We write to be read. Right?

Do I have your attention?

Good.

Why am I writing like this? I want you to stay here. I don’t want your mind to wander to Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

So I will:

  • write short sentences
  • use lots of bulleted lists
  • hyperlink thoughtfully and helpfully (turning the hyperlink into a big target)
  • bold words that a reader might scan for, like names of people or companies
  • use clear (not necessarily clever) subheads to break up longer articles at logical points
  • stick to the rule of one thought per paragraph.

Notice the perfect parallel structure (above)? Thanks.

Oh, one more thing: Read this before class Thursday. Get to know the ideas of Jakob Nielsen (who looks, I have to say, like a cross between a Bond villain and Benjamin Franklin).

And let’s be honest with ourselves about how we read on line so we can do a better job for our readers.

You’re not alone if you get an uneasy feeling that you have to sacrifice your journalistic ideals to write news stories this way; lots of people feel that way at first. Remember that not every story should be written this way. It may be helpful to make a mental distinction between a “report” and a “story.” When you’re writing a report, you should be making conscious decisions about conveying information to the reader as efficiently and logically as possible. When you’re writing a story, you’re focused on creating a compelling narrative, using word choice, rhythm, pace, figurative language and color to create an imaginative immersion for the reader.

Think about how you read on line. Watch yourself: Do you jump from item to item? What kinds of stories are you most likely to read all the way to the end?

How well does this story about a proposed tax increase reflect what the Slate article says about the way we read on line? What could the writer have done differently to make this piece more readable? And, as a reader, what do you think of it?

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98 Responses to We write to be read. Right?

  1. Jeff Lautenberger says:

    When is it appropriate to use bold words “as if there were no tomorrow” in actual news articles? This is not something I’ve seen regularly (if ever) in the Missourian except for some sports stories and breaking news briefs.

    I agree that there’s a time and place for this style of writing and delivery, I’m just not sure what it is, and how expanded it should become. I don’t think it’s something we need to be doing in normal, everyday articles at risk of totally dumbing down our coverage to our readers.

    Any further insight?

    • reedkath says:

      I think we should be doing it in our everyday coverage — absolutely. But the content dictates the form. What’s the best way to tell the story? Might not even need words. We default to the old-fashioned block of text because we default to the old-fashioned block of text. It doesn’t acknowledge the way most people read on line. Further insight? Try it. You will see.

    • Aleah Kennedy says:

      Bold words would be most easily applied to the Missourian web articles. Points or words that you want to stick out will do just that, but not imply anything else like an italicized word would.

  2. taberens says:

    I’m always hearing about how writing like this is easier for the reader to digest. I understood the concept behind it, but it wasn’t until I read Agger’s piece that I experienced really it.

    Although it took a lot of scrolling, that was a shockingly quick read, and much easier to retain.

    I try not to advocate laziness, but if readers will retain the information that much better, I just might change my mind.

  3. Thank you for this post. I loved Agger’s article. It was not only very helpful and informative, but humorous as well.

    It’s a little saddening that this is what we have to do in order to keep the audience reading. However, we do similar things for print (one sentence leads, short paragraphs, deciding what quotes to pull out, etc.), so it only makes sense to adapt it in the web format. A person reading a newspaper probably doesn’t also have a book open, but someone reading an online article could have more than one window up trying to look at multiple pages at once.

    When writing a brief on a drug bust that occurred Monday, my editor and I decided to make a bulleted list of the different suspects. It made more sense to lump them all in one paragraph since they shared some of the same charges, but it was “easier” to read in bullets.

  4. sydneyaberry says:

    I like taberens point about readers being able to retain the information better. I was thinking about writing in this style because it’s a seemingly quicker read and because it is more appealing to readers. But it really does also make it easier to remember the information.

  5. What’s are the odds that writing like this could eventually take away our voice? I’ll admit, when I read that piece I skimmed over a lot of the statements that were in parentheses and a lot of that was the author’s voice. Where do we draw the line between bullet points, short sentences and losing our voice completely?

  6. Michael Agger’s article was pretty amusing me to…I really felt like he was speaking directly to me. Being a journalist in the making, it’s kind of sad to admit that I fall to the habits that Agger lists, so I am certain that news consumers do this as well. I do disagree with Nielsen when (in reference to blogging) he says, “Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easier to write. But they don’t build sustainable value.” I definitely think that some blogs have dedicated followers. Terrible example, but I do know people who check Perez Hilton’s gossip blog daily and are very avid readers. I think it might be a trademark of our generation.

  7. Esten Hurtle says:

    I really find it difficult to understand how a usability expert like Jakob Nielsen could have a website that looks like that. In my opinion, it comes across as a questionably organized flurry of links with very little visual appeal holding it together. It’s very easy to overdesign sites too, and maybe that’s what Nielsen was trying to avoid, but I really don’t get the layout. Maybe that’s just the photo-j part of me speaking. Or maybe it’s just my own personal taste.

    Excellent article in Slate though. Love the humor, but I think it’s pretty spot on. I’m a fan of articles that hover around ~200-500 words, unless there’s something absolutely huge going on (or there’s an interesting person/situation that warrants the extra space). I wish we could find more visually appealing ways to deal with bulleted lists though. They’re great for conveying information, but they mess up the typographical flow of the article in most cases.

    • Esten Hurtle says:

      Quick edit: I found Nielsen’s explanation of his design here: http://www.useit.com/about/nographics.html. It’s interesting, and I agree with some of it… I think we’ve gotten past the point, bandwidth-wise, that we need to make all-text sites. Almost every has at least a 1.5mbps line, which is enough to quickly download most images. Plus, you can do interesting things visually without any images, only using CSS.

      His second bulleted point seems to make more sense. Design teams are expensive.

  8. Dustin says:

    I agree with Samantha – it is possible that short. sentences. remove. voice. Hopefully the short stuff entices readers to our substantive articles, whether in print or online.

    I also agree with Whitney – blogs can have sustainable value. Most don’t, but they certainly can.

    I actually read Agger’s article earlier this week and have become quite familiar with Nielsen since I’m using his work in my lit review about magazine websites:

    • F-pattern
    • 40/30 theory
    • his Creeps McGee bio pic

    I don’t think we have to change our notion of a “good story,” but we do need to change our notion of how a good story is properly conveyed online.

  9. Kelly Moffitt says:

    I think writing like this, though easier, dumbs down the next generation of readers. Not everything should be easy. We just don’t have time to read any more–that is the travesty here. If we continue to write in this ADD fashion, I feel like people will have no grasp of vocabulary or sense of voice or anything. It makes me sad to think we should just give in to what people WANT to read. But I guess that is just how business has to operate these days.

