Tuesday, January 24th, 2023

Clear copy vs people’s inability to read

Mock up of a screen shot showing a small businesswoman trying to sell apple pies and being asked the questions answered in her post.

It doesn’t matter how clear your copy is, people don’t always read what you’ve written. 

Cognitive studies have shown many of us skip ahead when we’re reading, letting our brain fill in the gaps. As a result we miss important snippets, sentences, even entire paragraphs. You may have experienced this as getting to the end of a block of text, realising it doesn’t make sense and having to reread it (whereupon it becomes crystal clear and you wonder why you had to go back!)

When a version of this graphic was shared by Elsewine Rietveld on LinkedIn, the comments were as snarky as you might expect. Aside from the “can you sell me pies” jokes, some questioned whether it was worth replying when the poster obviously either hadn’t read, or couldn’t read such clear information.

Setting aside questions of accessibility and neurodiversity, I think this shows how easily we knock others down rather than reflect on what might be happening.

I’d suggest a smarter response would be to answer the questions in a way that doesn’t make the person asking feel silly. A straight forward answer, even if it feels like repeating yourself over again, would be more effective than “the answers in the original post” response. Take this latter approach and you’re more likely to lose a potential customer or trigger an antisocial response.

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My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.