According to research from the Nielsen Norman Group, it may be nearly twice as hard to comprehend information you consume on a smartphone-sized mobile device. The limited amount of information displayed on the screen requires users to remember more as they move from screen to screen.
In addition, the act of scrolling is a distraction, and you have to do it more often on a smaller device. It’s important to keep this background in mind when you are creating content that you know will be consumed on mobile devices. Fortunately, many of the same rules for good Web writing apply to mobile as well.
- The screen is smaller; write even tighter. Broadcast journalists are quite familiar with the need to eliminate unnecessary words and cut the fat from a story. Your mobile reader will appreciate the effort even more.
- Front-load your stories. Not everyone will read your entire piece, so everything they really need to know to understand what the story is about should be near the top.
- Break it up. Subheads and bullets are useful in making content easier to consume. On a small-screen mobile device, those techniques will also make it easier for someone scrolling through content to figure out where something is, if he or she tries to go back to look for something on the page again.
Whether you love or hate BuzzFeed’s “listicles,” there’s a reason why they get so much mobile traffic — the act of breaking content into bite-sized chunks of information in easily consumable lists has lots of appeal.
Many news organizations rely on their Web producers and editors to make decisions that affect the news outlets’ mobile content. Some, like the BBC, have mobile editors whose jobs involve selecting stories and sometimes rewriting them to make them more mobile-friendly.
This image includes the first screen of information displayed for a BBC.com story on an iPhone. Note the summary blurb at the top, which gives the mobile user the most important details. It’s possible that someone may stop right after that one sentence, having consumed all the information he or she wants on the topic at that point, and that’s OK if the summary satisfies.
In addition, it’s also important to remember the rules on writing strong online headlines. Forget cute and clever, be direct and to the point. Tell your mobile reader exactly what the story is about — don’t try to trick them into clicking — that practice gets old very fast.
And, of course, the best way to get someone to read what you’ve written for a mobile device is to write well.
This post is an excerpt from the 3rd edition of our book, Advancing the Story: Journalism in a Multimedia World.