  10. kothemizzou says:

    One of the most resounding lessons from this piece, I think, is that if you expect to reach similar levels of engagement with text on the computer as you do with a paperback in your hand, you have to practice some of the same habits you use to become engaged with text on paper as you do with text online. If you’re trying to focus on an online article, it’s probably not the best idea to be Facebook chatting or IM’ing or text messaging concurrently, at least if your goal is to achieve comprehension. Instant messaging or facebook chatting is analogous to reading a book with the TV on; you’re more than likely not going to process everything lucidly, cohesively.

    -Leif Kothe

  11. “hyperlink like crazy”
    I think that hyperlink is really useful to the readers, no only to support our statements, but also because journalists are providing an additional service by using them. I find really easy to start including links…My problem is that I never know when I should stop. Is there any specific tip that could help us to know when is worth to use them?
    Thank you!

  12. Sean Leahy says:

    To be honest, I don’t think I would have made it all the way through the Agger’s piece if it hadn’t been broken up into small paragraphs and bullet points.

    I loved how we was telling us about effective online writing and showing us at the same time.

  13. Caitlin Wherley says:

    I really enjoyed Agger’s article. It definitely highlights the skills we need to adopt as 21st century journalists.

    As more and more newspapers and magazines become available online, a good chunk of us will be writing for online publications and need to be familiar with effective writing tools.

    I think that Agger gave me a good idea of what readers are looking for in articles. These tips are ones that I think the Missourian (and of course other online news sources) should adopt.

  14. mmarkelz says:

    @ Samantha and Dustin: I’m worried about losing voice as well.

    I’m wondering about using hyperlinks. I hate being navigated away from a page WHILE I’m reading it.

    * it’s annoying to click back and forth between tabs
    * it’s hard to find your place when you return
    * it’s hard to transition mentally between 2 bodies of info (prose and stats)

    For these reasons, I usually don’t click on links.

    It seems like hyperlinked material would be better embedded within the text like a photo with text wrapping. This is tough with multiple-page docs, but I think would help continuity of the reading experience.

  15. Meng Ren says:

    I think Agger made great points about writing an eye-catching article. It feels like the article can really “talking” lively.
    My opinion is that we should try this method, not only to try the tips by Agger, but also things like change the color of some web pages which best suits reader’s eyes, as well as something like a cleaner composing of an article shown online.
    There’s a web site I like the most. There are a lot information on the Web site, but basically these information are presented by links, and you feel like digger into a new world and it’s kind of like a lost-and-found experience.
    So I think journalists should not only write well, but also present well. Sometimes the appearance of your article really helps!

  16. I don’t necessarily agree with Nielsen’s point on blogging. He says that blogs don’t “build substantial value,” but I find that to be completely false. Personally, I visit many blogs multiple times per day to find information on subjects (sports) that I want to know more about. I don’t just go on Google and search “Missouri Tigers.” I know the blog I want to go to (RockMNation) and I go there. That seems like some substantial value to me.

  17. Kurt Woock says:

    A bad typeface is the equivalent of a fuzzy radio station (or tv station, if you have bunny ears). While you can’t always control it, you will if you start your own site (even blog).

    Some dialogue on choosing typefaces here:
    http://ilovetypography.com/2007/09/19/15-excellent-examples-of-web-typography/
    http://www.typographyforlawyers.com/?p=587
    http://flywebmaster.com/webdesign/tips/typography.php

  18. alecialass says:

    I am glad that you posted this article, because it really made me think about how I really do read on the web…which is basically how Slate described it.
    The article really grabbed my attention in that way, but at the same time I don’t think I would have finished it if it weren’t for all of the bold words, hyperlinks, and bullet points. Thanks for opening my eyes!

  19. Eva Dou says:

    Yup, this got my attention.

    But I wonder if this method would still be as effective if it was more commonplace. By which I mean, if the Missourian’s site was chock-full of bulleted lists, would readers still pay attention to every one, or would they just become accustomed to them?

    Perhaps it’s because I have a special place in my heart for long sentences, but I think it would grate on my nerves if I encountered bullet points in every story.

  20. rosiedowney says:

    I personally think that people are attracted to reading articles containing bullet points because it reminds them of taking notes in high school or college. In school you are taught to take notes on the most important information and this note taking usually takes the form of bullet points.

    To me, when someone is bulleted I automatically think it is pertinent information and I begin paying closer attention. Bullet points=things I need to know, that might also be on an upcoming test. That might not have been the writer’s original intention but it works on me and my somewhat limited attention span.

  21. I noticed that you added “hyperlink like crazy” in this post and Agger didn’t in his blog. I have actually always wondered about this. It seems like we’re spending so much time and effort in cracking the online reader code, then offer up a distraction on a silver platter.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love me some hyperlinking. But does anyone know what the return rate is back to your original article? There have been times where I will start on one page, click on a hyperlink, read the first paragraph until the next hyperlink, etc. Eventually my brain hurts, I somehow ended up on a Cat Fancy blog or whatever, and then I just quit. I know the benefits of hyperlinking, but is retention really one of them? (This question is not rhetorical. I really want to know.)

    • reedkath says:

      I need to track down some research I heard about on hyperlinking. You are absolutely right about the distraction potential. I should probably revise that sentence to say something like “hyperlink judiciously,” but I will get back to you on this.

    • reedkath says:

      Actually, I just counted the hyperlinks in Agger’s piece. Eighteen. That’s a lot of hyperlinks!

  22. Katie Bevan says:

    I can not think of any more relevant information that we have learned thus far.
    Instant gratification has become one of our generation’s worst vices.
    In order for something to grab you, it most certainly maybe not be in paragraph form.
    And I must say I am as guilty as the average internet peruser.

    The best stuff is picture, caption, picture, caption, video link. But only if the video is short.
    We want to understand it, and we want to understand it now.

    It is truly unfortunate that the art of lengthy writing is no longer being appreciated. It directly links to the dying art of snail mail, also unfortunate.

  23. Ben Frentzel says:

    This rocked. I’ve been dogging on web-based reading for a long time now and I’m glad someone important (and heard) is saying it.

    I liked reading that article. It was something that really could only be told with words.

    But I love it when a few pictures are all that’s needed.

    I’ll stop and stare at a great, descriptive picture instead of a few lines of text any day.

  24. I agree with Agger’s point that there is lucid reading and “infomavors” reading. When I am in a hurry and looking for an article to read I scan all sorts of articles and may even just read the bullets of an article, but when I find an article that I really relate to I slow down and either read half of it or all of it.

    I actually liked the way the article about the man trying to change “committed rape” from another man’s death certificate was written. Maybe all stories should be written like that. An info box with bullets and main points of the story and then a longer narrative story. Well maybe not all stories but more of them. I was able to scan it and then go back and read it when I had time.

    I prefer reading print/newspapers but there is also not as much time for that. Most people are on their computers all day at work and that is where they get a chance to surf the web for news. I don’t believe most of the public actually busy the paper and sits down to take a moment to read it.

  25. brianagust says:

    I also do not agree with Nielsen’s point on blogging. As quoted before, “Such postings are good for generating controversy and short-term traffic, and they’re definitely easier to write. But they don’t build sustainable value.” I feel that Nielsen, as a journalist, should not have stated that all blogs lack value. This lumps all blogs into one category and would probably offend some bloggers.

