Pat Friesen and Patrick Fultz

Editor’s Note: The successful cross-channel writers and designers of today are aware of the fact that their audience has a very short attention span. People will scan first and read later. What follows is a set of tips and tricks regarding writing and designing, provided by the Creative Director/Designer Patrick Fultz from DM Creative Group and the Copywriter/Creative Strategist Pat Friesen from Pat Friesen and Company. They will help you use words to increase engagement.

Are the marketing messages you sent viewed on a screen or on paper, or both? Wherever they are being seen, the goal is to get the attention of scanners so that there is immediate engagement. It is important to realize that most people do not read things word-for-word. Try to following tips to help you increase engagement, which means getting more responses, sales, donations or views on your site.

Patrick: Designers, make sure you read the copy before you begin your designs. Yes, read all of the copy. Writers may think it is obvious, but many designers will not even bother reading the copy. They will design something to make the copy look good, but the design does not necessary support or enhance the message. Writers and designers must work together.

Pat: Work with a designer so that they can highlight statistics, quotes and other bit-sized bits of information to make the copy seem more intriguing and interesting. Use color and varying typefaces to make sure these nuggets of information stand out within the copy.

Patrick: You must know the type of reader you are dealing with – are they impatient, average or heavy readers? If you know the readers’ habits, you can curate your copy in a way that appeals to them.

Pat: Make sure the length of the marketing message is appropriate relative to the audience and the objectives you have. Make sure sentences are short and words are small if you want to turn scanners into readers. Around 80 percent of the words should not exceed five characters. Make sure sentences are not more than 1.5 lines, and paragraphs are less than six lines. It is hard when dealing with digital media, because you often have varying line lengths, but you need to make sure the final copy looks right in the format it is being sent – not only in your Word document.

Patrick: Think about the layout of your copy as a roadmap that will get the scanner or reader towards your brochure, email or landing page. Writers and designers can work in conjunction to ensure the eye flow in the copy is going from headlines to subheadings to photos to charts and eventually the call to action.

Pat: Use numbered lists. They look interesting, they are easy to read and they are probably the items that readers will read before the rest of your copy. Use them in the right way, which means having the right amount and size of lists. Make sure they are succinct. If you start writing many sentences for each bullet point or number, you will lose the reader’s attention.

Patrick: The type you use can make a big difference in whether or not someone reads your copy. Follow some type rules, such as avoiding light type on dark backgrounds. Having too many italicized or bold words is not good either, because it contracts the purpose of only bolding or italicizing a few words for emphasis.

Stop using blocks of copy that are too wide for a person to track them with their eyes. Your line length should not exceed 40 to 60 characters.

Patrick: Add some short stories on the sidebar, charts, graphs and media to provide benefits, value and performance details to the person reading your copy. Sidebars are also a good way to add numbered lists to the copy.

Patrick: Going back to the topic of type choices.. using the serif type is a good idea if you are using ink on paper to get your message across. Serif creates a natural horizontal line that really gets a person’s eye through the copy. Serif is also easier to read, because most people grew up reading books with that font. Sans serif is best for on-screen copy, because regular serif typefaces do not look good on monitors due to excessive pixilation. Read my “Fonts in Email” article for more information.

Pat: when you are writing for digital purposes, use as many buttons and hyperlinks as necessary to increase engagement. But do not overdo it either, because it might make the piece look overly manufactured. You do not have to tell an entire story with your copy. Capture the reader’s attention and have him or her click on a link to learn more.

Patrick: Keep your type margins a decent distance away from the edge of a page. It is one of the biggest mistakes that people make, having type margins too far on the edge of a paper. It is much harder to read something that has such wide margins. Also avoid having too much or too little space between lines of text. Work with designers and managers to make sure the formatting of your piece is just right.

Pat: Do not bury the most important information, because the scanner will never read it! Position the biggest benefits or differentiators or reasons for a customer to buy your products or services in a way that everyone can read them. Include these nuggets of information in the headline, subject lines, start of paragraphs, lists or graphics.

And the last thing to remember is that you must not create copy or designs in a vacuum. Collaborate with other members of your team from the very beginning to ensure everything is in perfect harmony.

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