In our world of diminished attention spans, words still matter

Yes, people love video and images, but conveying important concepts requires stringing letters into phrases to reach your audience and land your message. You’re reading this, aren’t you?

Ah, writing. Such a mysterious, maligned, battered, contorted craft. Anyone can do it. I once saw a show about a bonobo who could type.

Are you still with me? That first paragraph was pretty long.

It’s OK, I’m a bit of a scanner myself—headlines, bullet points, things that are bold or shiny. Which stinks, given that I write for a living. Sigh.

There’s never been a worse time in history to have a job that hinges on stringing together words in a pleasing, purposeful manner. Writers used to be held in high esteem.

I bet that on career day in ancient Mesopotamia, the kid whose dad carved Hammurabi’s Code held his head high and couldn’t wait for his old man to regale his jealous classmates with tales of cuneiform glory—and babble on.

The other problem with writing today is you. Not you, specifically. It’s all of us. Our minds have become warped, our attention spans obliterated by the relentless onslaught of distractions, screens, social media and content we all must endure.

Now that humans’ concentration powers have been deemed worse than those of goldfish, do words really matter anymore?

Hail, mighty visuals

You’ve probably heard that most people are visual learners, drawn by the F-shaped reading pattern or perhaps even the pompously named picture superiority effect. You know infographics get shared like crazy and that our social media overlords are doing their darnedest to kill the written word to make way for video—the darling of the content world.

Yes, words are under fire, my friends. Visuals are a mighty force to contend with.

I’ve seen it firsthand. On our blog, image-heavy posts always get more traffic and interaction. You’ve probably noticed a similar trend: People favor striking photos, gifs, punchy memes, quizzes, emoji and elegant design over plain old text.

Our brains love images and process visual information with ease. So, should we all just take our words and go home now?

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 10 punctuation essentials]

Not so fast

My boss says design supersedes copy in terms of importance. He also says design and copy are inextricably linked and interdependent, like a swimmer’s arms. Words and visuals are symbiotic.

In content marketing, great copy still makes a profound difference. Words inspire, motivate, uplift, educate, provoke, break the ice or, at times, scare away. Good luck landing any new business with an error-riddled website, or recovering from a tragical(ly hilarious) typo. Marketing messaging matters.

Writing, of course, is about more than words. Good writers and editors are often those invaluable Swiss Army knife, T-shaped employees. They bring insight and influence a suite of companywide culture and communications capacities.

Writers humanize your content marketing, and build genuine connections with your audience—which is the ultimate goal, right?

Don’t be daunted, writers of the world. Despite our audience’s screen-warped goldfish brains and greatly diminished attention spans, words still have power and great value. The trick is getting people to read them.

For now, at least, words still matter.

Robby Brumberg is the marketing content manager for Randall-Reilly.

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