    However, I did enjoy Agger’s tips on how to write effectively as a journalist in today’s society. It’s sad that I, too, have “lazy eyes.” Everything he said is so accurate and I liked his metaphors – “Moby Dick has become spa” and “Slate is Grand Central Station.”

  26. I always scroll down a page to see how long it is (or in a book, to see how many pages are left in a chapter). Sad, I know. But this article was a simple, easy read, and one that I breezed through. I loved it.

    The bullets and short paragraphs are not just a myth. I agree wholeheartedly with what Agger had to say. I just finished a novel for another class, and I did not realize it until I read it in this article – that when you actually enjoy reading something, you are in a sort of trance, effortless. When you are online, there are so many distractions, and that is why paper is a “getaway.”

    This read was humorous and a great source of information. I plan on bookmarking right away!

  27. Regina Wang says:

    Wow, I have to admit that I find this blog entry particularly easy to read. My eyes were drawn to the bold words and bullet points immediately.

    I liked Agger’s article, but he used way too many bold words — an irritating habit.

  28. Lizabeth Hartnett says:

    I agree with Whitney’s point on this article. Why can’t blogs create sustainable value? Is it because of the blogger? The subject matter? If the blogger is a journalist or not? Some blogs are frivolous and contain superficial content, but there are others that have thought provoking and intelligent things to say. Like this blog, for instance. While it isn’t so much as informing a large audience of international news or something of the like, it is a place where good, stimulating conversation occurs and the information is important (well, at least to us it is). Is that not something of substantial value?

    I also agree with Dustin’s point. A good story is a good story and most people can recognize them. Yet the audience online and the audience that reads the paper may differ greatly in their reading styles. A person who sits down to read the paper every morning may have more time to do so than a person who quickly scans a news website on their Blackberry. I think that learning how to make sure that a good story is both good in print and online is vital to succeeding as a journalist in the 21st century.

  29. sakitu says:

    When I read Agger’s article and got to the part about ludic reading, I remembered a piece I read online in Sports Illustrated about Haitian soccer player Joe Gaetjens. I’m not a sports person at all, but I remember being enthralled by this piece. After reading Agger’s article, I imagine myself as one of the little sloths in the jungle. While everyone else was searching for soccer stats and results, I was slowly enjoying my soccer history snack.

    BUT, it does all the things Agger’s article says we should avoid– long lines of texts, no hyperlinks, no bulleted points. You even have to scroll down and click to read the full seven pages. Ridiculous! In fact, looking at it now, I don’t want to read it and I wonder why or how I did at all… Would hyperlinks make this article better? Definitely. I’m a clicker, and I distinctly remember searching Wikipedia for more information on Gaetjens and Papa Doc Duvalier. Pictures would improve this piece, too.

    Oh, and if anyone feels like braving the massive amounts of text, the story is here:
    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1166756/2/index.htm

  30. rynashley says:

    First, let me just say that you’re right — Nielsen is definitely the villain in “007: The Free Press Statesman.”

    However, though I see the logic behind Agger’s article, I all but completely and wholeheartedly disagree. This disagreement is mostly based on personal preference. I am a definite Type – A +. I want it on paper.

    I also despise reading on monitors. Back-lit screens hurt my eyes and make me sleepy. I tend to avoid internet reading simply for that fact. Many a class assignment has gone unread because it was 20 pages in PDF form. (I don’t like to print things either.)
    Bulleted lists and bolding don’t do much for me. I think they might be bad for my attention span. I jump down three sentences and then come back to the bolded word. In fact, around “It’s a jungle out there” I started to get bored and wanted to return to this tab to complain in your comments section. I had to fight the urge, which resulted in more jumping.

    I’m not rejecting Agger and Nielsen; for the average reader I am positive these things hold true. I know from personal experience the theories on ludic reading are correct. I am a definite scanner, and avid user of apple+F. If I know the information I want is there I’ll read, if not, I move on. Quickly.
    In fact I just wrote a how-to article — I put it in chunk form, each piece addressing a specific step. It works. Just not for everyone.

    I can’t help but wonder what Nielsen and Agger have to say about writing for the narrative reader — the one that wants everything in full paragraphs no matter what format the article is in. I also can’t help but wonder why I wrote so much, and if anyone will read it.

    According to slate.com: the answer is ”no.”

  31. Lauren Omahen says:

    I really enjoyed the article by Nielsen and I agree with some of the other posts above. I was laughing to myself while reading the article because everything that he said was so true!

    Previously, I was reading a textbook for another class, and it was so hard for me to focus. Then I read this article, and I just kept thinking ‘ My God, he’s good’. He mentioned how the bold text prevents readers from skimming, and truthfully if I noticed that a bolded word was coming up I read the entire sentence/ paragraph.

    I almost felt like the article was like a game. He knew all of the answers, and the bolded text and links was a way to get the reader through the maze and end up at the same conclusion that he set out to communicate.

  32. I thought the article was very informative. I never really noticed the different forms and voices of writing used in the same sentence, but it’s good to know now that I’m reporting. I guess we never really notice our mistakes until their pointed out to us.

  33. Eric Holmberg says:

    This article by Agger, while describing the different conventions journalists can use to attract readers, isn’t quite the moral dilemma that one might think. Agger’s central point relies on concise writing and the tenets of Strunk and White as the article mentions. To say that our readers are going to be more ruthless is a good thing, perhaps a great thing. It would, hopefully, create a divide between a lot of the poor writing on the web and the great stuff will stand out even more (regardless of the name on the masthead).

  34. What strikes me most is how the reading style has changed so much, and how we, the writers need to learn how to adapt.

    My pastor recently showed me an old copy of a newspaper, “The Country Gentleman.” It was from 1908. There were no photos–the only graphics were simple ad sketches. Pages were full of text–really full. Completely full.

    My first thought was, “There is no way people would read this now.”

    I like long stories, and I’m not a fan of bullet points. But as wonderful as I think my own words might be, if no one reads them, they serve no purpose.

    We write to be read. We write to serve our readers. If we want to serve them, we need to engage them. Like Agger says. Like Nielson does.

    Bolds.
    Bullets.
    Short sentences.
    Hyperlinks.

    I think it’s time to follow the advice a professor gave me a few years ago: “Be economical with your words.”

  35. Oopss…apparently I missed an HTML tag somewhere to end the bold. My apologies…

  36. Laura says:

    I’m glad there has already been dialogue about hyperlinks because this is my main issue with the article.

    I went to Nielsen’s original article (linked from Agger’s) with all the graphs about mixed diet, which is fascinating to me, but the hyperlinks turned into a distraction. If there are too many, I feel overwhelmed as a reader and think that if I don’t explore every single one, I’m missing out on something deeper, which isn’t always the case.

