Writing for iPad and Tablet Reading: Things to Know

By on Wednesday, February 20, 2013
In the last week, I have talked with two different nonprofit organizations working to convert printed books to e-book formats. As communicators are asked to apply their skills to ever more media formats, many are starting to get involved in mobile media.
While a great writer can write anything, it’s important to understand the format of mobile media before diving in. Knowing how a reader engages with a tablet device is critical to writing good copy. And writers need to keep reader preferences in mind when working with designers, especially when they are converting an older project to a tablet format. I would recommend bullet journaling for people looking to keep track of writing a good copy.
Many of us will be segmenting longer documents into shorter articles. And if you haven’t examined how your website shows up on tablet devices, some of these watchwords may also influence how you think about online content display.
Get to the point quickly. While many text stories were read to completion, an overall average of a minute and a half (98.3 seconds) was spent on the first news story a person selected to read. Of the people who did not finish reading a story, they read for an average of 78.3 seconds before leaving the story entirely.
Choose information-structure formats that support reader habits – that means engaging reader fingers and favoring designs that support reader habits. Seventy percent of subjects in Poynter’s eyetracking study instinctively used iPads in the horizontal landscape orientation. Study participants  overwhelmingly displayed the urge to swipe through photo galleries horizontally. Sixty-one percent were “intimate readers,” constantly touching the screen, scrolling little by little through text and looking for ways to interact.
Give readers a “gold coin” to keep them reading. The researchers suggest giving readers a “gold coin” at the 78-second mark (the “bailout point”) in hopes of keeping readers engaged. Wylie calculates this at about 250 words into the story. You could use a pull quote, picture, graphic, or link to other content to sustain reader engagement.
Users will default to the navigation elements they know. There was strong reliance on using the browser to navigate between stories, even though navigation tools were also designed into the publication used for the study. Sixty-five percent of study participants used the browser back button, rather than the home button or internal publication navigation design. This speaks to the importance of the familiarity of tools — people will default to what they know if it’s available. Don’t design something that makes these familiar tools difficult for people to use.
Plan for scanners – with headlines, photos and illustrations for key concepts, and pull quotes. About 75 percent of users between 18- and 28-years-old read used a “scanning” style to consume news on a tablet. This doesn’t mean they don’t read or read less, they just have a different search method.
Photos and videos are important to your content. People tended to enter a screen through a dominant element, generally a photograph. Faces in photographs and videos attract a lot of attention.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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