If you ever visit the legal tabloid Above the Law and you venture into the comments section, you will witness some cynical and downright nasty comments submitted by readers. Most of the comments are anonymous, so the authors speak their mind. If they really hate an article – they’ll tell you. If they hated the headline and the first few sentences, they will simply leave this comment:
For those of you unfamiliar with these sorts of internet abbreviations (more popular ones include LOL, BRB and G2G), can you guess what this one means?
Too Long; Did Not Read
Now this is among the kinder comments people will leave on Above the Law articles. Do people ever leave this message on your articles or blogs? Probably not, they just leave. They leave if within the first 5 seconds they can’t answer the question: “What here applies to me?”
They are gone, and they won’t take time to leave a rude comment.
ESPN understands that their audience also has a short attention span. So what do they do? They have sign posts for the entire Sportscenter show on the left hand column of the screen. ESPN was one of the first news shows to do this, but now even my local news station includes signposts. Why did ESPN make the change? Very simple: The die hard fan will watch the entire episode with or without these, but the casual viewer will only tune in if there is something being covered that they are specifically interested in. They are giving the viewer the right details to attract them as they click through the channels.
CNN understands this concept and has brought this same type of keep-it-simple bullet points to the way they deliver news on mobile devices. I jumped on to CNN yesterday morning to see if there was any important news that day. Instead of 10 different articles to choose from there was a lead article: “5 Things to Know for Your New Day.” Don’t have time to read more than one article? No problem, we boiled five top articles into a brief summary. Why don’t more lawyers write this way?
Here are the four basic lessons: Choose a great headline; Keep the post short (under 1,000 words); Include sign posts that tell the reader exactly where you’re going; And if at all possible put information into list format. People love lists. It helps them understand exactly what they will get by reading your article.
You may never have the athletic ability to be featured on ESPN’s Top Plays, but it doesn’t mean you can’t take a page out of their book and write in a simple and accessible way.