    So even though I agree with him about hyperlinks adding credibility and even transparency, I think there needs to be some guidelines for moderation.

  37. Jaclyn Dipasquale says:

    I loved the article. Agger is spot on. As I was reading through the text I realized how much of what he was saying applied to me, especially when it comes to my methods while researching for a paper. I also enjoyed the humorous tone.

  38. As much as I understand what the article is trying to say, it does urk me a little. It’s sad that this is what it’s come down to, that people won’t read unless it’s short and eye-catching. It’s extremely frustrating, especially as a reporter.

    You have so much to say, and the reality is, there’s a good chance no one’s going to read it from beginning to end. It’s something I’m not sure will ever change, I’m not sure I could even propose a solution, because it seems like something we will just have to accept.

  39. Jamie Sheirer says:

    When I read this article, I immediately thought about the latest endeavor by my favorite sports columnist, Rick Reilly. He’s started a ‘column’ which strictly covers “What I’d Tweet if I didn’t hate Tweeting.” He publishes briefs and blurbs that initiate conversation among his readers and also serve as a gateway to some of his column. This article by Slate made me realize how effective writing this for the web can be. It also made me consider the role of social media like Twitter on news media. The 140 character limit exemplifies the idea of writing short. If readers are interested, they will seek more information!

  40. I think the critical element of reporting, especially online, is where our audience is. Are they reading the blurbs on the front page of Yahoo! or are they diving into an in depth article on Rolling Store, Vanity Fair, or MotherJones? People will read a big story that is in depth story like but for simple bits of information, people do not want to wade through a long narrative.

  41. asgrund says:

    I noticed something in class today that I didn’t notice the first time that I read it. While I don’t often click on hyperlinks, and while too many are distracting, I like the fact that they’re there. The lighter color helps break up the text. It reminds me of my notes, which are often color-coded, and gives the whole thing a feeling of organization. I realize that this is unintentional, but it does give a better feel, in my opinion.

  42. jacqui says:

    We’re still learning about how people read online, but just pay attention to your own experience. The eye searches for quick places to go, almost acting like a camera, taking little snapshots instead of actually reading. So bullets, boldface and white space that sets words or phrases apart help.

    This approach is most effective for people reading fast (skip-and-scan reading) and making quick decisions about where/whether to go next.

    Reading long-form stories online is probably an entirely different matter. But for news bursts and informational pieces, think smart bits and bites.

  43. Lainie says:

    I was going to say Agger way overdid it, but then I saw the 50 + comments… I guess he did something right.

  44. Jonas Weir says:

    This kind of sad, but true. We are all skimmers. I just wonder where the place will be for thoughtful writing online. I also worry if bloggers will replace professional journalists because I’m going to pay back plenty of student loans after school. This was thought provoking, worrisome and most importantly easy to read.

  45. Jared says:

    I observed earlier this afternoon, (while writing a blog post): I use more bullet points, hyperlinks and bold/italicized text a lot more in recent posts on my blog than I have in my articles. But I’m including more lists and hyperlinks in general than I used to. (I am a very conventional writer. I like the way each word can have a different effect depending on the context surrounding the text and the purpose of the piece as a whole).
    The article about the tax increase definitely reflects the recommendations proposed in the Slate article. Maybe if the section “Budgeted at…fiscal years” were italicized, I would have caught it on the first read-through. And italics would have broken it into a smaller segment… But overall, I really enjoyed reading the piece. When I surf online, I jump around until I find something interesting.
    Which is normally Facebook, reading the short status updates on my news feed.
    Twitter just annoys me because by the time I finish reading 4 tweets, there are 28 new ones.
    And I can’t think of the kinds of stories I’m most likely to read all the way to the end, unless we’re talking fiction novels, because I think it really depends on my mood and what’s happened in my life that day. If I’ve done nothing, I might read a dense article, but if I’ve had a packed day, I won’t read far into many articles because I just want to get the most important information and then either go eat or sleep. Just bein’ completely honest here.

  46. Fedor Zarkhin says:

    I have mixed feelings about Agger’s article. On the one hand the language wasn’t interesting and made me feel like a rabbit with ADD. On the other, it was easy to read and absorb in a short amount of time. The conclusion for me is that there’s no reason to assume full paragraphs are ever necessary. We’re just used to paragraphs, so we default to them. It’s important, however, not to overcorrect and bullet-point stories that need voice and good writing as opposed to concise bits of information.

  47. keliza13 says:

    With the evolution of journalism comes the evolution of our writing style. In History of American Journalism, we read some articles that were a snooze to go through but were probably riveting at the time they were published in the penny press or partisan press. With our new digital medium, journalists should adapt, and bullet points and separated sections (like the tax story) are a good way to start out.
    I can see why Nielson is a danger to journalism just by the “information foraging” he describes; by saying people are “foraging,” I get this image that they skip from place to place, trying to grab info in the little chunks they can read before the next “click” of the mouse tempts them into going to a different page. We don’t want people just reading the lead and nut graf of our articles, we want them to read the whole thing. Maybe that’s why it’s important for us to follow what Agger suggests to get the scanners to read. We as journalists have to adapt to our new medium, as well as to our new readers.

  48. Vandrelyst says:

    I disagree with a lot of what that article said. When paragraphs are too short, and you’re on a larger monitor that makes them look that way, I tend to not take the content seriously and I get annoyed scrolling down so much, skipping so many blank spaces.

    Also, the bolding of words? No, please! Some of the words he bolded were almost random, and that drove me insane. On the other hand, in the Missourian article, Asif Lakhani used bolding in a way that was much more effective for my taste. He bolded the headings, giving me something to grab onto as I went through the story. Bolding words within sentences really messes with my mind and is an enormous turn off.

    For further clarification: When I read a bolded word, I hear that part of the sentence hugely emphasized. And it throws the rhythm way off when I’m reading, unless that part really is /super important/ (I would have bolded that if I knew how to in a comment.)

  49. I’ve always thought about this when reading textbooks for classes especially. I hate coming to a full page of text with a paragraph that’s almost as long as the page itself. It’s so hard to get through it. I think that this type of writing is definitely needed, especially for online articles. It’s so easy to get distracted with the internet, there’s just so much out there to see/read.

    On the other hand, though, it is depressing to see the artistic side of journalism put on the back burners for this type of style. But the questions has to be asked, would you rather have the readers read your stories or have a beautifully crafted piece of work that readers will maybe get 1/3 of the way through, if you’re lucky.

