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Writing for Online Reading — How Long Is Too Long?

by Linda Jenkinson

measuring length It may come as no surprise to those who read online that narrow text columns are preferable to wide ones. Good web developers pay attention to browser resolutions and screen sizes to ensure that their web pages are the right width. The length (i.e. word count) of an article is the writer's concern.

So, how long is too long? Is it better to keep a long article to one page or divide it into several pages?

There is no definite answer. Writers develop their own writing styles and readers develop their own reading styles. Some readers prefer long, detailed articles. Others like information in a nutshell. Some prefer clicking from page to page. Others find constant clicking annoying, no matter how long the article is.

Write for your readers and you’ll find followers who enjoy your style. The first step is to have the information your readers want. The second is to know how your readers prefer to read online.

Bring readers into the fold.

Experts tell us that before we read a web page, our eye canvases the screen for some eye-catching tidbit. The canvas is what your readers read ‘above the fold’. That means if you must scroll to get to the meat of the story, your eye may wander before you find the first bite.

Using more white space results in less area above the fold,’ but being generous with white space makes that initial eye-catcher easier to find. That is why headings are important to good content. Good headings make eye-catchers out of your main points.

As you read down this page, notice what your hand is doing. Is it on your mouse, scrolling the page as you read? Reading online differs from reading the print word where your eye travels down the page.

When your read on a screen, your eye finds its point of interest and fixes on that point. Scrolling down the page, helps you to maintain your focus on the page even as you search for the next point of interest. That’s what the experts mean when they say that Internet readers scan the web pages they read. There’s more to it than that, but reading while scrolling is a big part of scanning.

Some web gurus claim that scrolling shows the short attention span of the reader. However, online readers are regular folks who bring their normal attention spans to your content. Your topic draws their attention. How you format your content, holds it.

Give Your Readers a Chance to Click.

Have you ever right-clicked or clicked on a link when you didn’t mean to click? Your fingers didn’t get a mind of their own. They just had the itch to click. Turn that itch to your advantage.

  • Create a list.
  • Use strong headings.
  • Use text links within your content.
  • Break longer articles into shorter sections.

Entice your readers to click right through your website and your sales process.

If your topic is broad, divide specific points into separate pages. Keeping web pages relevant to one aspect of your message to give your readers a chance to click. It also helps you create optimized pages that hold single-topic information. The kind that search engine spiders love to eat.

Breadcrumb navigation helps readers progress through long articles, yet makes it easy for them to back up if they need to.

What length works best for you? One page or several per article?

Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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