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Seven Tips for Enticing Readers

A designer's guide to reader-friendly page layout By Dave Nagel
You have three seconds to keep a reader. That's a fact. If a reader gets distracted from you magazine for more than three seconds, he or she is gone. On the other hand, you have plenty of devices to keep a reader interested in any given story, and much of this has to do with design.

I'm not talking about the quality of your images or your fantastic doubletruck that wins you a Maggie award. I'm talking about common page elements that draw a reader into a story and keep the reader there long enough to absorb at least some of the information. (I know you're looking at that ad down there and thinking, "Who is this guy to tell me about design?" Well, I didn't put that ad there, so just keep scrolling down.)

Let's face it: the people who subscribe to your magazine are not great readers. They're not literary scholars. And they're probably not all that interested in about 90 percent of what the writer has to say, especially since, in all likelihood, they can't understand it. (Journalism schools teach future reporters to write at the sixth-grade level. As a writer, me not like that, but me deal with it.)

What does this have to do with you, the designer?

You're the one whose job it is to get readers interested in the content. You are the one whose job it is to provide the visual cues that direct the reader, involve the reader and somehow force the reader to stay for longer than three seconds. And I'm just the guy to tell you how to do it.

With paragraph after paragraph of gray, monotonous text, subheads provide not only a break from the gray, but also an entry point onto the page. The eye sees the white space preceding a subhead and follows it to the bold type of the subhead itself.

A subhead should not just be placed randomly on the page. It should actually further the flow of the story, and, therefore, it should be associated with the portion of the story following it. It should be bold. There should be white space before it, but there should not be white space after it. A subhead should be in sentence case (first letter capitalized only), and it should not be indented. There should be at least two subheads per page.

Now, I know you're not an editor, but it couldn't hurt to suggest placement for subheads to the editor. If your editor does not write his or her own subheads, be afraid. All good editors know the importance of subheads in a story. They should also know how to compose the text following a subhead, as readers will more often than not start reading a story from the first or last subhead down.

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