    • reedkath says:

      But I don’t think that artistry is always appropriate, and that’s the point. When the story is about a meeting where decisions were made that affect people’s taxes, for example, readers are just scanning through a text piece looking for the decision anyway. I do this sometimes in Supreme Court stories — I’m just skimming to see certain facts and maybe the majority opinion. As journalists, we’re often actually “hiding” the information with a lot of words, in some kinds of stories. Please don’t miss that point: when I talked about scanner style stories on Thursday, I talked about their appropriateness for certain kinds of stories.
      I think the whole point is to think of what the purpose of the story is and decide what form best serves that purpose. I posted a link to a story in the New York Times today about an autistic teenager. Whole lotta words. And a whole lotta great observational writing, augmented by some nice multimedia pieces. You can almost visualize the story meetings that took place where a team broke down what people were going to want to see and hear about Justin. Just as I was thinking, “I want to see Justin’s artwork,” I noticed a slideshow of his artwork. Perfecto!
      No one in his/her right mind would write a scanner story about Justin.

  50. I must admit, when I read things online, I do mostly skim a site. I only read an article fully if it’s something I’m very interested in, currently the wildfires in Texas, or if it’s something entertaining. I would say I only finish one out of every six or seven articles I read online. Although, I do this in print editions as well. Being a journalist, I know most articles have the most important information at the top, so after the first few meaty paragraphs, there’s not much reason to continue reading unless it’s something that I’m personally interested in.

    I think the use of bold is a very interesting concept. I understand that it is utilized because journalists and editors understand and accept that most people skim online text. However, I can’t help but think that we are making it more likely that readers are going to skim. Personally, reading your post and the article I did find myself skimming to the bold words and bulleted lists. I’m not sure if that’s really the point of bolding, because I feel like we are inviting readers to read less and less of the actual article.

  51. Hannah Burkett says:

    I am without a doubt a serial skimmer. I don’t read articles all the way through unless the topic is something I really want to know more about or the lede catches my attention. I look for the key facts in an article: who was killed, what happened, or what court decision was made. There are few long stories that I ever read fully without skipping around; an exception to this is the current CNN front page story about terror in a small town. (http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2011/terror.small.town/part1/index.html)

    When I write, I am the exact opposite. Perhaps it is the creative writer in me that wants to write long, wordy stories that sound more like novels than news. Still, I always try to ask myself: is this interesting enough that if someone else wrote it I would read all the way through? If the answer is no, then it is time to scrap this draft and start a new one.

    And just to touch on Jakob’s website for a moment: I can’t deal with the way it looks. I understand his reasoning behind a very basic design and do not debate his logic, but I am too much of a designer at heart to not want more. I am the girl that judges a book by its cover: if it doesn’t look visually appealing, don’t count on me reading it.

  52. Carlos D. Navarro says:

    As was the case for most of you out there, Katherine’s post did get my attention in the first place, and kept me reading to the very end. So did Agger’s piece. I do think that hyperlinking is a resource at hand when we write for online publications and, as such, it should be used as often as possible, albeit reasonably. I think many of us, especially when we are baby writers, tend to hyperlink in excess. Many times, we do not even stop for a minute and think about what our hyperlinks achieve (or don’t achieve). Where are we sending our readers? Do they really need to or want to go there? These questions should pop into our minds the minute we decided to hyperlink.

    As for the story about the proposed tax increase, I do believe the intention of presenting the information as a bulleted list was a great initiative. I just don’t think it was carried out in the most efficient way possible. After each bullet, there seems to be an entire paragraph. I’d expect one short sentence, two tops. But I just don’t see the point in bulleting a four-sentence paragraph.

    For example, there is a list of the three major projects to be covered by the tax increase plan. Then each project is presented after a bullet. The starting sentence for each bullet is something like “The first/second/third project is…”. In my opinion, these sentences are redundant, especially after the writer said there would be three projects. It’s obvious that after such an introductory sentence, each of the following bullets will introduce a new project. Short sentences after bullets are more effective at catching and keeping the reader’s attention.

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  54. I completely agree with a lot of what people are saying. I fall habit to a ton of the things he was talking about. I always find myself skipping huge grafs when I am reading news. The sad part is I could be missing something important that would help me better understand the story. I think that Agger’s article brings up some important points and good ideas that can help us as journalists reach our audience in the most effective way possible. However, I also think that there is a fine line between using bold type and bullets to help disseminate information to our audience, and over-utilizing these tools to take away the “art” of the process from journalists. I know that our duty as journalists is to our readers, however, there is something to be said about our passion as journalists to write. I do, however, think that there is a happy medium between the two, and that Agger’s article gives some very useful tips (like only one piece of information per graph) that can help us all do our jobs better as journalists.

  55. Lauren Page says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. There are a lot of good tips, like using bullets, one idea per graf, etc. that I think are necessary to utilize in order to reach a large audience online. Although it’s somewhat of a travesty that the majority of people feel they don’t have time to read or don’t want to put forth the effort, as journalists, it’s part of our job to serve the readers, which is partially reaching them where they are, which, in today’s society, is online.

    I think there are two main ares of focus that journalists need to take in order to reach the ever-growing number of online readers:
    —Concise writing
    —Visual appeal

    In my opinion, journalists need to keep it simple when writing for online readers. Don’t include unnecessary information, words, etc. Also, this visual appeal that I’m talking about consists of making the story easy to look at and laid out in a balanced way on the page.

    “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” —William Strunk, Jr.

  56. Xiaonan Wang says:

    I am a lazy online reader. Before I realized, I had clicked through Agger’s 4-page post. That rarely happened to me before.

    I think the notion of pleasure reading is so important for journalists to survive that we do have to “sacrifice (some) journalistic ideals” to cater to online readers’ tastes. That doesn’t mean online readers are less literate, but that people have different expectation for information online.

    I agree with Agger that paper is irreplaceable. That’s why E-ink is a revolutionary technology. I spend much time reading online, but I still prefer holding my Kindle and read long and thoughtful works.

    • reedkath says:

      I’ve become very specific about what device I choose to read a particular thing. I love my Kindle, too, for reading long things for pleasure. I prefer my IPad for reading long newspaper or even longer magazine articles. I read only short things on my laptop because of the distractions on web sites. And sometimes, I want to read something in print because that’s how it was designed to be read. Oh, and I left out my phone! I like to read breaking news stories on my phone, especially via a news app. It would be so nice to have one device that could adjust its display to personal preferences for a specific reading task or desire.

      • Xiaonan Wang says:

        I really hate my laptop when I have to click multiple pages or scroll down and down and down. I just give up. But I like reading a real newspaper which sometimes make my neck sore and hands dirty.

        BTW, I have to scroll down and down and down to read the comment section of this post. I am just wondering how many people will actually read through all comments and get hold of different threads of discussions. Can commenting section become user-friendly too?

  57. Karee Hackel says:

    Reblogged this on Karee Hackel and commented:
    I found this article quite helpful and very interesting. There are some really excellent tips that are available for journalists to utilize, such as using bullets, bold type, etc. For certain stories, I think this can be helpful in order to better serve the interests of our readers.

    When reading online, I personally know that I skip around frequently and hardly ever finish a story in its entirety. There are just too many distractions online. It’s a shame that I – an aspiring journalist – fall prey to this, but I suppose the convenience and ease of the Internet make it easy, fun and accessible to jump around from site to site.

