5 Tips for Making the Reader Care
1. Give them something to take away—simply, memorably, fast. It is like that crucial leave-behind after a sales call. (The stuff in the boxes in last month’s column).
2. Tempt them with irresistible bait in the headlines. Nobody can ignore or turn down self-interest. Stress the “what’s in it for me?” The magic word “you” has to lurk in there somehow, and it is even better if there is an active verb. Always ask “So what?” after reading a headline—and if the answer is a noncommittal shrug, it should be rewritten with more words. There is no advantage in short-and-snappy if it doesn’t motivate the looker to read on—now.
3. Show them at first glance how much time is involved in reading the article. If it looks long and daunting, the immediate temptation for the reader is to say “I think I’ll come back to it later.” Make it more palatable: Break the discouraging monster into its component parts, tie them together under an umbrella title, number them to make their clustering obvious, and give each its own interesting headline. Smaller units are not only less threatening, but you’ve multiplied the welcoming open doors.
4. Exploit the space-between as an organizing medium. The traditional neatness-oriented technique is to make spaces between all elements on the page the same width. But to group things together, you must reduce the spaces between elements within the group and increase the spaces that separate it from neighboring groups. Moats separate, narrow spaces glue together. That’s the simplest way to show how much time is involved.
5. Don’t be clever just for cleverness’ sake. There are normal, expected ways of doing things. Some counterproductive habits need throwing out (like traditional spacing standards in item 4, above). Others are worth exploiting, so we communicate fast. Obvious things like: 1) Every picture must have an explanation under it, because that’s where readers look for it. 2) An image is run large because it is important, not because a hole needs filling. And not just because it is a beautiful picture. 3) Type ought to be easily legible. Any time you depart from the good, old black-on-white, you risk annoying and turning off the potential reader. (See an example of reversed-out type on page 48 and judge the readability for yourself.) It may be “creative” and we communicators may love it, but our targets hate it. Why do it?