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All Readers are Not Created Equal - 10/20/2009 -

Not all readers start at the front and read their way through to the end. Some flip quickly through pages. Some read page by page. And, there are even those who start at the back and work their way to the front. How can your publication speak to them all?

By Paula Rosenberg Frey

We've all heard that not everyone learns the same way. Some learn by hearing, some by reading and some by doing. Well, the same concept rings true for your publication's readers. Not all readers start at the front and read their way through to the end. Some flip quickly through pages. Some read page by page. And, there are even those who start at the back and work their way to the front.

With so many different reading styles, how can you make your publication work for everyone? The best place to start is to understand the three main styles of digesting content: skimming, scanning and reading.

  1. Skimmers are visually driven. They read headlines and decks, callouts, images and captions, infographics and bulleted lists. Essentially, they are trolling for engaging material, though not necessarily anything in particular. These people tend to be more visual learners, as well. Most "influencers” spring from this group.
  2. Scanners look only for specific articles that interest them. For example, a sales leader will likely scan a publication for sales-related information. But even scanners will stop to read provocative headlines and view engaging photographs. These members are a blend between visual and literal learners.
  3. Readers are thorough and read most material from start to finish. It comes as no surprise then that these readers tend to be literal/linear learners. Mature audiences frequently fall into this category.

It's All About Access

So, how does one publication reach all of these audiences? Access points may be the single most important ingredient in a successful magazine. You've seen them —provocative headlines, concise decks, callouts, photos, captions, charts, timelines, graphs, infographics, calls to action — any device or visual interrupter that allows the reader to enter the story you're trying to tell.

Most people don't follow the traditional approach to reading anymore (i.e., headline, subhead, copy). Providing them with multiple, meaningful, access points gives readers more opportunities to find their way into a story. Even if they don't actually read the full story, those access points should provide the highlights of the message you are trying to communicate.

How many access points are we talking about? Typically, three to six per page will serve your readers well. Open up to any page in one of your current publications and count. Does it have a good combination of interesting heads, decks and subheads? Have you included sidebars, callouts, timelines, or other techniques to break up your running copy? If not, take a critical look and determine what you would do differently today to make sure you are providing readers with multiple access points.

Quality Counts

Sure, three to six access points is good, but is each of these access points as strong as it could be? Headlines should intrigue readers and inject wit or humor to engage. That often means they need to be more than a descriptor of the article content. For example, which headline below does a better job of grabbing your attention?

New Telecom Marketing Products


Taking the Call

Both work, but the second one works better. It has more life and is more intriguing. Use that same thought process for your other access points.

And don't forget to consider your captions. Sure, you can identify who is who from left to right; but as a reader, audiences are much more interested in what that group of people is doing.

For every access point on each page, think to yourself: If my reader only reads this one item, will they get adequate information? Will they get a sense of the message I'm trying to communicate? Will they have learned anything? If the honest answer to those questions is no—start over.

Fresh Eyes

Sometimes we're just too close to our work product to see its flaws. That's why it's always a good idea to ask for an outside critique of your publication. Editors and art directors are usually just too familiar with all the politics behind many of the decisions that have been made.

Having a third party review your publication can help you have frank discussions about where there are opportunities for improvement. That third party is often looking at your publication the way a member would be, helping you to more successfully communicate with that member — whether they are a skimmer, scanner or reader.

Paul Rosenberg Frey is senior vice president, marketing and client services, for GLC.


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