    However, this is quite the opposite when I sit down with a hard, paper copy of any news or media publication. As a magazine journalism major, I love the feeling of opening one of my favorite publications. I read everything in great detail and always finish the magazine from cover-to-cover. That’s what paper publications bring a sense of structure to my life. When I’ve got a physical copy of a publication, I don’t want to jump around and skim the details. I want to sit, soak it all in and enjoy the richness of what a paper publication brings to my life.

    For online, journalists need to be concise. Unfortunately, I am not the only one who finds it difficult to read an entire online story without any sense of distraction. Like Agger’s article said, you’ve gotta keep it simple, understandable and concise. Include what is necessary and leave out what’s not.

  58. Ben Nadler says:

    I think this trend needs a name, and I nominate ‘the Powerpointization of the English language at large.’

    I should say that right off the bat I am skeptical of it all. Bullet lists have their place, but shouldn’t altogether replace transitional sentences. Hyperlinks have their place, but shouldn’t be an excuse to not explain something vital, because a reader can find it somewhere else.

    Furthermore, if an article has 75 hyperlinks, I think, it serves to further disengage the reader from the topic at hand to a tangent, rather than engage a reader on a higher level. Too many bullets can make an article clunky where it didn’t need to be. If there are seven boldface words in every sentence, than the emphasis altogether looses it’s meaning.

    I think that there is still a great appetite for long form, magazine style narrative and the internet is a fantastic platform for such work, because space is not as much of an issue as it is with a dead tree paper copy of a newspaper.

    In my mind bold face and bullets and hyperlinks should be used sparingly to enhance good narrative journalism, and not be the basis for a shift in form in the name of short attention spans.

    • reedkath says:

      You’re implying that there’s just one kind of story out there — the narrative journalism piece. There are many different kinds of stories, and we’re shoving a lot of them into the same, clunky form. Some stories are just about process, and we write them as if they’re full of delicious, narrative drama. The trick is picking the right form for the story, especially on line. First thing we should be doing is subtracting: remove this from the story and make it a graphic. Remove THAT and make it a map. Remove that big old paragraph and turn it into a bulleted list. Put the background (the boilerplate in a court story, say?) in an infobox. Now create subheads… etc. If we’re not thinking about how people read on line, we’re wasting our time. And theirs.

  59. Ben Nadler says:

    Also I kind of disagree with the framing of this lack of attention span as being something new or internet specific.

    Isn’t that why the inverted pyramid was invented and implemented, to give people the most important information first, before they skip over to the comics?

    • reedkath says:

      No, as a matter of fact, the inverted pyramid was created so that stories could be cut from the bottom in the composing room without losing the most important information.

  60. Lauren Page says:

    Reblogged this on Lauren Page.

  61. Felicia Greiff says:

    I think the Missourian article could have a lot cut, especially the bulleted lists. No one wants to actually read a bulleted list. They want to scan it, picking up verbs and important info without having to commit to a paragraph. You might as well write a regular story with full grafs if you have multi-sentence bullets.

    There’s also one large paragraph in the middle of the bulleted lists. As a reader, I am unlikely to stop to read a long paragraph at the very beginning. If you put it in the middle of a scanner story, I will certainly skip it.

    As for Nielsen’s advice, I agree with much of what he said. In a psych class I took, we talked about attention spans when people are on the Internet. Not only to people flip between tabs constantly, but they also stop reading every 15 seconds to look at ads in the sidebar. You have to hold readers’ attention because there are so many distractions available.

    I could definitely relate to the “ludic reading” part. There are certain websites where I read most articles word by word and take my time, and there are certain articles that I just read the first portion, scan the middle, and read the end.

  62. Hannah says:

    I think my biggest question in relation to so-called “web style” is how do I reconcile dumbing down information presentation with the fact that I, and I’m sure many of my peers in this class, do a lot of ludic reading and, by extension, ludic writing? The article says that you’ll slow down to read a text you’re interested in. I think the same phenomenon occurs when you’re working with a story you’ve become emotionally invested in. I can’t speak for everyone, but even with topics as seemingly mundane as an information forum at DRBL, I tend to get really involved. It’s like another part of my writing process. As a result, I usually have way too much to work with and, to worsen things, I think my reader should know all of it. The article says a lot about organization but not necessarily a lot about hierarchy of the kinds of information people consume most effectively via the web. What’s the best way to organize ludic research?

    Second, if blogging has no “sustainable value,” why has every journalism class I’ve taken not only suggested but required a blog? I’ve never read Mr. Nielson’s blog (I suspect it’s mostly cat pictures), but I think he has a gross misunderstanding of the value of blog content. In his perfect world, people would create comprehensive and insightful articles about topics to cater to their lazy readers, but isn’t that what many blogs, particularly in the rapidly growing science and technology realm, strive to do already? Maybe I’m not hitting that mark with my biweekly personal narratives of near emotional trauma, but I think there are a lot of bloggers who do fall closer to the target and they deserve some credit.

    Finally, are shameless pop culture references also necessary to writing for the web? How about an obnoxiously facetious tone, e.g. “deign to read,” “Have fun on Facebook,” etc.? I’m all about strong voice, but this article really started to grate on my nerves. An addendum to writing for the web: Try not to alienate your readers with condescension.

  63. Reading this post as well as the piece on slate made me go to the website where I do most of my online reading, Grantland.com, and see how they approach writing on the screen. What i noticed is that there is about an even split between columns filled with links, bold face font, and lists and writing in a more traditional form. What they did a great job on was creating two separate blogs within the website for the types of columns that are focused on the ADD generation. Long reads were still there and i realized that those were the ones that I read all the way through. It seems like articles that had all the links and bold type forced my eye to jump to certain points and made it distracting to read. It seems to me like a chicken and the egg type of situation. When i read a piece like this one, http://www.esquire.com/features/the-game/ricky-williams-australia-1204?click=main_sr, i want to read until the end because thats what the writer intended me to do. It seems all the lists may make it easier to read, but that is what it is wants the reader to experience.

  64. I probably read that article about the proposed tax increase in five minutes—faster than I’ve read any other article that seems equally as lengthy in the Missourian. I can honestly say I retained a lot of it, too. A story about a proposed tax increase sounds boring enough, let alone having to read it. But this format made it easy to read and digest, and more importantly I didn’t lose focus, which was the lesson to be learned from the Slate article.

    The way the article is divided into sections is similar, I think, to the way digits in phone numbers are grouped together in small clusters to make it easier on the eye and on our memories. And as we become increasingly a fast-paced, consumer-centric society, the inverted pyramid style just doesn’t do the trick (for some of us) anymore. People want specific information, and they want to find it quickly. We all have different priorities. Someone reading the same article may only be interested in the project’s timeline. Others may be interested in the projects. Others, still, the budget and costs.

