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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 29-Sep-13

 


Sunday 29-September-13

Line breaks and holding attention

When you are writing something for other people to read, there is an interesting question about whether you should write in complete chunks or leave them hanging. Normally, it helps to write in chunks that they can easily capture and digest at once. This is why we have words, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, pages and chapters. Each is a chunk that is consumed as a separate 'thing'. In my Changing Minds book, for example, I deliberately write in consumable chunks, with short paragraphs and very little run-on between pages, so each can be read independently.

But is this the best way to do it always?

Take for example a tiny snippet from Matthew Leitch's Tutoring page on his Working in Uncertainty website. He wants you to email him. But then so do many sites. Here's what he writes:

 

If you want to explore this in the easiest way then

email me at matthew@workinginuncertainty.co.uk and
ask for a call to discuss the possibilities.

 

In some ways this is a nice chunk. It separates the call to action in a couple of paragraphs, with the key ask painted with an attention-grabbing yellow background. But notice how each of the first two lines are incomplete, ending in 'then' and 'and'. Reading this normally, how would this affect you? What Matthew is doing here is making clever use of the Zeigarnik Effect, where the need for completion leaves us with a tension at the end of each line, so we just have to move to the next line to keep reading.

Each break in any text can result in loss in attention, whether it is skipping to the next word, flying back to the beginning of the next line or turning the page. When there is additional effort or lower effort eye movement, this is an opportunity for the reader to drift off, thinking about something else or just going off to another task. We have many things seeking our conscious attention and they will intrude into any lapse.

I know Matthew and he's a very smart chap. Just within the example here are a number of other persuasive devices. But then each blog I write is supposed to be a chunk, so I won't talk more about them or it will get too long. But oh, look, I've now left you incomplete now so you'll just have to look harder and again at Matthew's clever writing.


Your comments


Hi. That's a very good post. Attracting and holding the attention of your readers is of utmost importance. I agree with you that small chunks are preferable. Lengthy continuous content becomes boring and easily loses the interest of the readers. You have provided good advice. Thanks for that!

-- GlobalKAP


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