“Try reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle. That’s the intellectual environment of the Internet.” In his book, “The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” Nicholas Carr describes what we have long suspected—that our use of the Internet is creating neurological changes in the brain, affecting our ability to remember facts, or pay attention long enough to fully understand what we read. Now, what was that again?
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Though many disagree with Carr, the research he cites in his book has important implications for content creation. Among the findings:
• The more links there are in an article, the lower the comprehension of the reader. This may be because readers devote more of their attention to evaluating links and deciding whether to click them. • Readers of hypertext click through pages rather than reading them carefully. Worse, readers of hypertext could not remember what they had read or not read. • People watching a CNN news story retained far more information without the headlines scrolling at the bottom of the screen. • Users click instead of reading and finding answers. Study participants who searched for answers to questions in print did better than those searching for answers on Web pages.
Does your content distract and overtax your readers? Are your messages too long and complex? Can your visitors find the information they need quickly? How do you engage users who are “clicking instead of concentrating”?
• Keep in mind that less is often more on the Web. Eliminate distracting site features such as flash animation or scrolling text. • Make copy easy to scan with subheads and bullets. • Use site navigation to break your information into shorter pages. • Make hyperlinks more descriptive. Don’t tell readers to “Read more”; tell them what they will read if they click. • Write website content in a conversational, less formal tone. • Get to the point in the first words. Don’t expect readers to read a long introductory paragraph. • Use adjectives, hyperbole, corporate-speak, and jargon sparingly. • Consider using video to communicate more complex information.
PR Daily readers, do you have other tips for creating content in the age of distraction? Laura Hale Brockway is an Austin-based writer and editor and a regular contributor to PR Daily. Read more of her work at impertinentremarks.com.