    There’s an inherent danger, however, that a piece of information may be taken out of context if the article is written in this style. But then again, I was able to read the whole thing without unconsciously wandering off to Facebook. I think some audiences may also be concerned that this structure encourages readers to be lazy, but I beg to differ. I would argue that it gives people a reason to actually read articles that they might otherwise overlook because of dauntingly boring headlines and obscenely lengthy blocks of text. That’s not to say this format would work with every article. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for long narratives. In that case, it may not work. But for news about projects, meetings, open houses, essentially all the dull and colorless stuff, it would more than suffice.

    Anyway, this post is coming at a great time. I’ve been working on an article that seems to go on forever about a road project that’s been going on forever. I’ve been struggling to come up with the most effective structure to use, and I may have just found an option.

    Thank you for posting this, Katherine.

    • Whoops! I didn’t address what the author could’ve done differently.

      I would’ve liked to see more comments from people other than members of the Council and Parks and Rec Dep’t. and a separate section for the “Budget”. I added the figures mentioned in several of the project components, and $300K is unaccounted for.

      Also, photos and graphics would’ve added some visual interest, but who am I kidding? The article’s about a proposed tax increase for crying out loud. It’s supposed to be visually unappealing.

      As I think about it more, I think this whole article could’ve been a graphic—replete with appropriate links, of course.

  65. 1. I think bullets, subheads, and bolding have a time and a place. There is no perfect formula to figure out exactly where that place is, but I think that’s one of our jobs as journalists and story tellers.

    2. The Missourian Story about the proposed tax increase kind of lost me. Don’t get me wrong, when I read Agger’s article I thought it made a lot of sense, and when I looked at the tax increase article it looked good at first. Visually, it looked easy to read. Then I started reading it. Honestly, I wish there would have been some narrative to it. I think some of the bullets and subheads are good, but the story seems so choppy because so much of it was that way. I came away feeling like I had just watched a powerpoint that would be shown at a city council or budget meeting. Maybe some readers like that because that’s what they would have seen if they went to the meeting. But in general, I thought we reported the story because the public didn’t want to go to the meeting and be bogged down by facts or bits of information. I guess my problem with it is that it felt like so many separate things were thrown at me that I didn’t come away with any big picture idea because I forgot what the story was about halfway through.

    3. By no means am I saying this is perfect, but Celia and I worked on a higher ed story today and we did really focus on using subheads and bullets while maintaining some form of a narrative. Here’s the story. I’m interested to know if other people think it works. I personally like it but I think you get a little biased when you’re the writer and you understand the material more than an average reader.
    http://www.columbiamissourian.com/stories/2012/02/08/40-million-higher-ed-could-soften-tuition-blow/

    4. I was disappointed that I couldn’t bold anything in this reply. I tried. Sorry it’s long. Hope somebody reads to the end. 🙂

  66. marysaleah says:

    I have completely mixed feelings about everything regarding this topic of brevity. Whereas I found Agger’s article informative and even amusing, I also found his excessive use of bold and hyperlinks distracting. All I wanted was to read the article, but every time something was hyperlinked I was tempted to click it. I refused to click it, however, because all I wanted was to finish the article, and If I clicked the links I knew I’d get distracted and never return. For the first time, I felt like I understood what it must feel like to have ADD. But this ultra-brief, paraphrase format is the result of exactly that–a culture whose attention span is about 0.2 seconds. I feel like it’s a double-edged sword. You write in a style that’s brief and simple to cater to the online reader, but at the same time you’re enabling the reader to jump between pages. I recognize that Agger exaggerated to prove a point, but it was hard to buy into it when I felt so frustrated.

    I do think there’s something to it, though. Lakhani’s Parks and Recreation article was a quick and informative read. I think the format was effective at laying out the important information for the reader, and it article clearly answered who, what, where, when, and how. My only remaining question is why? I found myself skimming even the bullet points and reading only the bold headings looking for the answer to my question. The article (and previous article hyperlinked in the lead) failed to tell me SO WHAT–why should I care about the parks and recreation improvement plan? What’s it going to do for me?

    As for Nielson, I’m a sucker for packaging. I’m one of those people who buys one soap over the other because it’s in a nicer bottle. That said, Nielson’s website is frustrating. In my opinion, it’s organizationally confusing and visually displeasing. I read his explanation for the lack of graphics and am still unsatisfied. For someone who’s a “usability expert,” I’d think he’d value presentation.

  67. Nina Pantic says:

    I am definitely guilty of being a lazy, ruthless reader. I skim pages in seconds and if I see that a story is longer than 1 or 2 pages, I am immediately turned off. I’m attracted to pictures, bold words, different fonts, one line sentences, italics, quotation marks, etc. Basically anything that doesn’t look like this blog post is what gets my eye’s attention. If I’m reading with a purpose (like for a research paper) then I pay attention to more than the above but if it’s casual skimming, I will lose interest quickly. I admit this loudly. All of this applies more to online then print because if I’m reading print, I’m way more focused. The second my computer is on, I am tempted to look at….yes…Facebook…and yes..even YouTube. It’s an instinct reaction and likely an instinct of my generation. The Slate Magazine article makes perfect sense to me because it describes me.

  68. ericshort91 says:

    I think on line stories can be very good. Reading bullet points like that can really stress the point of certain ideas and draw more weight to them in relation to the rest of the article. However I would rather read something in long form. I became interested in journalism by reading long descriptive pieces in Esquire. I understand how one can think that on line compromises journalistic ideals because it gives off the perception that writing that way stifles creativity. This is not true it is just a different and more direct way of disseminating information.

  69. danburley says:

    I like Ben’s nomination (ab0ve), but I want to take it a step further and nominate this trend “The Powerpointization of the Human Brain”. Broad, I know, but bear with me.

    The brain’s neural pathways are changing. The brain functions like a muscle, strengthening when used and atrophying when ignored. If we frequently exercise our specific “long form reading” pathways, then our capacity and ability to ingest long form writing will stay fit. But the more we write in 140 characters and read abbreviated writing, the less we program those long form reading pathways to function at a high level. In fact, we are now pumping mental iron on another set of “short reading” pathways that tone themselves while we scan Twitter and read our bullet-pointed study guides, reshaping our attention spans.

    My oversimplified, pop-scientific explanation of intricate neurological processes is explained and reasoned infinitely better by Nicholas Carr, who wrote this fascinating article in The Atlantic. Carr goes on to blame computers for pervading our neuro-circuitry. Check out his book The Shallows for a more in-depth study of the remodeling of our brains (shameless plug).

    Whether or not Carr’s logic holds, he certainly brings up interesting points for journalists. We aim to serve our readers. If Carr’s argument has a shred of truth, shouldn’t we change our writing practices to best suit our readers evolving mental makeup? Carr, to Jakob Nielsen’s disdain, began as a blogger. He’s developed quite a following and can afford writing rich and nuanced material without fear of estranging audiences.

    This leads me to Asif’s article for the Missourian. Thanks to the bold subheads and bulleted project proposals, I zoomed through this article at light-speed and retained a great deal. Selfishly I wish all articles from the Missourian morgue were written this way. It would make background research easier.

