Black Friday has made its way to Australia and I, for one, love it.

Sales light me up brighter than a Christmas tree. I can’t remember the last time I bought something full price. 

(And yes, that includes presents #sorrynotsorry).

My ultimate sales experience is getting something I already wanted or needed with at least 70% off.

None of this 10% crap.

You get me all excited with that little red tag and then let me down with such a meagre saving.

I think we can all agree that 10% might as well be 0%.

Disappointing then, that out of all that beautiful web copy you just wrote, you’d be lucky if 10% gets read.⁠

Bummer, right?

F-shaped pattern in reading

Testing has proven time and time again that most humans default to reading in an F pattern on the Internet.⁠

That means folks are reading the first line and then skimming down the left side of the page.⁠

Why are we behaving in this weird way?

Because we’re looking for specific information. Words and images that grab our attention in an increasingly noisy world.

And when you consider that your words will display differently by device, you can’t even control what those words are.⁠

That’s why every part of your copy should work hard.

It needs to tickle your readers in places they didn’t even know were ticklish.

Fail to do so, and you’ll lose your user to the next meme, ad or app.

But wait, how do we know this?

(I don’t care Susan, just take me to the solution)

Many big tech companies use heat patterns that track the user’s focus as they navigate their product.

This involves bringing in a random selection of people, giving them a tablet, phone or desktop computer and asking them to complete certain actions.

The program then tracks where the user’s eyes look on the screen and creates a heat map, with red indicating the most intensely studied area.

If you’d like to see images from one of these studies, check it out over at the Nielsen Norman Group.

These studies are insanely helpful for UX writing as they offer unbiased data on how someone navigates your website or app.

It’s almost never the way you intended.

But even if you can’t perform your own heat mapping exercise, you can still leverage the findings from other people’s research.

Using the F-shape pattern strategically

If you write words for the Internet, go and draw an F on a post-it and stick it to your computer as a reminder.

And then leverage its power in the following:

Headers

When writing copy for a digital product (UX writing) it’s crucial to get your first and most important piece of information at the top of the screen.

Think about your headers carefully. Can you weave in a call to action (CTA) rather than just describing where someone is?

It’s your job to guide the user through a process so you should be making the most of the precious real estate you have available.

In this example, rather than just stating what the user sees you can guide them to take action.

It seems straightforward, but more often than not I’ve seen this space used for merely labelling what appears below.

Paragraphs

Writing one sentence paragraphs makes it easier for people to skim them. 

Sentences

Front-load your sentences with the most important information.

Most sentences you’ll write in your UX career contains the following:

  • the action you want someone to take 
  • the reason why they should take it

Consider which is more compelling, and put that at the front.

Get your free guide by signing up” will grab people’s interest more than asking people to “Sign up to get your free guide”

People are always looking for what’s in it for them. So if you can offer something for free, that’s a no brainer to put at the front.

You may find that you don’t need the second clause at all if the formatting tells part of the story for you.

Eg. Get your free guide

This is even better as your aim should always be to be as clear and concise as possible.

Digging a little deeper

Reading in the F pattern is a human response to 3 conditions, according to the Neilson Norman Group.

  1. The text isn’t formatted in a way that makes it easily scannable
  2. People are trying to be efficient and get the most amount of information in the least amount of time.
  3. They are not engaged. 

There’s not much you can so about #2. It’s human nature and the way we interact with technology.

But there’s plenty you can do about #1 and #3.

Number 1: Make text scannable

The secret is in another F word: formatting.⁠

Your information needs to be arranged in a way that highlights the most important things or thing (singular is preferred in UX).

How do you do that?

  • Make lists using bullet points
  • Start each sentence with a meaningful word
  • Break up your copy with subheaders
  • Write 1 sentence paragraphs
  • Use different formatting for links
  • Edit ruthlessly (they’re just words, it’s ok to kill them)
  • Work with a designer to see if you can remove words altogether

Number 3: Make text engaging

You can write for UX and still write engaging copy. The key is to sound human.

Here are a few things you can do to achieve that:

  • Read it out loud to ditch awkward phrases
  • Use short words and sentences
  • Replace jargon with everyday words
  • Build relationships with your audience elsewhere so they look forward to communicating with you
  • Don’t be afraid to show some personality (Slack and Mail Chimp prove it can be done)

Now, raise your hand if you just read the first word in every line of this post?

I thought so, this next section is for you…

Summary: Humans have a tendency to read things on the Internet in an F-shaped pattern. Leverage this behaviour by putting the most important information at the top and formatting your copy to make it scannable.

Have I missed anything? What are your best tricks for keeping people engaged? Drop me a comment below.