2 min read

Skip to the bold bit*

Bold text: Where do you stand? Do you love to skim and look for bold text to see where the writer wants your attention drawn? Or is bold text more of a distraction?
Red neon sign in window reads "I AM BOLD"
Photo by Steve Harvey on Unsplash

Where do you stand? Do you love to skim and look for bold text to see where the writer wants your attention drawn? Or is bold text more of a distraction?

I am seeing bold text creeping in to more and more documents I am reading and I am torn. I don’t think I like it. It feels like the writer is making me want to skim, and I am at risk of missing out on important points. But I am also aware we have so little time, and so maybe the writer is trying to help me…

The issue as I see it is that when we make some text bold we will skim. Our eyes will be drawn to the text that literally jumps out at us**. In doing this, we may miss out important context and have to re-read, and this actually makes the reader spend more time reading the document than had it been flat text.

I did a training recently by a corporate writing consultancy on brevity in writing. I agreed with so much of what they were saying - write for your reader, write like you speak, BLUF…it almost felt like they had read my articles! Then came a part about 3 B’s: Brief - yes, totally! Bullets…it depends (I’ll write about this later), and Bold…no thanks.

Brevity and succinctness in writing is so important. It conveys to your reader that you care about them and you have taken the time to write simply to save them reading and processing time. When we are truly writing for our reader, then we will be brief and concise. We will think about what our reader needs to know, and cut out the fluff. If we are doing this, why do we need to make some text bold?

Let’s talk bullets for a second. I think they have their place but they shouldn’t just be used to break up your huge chunk of text. Including a list because you can’t be bothered to write a paragraph is not helping your reader.

Bold text feels the same. If you are worried that your reader won’t read your document, so you want to highlight “the good bits”, then use the time to read, review, and edit rather than just making some text bold. Also think about how you can make reading a part of how you do business. No one feels bad inviting you to a 1 hour meeting to watch them present, so don’t feel bad asking people to read at the start. Giving people dedicated reading time, when combined with an easy to read document that presents the information they need, may mean you don’t need to grab attention with a bold bit of text.

How does Amazon do this?

In 2004 Amazon started introducing writing into every meeting. They realised pretty quickly that people were unlikely to read a document before they attended the meeting, as let’s face it, they were probably walking out of another meeting just prior. So at the start of every meeting a document is shared. Around 20 minutes is given to reading. Then you discuss the document you just read. It has now become so ingrained in their culture, it feels weird to have a meeting without a document.

* Soundtrack for the article
** Did you skip to the bold bit? Let me know in the comments.

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