    In terms of journalism, I think Asif tailored the article into quick-read format, perfect for an interested reader on the go. I’m for these box-score-type articles as capsules to fulfill an informavore’s appetite. But, if an informavore is anything like me, the long-form accompanying pieces need to be available for consumption. We don’t have to compromise long-form journalism to produce short-winded capsules like Asif’s.

  70. alliehinga says:

    As if to subconsciously prove a point, I made it about halfway through reading the comments before I started skimming toward the bottom.

    I vaguely remember reading an article once (don’t quote me on this, it’s been some time since I read it) about how the transition to internet reading interacts with our attention spans. I know I’m probably echoing a lot of what people have been saying already, but there is something inherently different about sitting down at your computer to read something and sitting down to read, say, a book or a newspaper. The intention is different, the mindset is different. I can sit down with a book and read for hours without getting bored, or at least paying attention to what is going on. Put me on the internet, however, and if something takes me longer to read than a few minutes while I’m trying to check about five different sites, you’ve lost me.

    I think this fundamental difference is extremely important to doing good online journalism. And, to be honest, I’m not sure it sacrifices journalistic ideals. Do I think the online form is less conducive to the story form? That’s plausible. But if you are looking specifically at highlighting crucial information for the reader attempting to do five things at once, writing for the internet isn’t such a bad idea. Honestly, it might get them to read more. It’s definitely been an adjustment for me to start playing with bullet points and more frequent subheads, but I also think it’s made the information a lot more digestable.

  71. Megan Donohue says:

    Greg Bowers was my professor for News and he had us read this article and then write an article in the same style. It was a great exercise because this type of writing certainly isn’t instinctive after years of being taught not to write like this in English and print journalism classes.

    I definitely agree that longer paragraphs don’t typically suit internet reading. If the paragraph is more than one or two short to medium length sentences I find myself in the type of pain that trying to read War and Peace produces. The bullets work well if they are all relatively short, but if the text goes to the third line on one bullet point my interest dwindles.

    Honestly, I am most likely to read stories about things that interest me or that are written well in a more narrative style. If the article is about squirrels with super powers, or how the Beatles love cats (true story) it doesn’t matter if each paragraph is a page long; I’ll read every word. Twice. On the flip side, if there is a story on a proposed bridge but it is written more poetically, I’d read that too. I was in a psych class that taught us that when kids as young as three sleep talk, it is in a narrative format, which demonstrates that the human mind is wired to learn in a narrative way. If writing, especially in the lede, is interesting and narrative (when possible) interest is captured more effectively.

    That was another good Greg Bowers tip – put your most interesting information in the lede. Structure is important, but I would argue that content is more important.

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  74. bwphoto4life says:

    Although I don’t have a lot to say in the online community, when I do have a point I’d like readers to take in and digest what I posting about.

    When I read Lakhani’s story, I get a broad but thorough understanding what I’m going to be reading about. I really like the way he gets close to the solution Slate has for lazy article readers.

    Personally, I love reading bulleted lists. I’m very technical reader and don’t like a lot of fluff. That said, in any kind of story with tension or drama, emotional dialogue is usually lost to short sentence structure.

    I love the idea of hyperlinking just about everything. Admittedly I am terrible at for the same reason I think over-linking is a weakness of tabloid websites. If a reader is intrigued by a link that leads to crucial background on a topic, they have to travel to another page which disrupts the reading process for me.

    Writing for print publication may need to borrow some of these tactics to capture readers attention and keep them from skipping to sports, but how do newspapers capture sanning eyes where links can’t engage flighty readers? Newspapers flourished before the days of the hyperlink, so its possible that our readers have changed as much as the info we offer them.

    What about info that is less than perfectly credible? You know how many times you fact checked your story, but if you link to solo publication or blog where people are talking about the same thing, how does your story ever stand on its own?

    • reedkath says:

      I want to respond to this question:

      You know how many times you fact checked your story, but if you link to solo publication or blog where people are talking about the same thing, how does your story ever stand on its own?

      But I am not sure that I totally understand it. Can you restate>

      • bwphoto4life says:

        Okay, to clarify I was wondering if it is okay to put a link to an independent blogger or citizen-journalist run site, which maybe has the breaking news our story is about, but has previous posts with biased, conflicting or inappropriate stories? Even if we accuracy check the information with other, official reports, the link may have undesirable ads or non-target articles with irrelevant information.

  75. erinfjones says:

    I think that the tax increase article does a pretty good job of breaking up the information into a more appealing online form, but it could go further. There is hyperlinking and lots of bold subheads that break up the ideas. The subheads are also listed with the information that readers are going to want to know first. However, my first instinct was to skim or skip the larger paragraphs that had a lot of information and numbers. Too confusing to take in, especially when its a story about something unappealing like taxes. Using bulleted points and bold key words would have been really helpful in those situations. I know that writing this way is the media of the future, that we have to change the way we present information to maintain readership. But I feel a little strange about writing like this. It doesn’t feel like I’m writing a “real” article, just “information for the lazy”. When it comes to typically more “boring” stories, I think this new way of writing is a very useful tool to make the information easier to understand and digest. But sometimes, such as with human interest pieces, multimedia and utilizing social media can make a story interesting and easier to digest, without resorting to tiny, bold tidbits of info .

  76. teresaroseklassen says:

    As someone who was originally planning on being an English major, I’m a sucker for lots of words, long-form prose and feature writing. My worst habit is forgetting I’m supposed to be writing a news story, and what the purpose of that is. The purpose is usually to inform, to to entertain. I’m not providing paragraphs of cathartic “ludic reading” as it was termed in the Slate article.
    With that in mind, if the goal is to provide readers with the key information in the simplest way possible, I think Asif’s article did a good job of that. This City Council issue isn’t something I want to spend a lot of time reading about. But Asif’s article quickly tells me what’s going on, why I should care, and what the next step is. As much as I love classic story structure, I have to admit it’s efficient.
    This week, I discovered hyperlinks in django (or, at least, I used them in my stories for the first time). They really simplify matters. It’s a great way to show where I’m getting the information. And, in long, drawn-out criminal cases and story packages, linking to previous Missourian articles can remind the readers in detail what the background of this story is, without having to rewrite everything. It saves everyone time!
    I think that as journalism students we hear a great deal about finding new ways to tell stories. On either side of the screen in the newsroom is a long list of story forms. I think we should experiment with those, more. It’s not necessarily about chopping stories up, and taking parts out. It’s about making everything more streamlined and user-friendly when it comes to online journalism. We’re nothing without readers, right? So there’s nothing wrong with a little change. Even if I wince a little every time I use a bulleted list, I understand that may be the best way to convey the information.

  77. Reblogged this on Vital Signs and commented:
    We had a similar lesson when I was in this class. Fortunately-unfortunately, the lesson continues to hold true.

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