It’s time to stop… dense wads of text only

I’m going to be a bit of a hypocrite here, as giant, dense wads of text are kinda my specialty.  But it’s also something we need to stop doing.

This is because dense text is hard to read and understand.  One study (that I couldn’t find live, but here it is in the Internet archive) shows this clearly.  There are a few key points:

  • Bullet points help break up text and make it more readable.  Hence why I’m doing them here.
  • Space between lines makes text more readable
  • White space around text makes it more readable
  • Good margins are key

This is all the same content.  It’s just a matter of how it’s presented that makes it understandable.

That makes me think that if they did those dense Russian novels in a children’s book format with a sentence on each page, more people would get through them than in the current 8-point font printed on a brick with pages.

But maybe this is just because I would love to see what Dr. Seuss would draw next to “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anyway, readability is important because it’s more retainable and persuasive.  Since we are in the business of persuasion, getting our readability up and the pain that people have in reading our materials down is vital.  One study found specifically that bulleted lists specifically help increase readability and average gift.  It also found that only 19% of letters used this technique, so bullet away!

The big point here is ignore readability at your peril — it helps cause people to give.  That includes white space and that includes pictures.

Humans seek out faces and we seek out eyes specifically.  There’s a reason that people think there’s a man in the moon — our pattern recognition systems see two circles and a line and assume it’s a face.

Pictures of what you are doing can have a significant impact on the emotional state of your potential donor (as well as breaking up big blocks of text…)

Like this picture of a kitten.

Come and meet Maggie!

Anyway, because of our fixation on eyes, there is a particular trick you can use online, which is to have the picture of your person looking at or pointing at your donate button.  If you heat map your site, you will generally see people look at the eyes of the pictures of people, then look automatically to see what they are pointing at.  A seemingly random trick, but it works.

(If I were smart, I would have this kitten looking at the isign-up for the weekly e-newsletter here.  But there’s only so much Googling of kitten pictures I’m going to do today.)

So make sure that when you design, you are incorporating space, using bullets, using photos — almost anything to avoid making your letter or email look like a wall of text.  Like, for example, this post.

It’s time to stop… dense wads of text only