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Content Sieve: Producing Skimmable Text

Content Sieve: Producing Skimmable Text

Though many writers overlook the importance of producing skimmable text, it remains an important aspect of web content. With the average person staying onto a text-based page for less than 25 seconds, being able to distill key points into sub-header text and highlighted phrases is a pivotal skill.

Here are some tips to sieve-out and highlight value content before publication. Hopefully you’ll learn them all before your 25 seconds is up!

1. Segmenting Text Blocks

Which of these two samples could you imagine reading while you’re bored, browsing for entertainment? Which one would be tedious for your eyes after a few minutes?

Short paragraphs help the reader to jump into the prose at the right moment. If an audience is frustrated from searching the text for a title teaser, and leaves without getting promised information, the piece isn’t getting an upvote. Aside from short paragraphs, how can you lead the writer to ““the goods?”

2.   Telling Sub-Headers

Referring again to the image in section one, which of the sub-headers do you remember? It’s more likely that you recall the short ones. If a sub-header is an entire sentence, it may blend-in with the text; even if it is bold, periwinkle, and numbered.

Though it depends upon your topic, a good rule of thumb is to keep sub-headers three words or less. Using compelling, graphic words in sub-headers can also hook an audience, as can verb-noun combinations.

3. Sub-Header Summaries

If your content is quite dense, or the topic will tend to draw non-readers, then summarizing the segment below the sub-header is a great idea. If the most interesting aspect of a recurring theme is price, then a sub-section titled ““PRICE” would help your audience to quickly gather interesting facts, as the example on the left does with the sub-section ““Overall Brand Value.”

Want to give your audience everything they want in just a few seconds? Pull three of the recurring, interesting themes out of the text, and summarize each of them below the sub-header. The example above succeeds in using an image to tell the story, but the one of the left gives more information upfront in sectional summaries. Combining these two approaches will give your audience the most information with the least effort required.

Although some writers may worry that upfront information will result in shorter page visits, that may not be true: the types of readers who will only read the summaries are most likely ones who wouldn’t have read anything if this information was not readily available. Also, overall reader appreciation will skyrocket if ““the goods” are delivered before finicky readers can click away.

4. Highlighting Key Phrases

If there are just a handful of tidbits an audience should gather from a piece of content, they shouldn’t have to dig for that information. Make it stand apart, even if it is buried in a paragraph. Here are a few ways you can do that:

  • Bold
  • Underline
  • Italics
  • Font Color
  • Font Face
  • Link It
  • Highlight Text

All of these things help, but not as much as placing it below the sub-header, as suggested in section three. However, if a style guide prohibits segment summaries, then using a combination of the options above will suffice to gain attention.

5. Show & Tell Images

Selecting an image which speaks for itself is a great way to reduce your word count. If it ‘shows’ half of your point, then you only have to ‘tell’ 50% with prose.

6. Summarizing Intros & Conclusions

By clearly separating your introductions and conclusions, readers will know when the content is winding-down. Also, a quick summary at both the beginning and end helps to clear-up misunderstandings, and to reiterate key points. See the conclusion below as an example, noting the reiteration of each sub-header point.


Short paragraphs, pithy statements, and sub-headers with sub-sections all aid text to be more skimmable. Unlike in grad school essays, the 50-cent adjective no one has heard since Literary Theory is not the best choice: use colloquial words.

Highlight key information, and convey as much as possible with images. Allow the reader to slip through the prose effortlessly, or they won’t bother. With all of these skills implemented, your content will come across loud and clear, even to bored browsers.

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  1. Chris Winfield says:

    I liked how you practiced what you preached with this post Michael :)

    • Michael Erin Strong says:

      Thanks, Chris! That was my goal. ;)

  2. This is great advice for anyone creating content to be read online. I run a multi-author site and this is one of the first guidelines I communicate to our writers. The structure of your content is paramount, not just for your reader’s attention and comprehension, but also for search engines to easily discern the importance and hierarchy of your content.

    Great stuff and well said!

    • Michael Erin Strong says:

      Thanks, Adam!

      Yes; it’s a topic I cover first (and repeatedly) with writers. Though I love four line sentences and page-long paragraphs in Russian literature, online it is difficult to follow.

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. You’re quite welcome Michael:)

    p.s. I’ve been following this blog for months now and just realized it’s Blue “Glass” and not Blue “Grass”. I’m always learning something new;)

    • Michael Erin Strong says:

      That’s funny! I’ve heard that often.

      I’m subscribed to your blog, as well. Where do you get your great images?

  4. Lark Meadows says:

    Great post Michael! This is going into my style guide file for new writers at Educator Life. As Chris said, thanks for demonstrating as you explain.

    • Michael Erin Strong says:

      Thank you! I’m glad you found it useful.

  5. roey says:

    thanks for the post
    a must in my opinion for every seo

    • Michael Erin Strong says:

      Thank you, Roey. I agree (especially as a reader with tired eyes). ;)

  6. Chris Adams says:

    I like the 3-word or less sub-header rule – was something that hadn’t occurred to me. I think images make or break a page, just wish there was a quicker way to find them. Often times I’m spending almost the same amount of time writing as I am finding images.

    • Michael Erin Strong says:

      Hi Chris,

      I agree; that’s a great point. I’ll write my next article around that topic. ;)

      Thanks for your comment, and check back on the fourth for helpful ideas and tips on finding great images.

  7. Emory Purdy says:

    I found this article to be very informative and well written. Thanks for your insight.

    • Michael Erin Strong says:

      Thank you, Emory Lee. :)

  8. Thank you for another informative website. Where else may I get that kind of info written in such an ideal manner? I have a project that I am simply now operating on, and I have been on the look out for such info.