Friday, September 30, 2011

The Best Investment You Can Make - Umair Haque - Harvard Business Review

The Best Investment You Can Make - Umair Haque - Harvard Business Review

Umair Haque


Umair Haque is Director of the Havas Media Lab and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. He also founded Bubblegeneration, an agenda-setting advisory boutique that shaped strategies across media and consumer industries.

The Best Investment You Can Make

It's the burning question many of you have been hurling at me recently: "So instead of idly waiting around for the so-called mysteriously reluctant non-recovering recovery, what should we do to survive this never-ending raging crisis?"

Here's a tiny suggestion. The "best" investment you can make isn't gold. It's the people you love, the dreams you have, and living a life that matters.

Now, some among you will probably roll your eyes and snicker: "Hey, bro, want fries with that hopelessly naive idealism?"

But you're probably willing to entertain the idea that maybe the great systems of human organization, whether political, social, or economic, aren't creating a meaningful prosperity as well as they could. And cynicism's the surest path to mediocrity.

So allow me to explain.

If we all invest in gold, the price of gold skyrockets. If we all invest in stocks, managers tend to get rewarded (whether or not they've performed). But if you were to have the impertinence to invest in what (really) moved you — let's say you wanted to be a musician, an artist, or a chef — and you kept investing in those ambitions, towards the lofty goal of being the best in the world at your dream, and if a few other people also invested in their dreams, and then several more followed their lead — well, eventually the economy's gears might begin to move with a different rhythm. And multiplied, your pattern of investments in your dreams — acting classes, music lessons, lectures, books, seminars, travel, and so on — would begin to set incentives for people doing useful stuff, who were able to help you meaningfully accomplish those dreams. And we'd probably begin to devalue the microbubbles in socially useless stuff (like gold) and dilute oversized managerial rewards.

The same's doubly true for investing in the people you love: spending your resources to spark their talents or to create meaningful life experiences with them — instead of just buying stuff for them. And the same's triply true for living a life that matters: if you were to invest in, for example, social businesses, instead of the equity of orthodox corporations, or to choose where to work not just based on the immediate paycheck, but on whether or not the boardroom valued making a difference a tiny bit more than which hedge-fund bots it was enriching this nanosecond, well, the economy's gears wouldn't just find a new rhythm — you'd be rebuilding the engine.

In fact, if enough of us made these smarter investments, we might just take a leap past opulence — the furious, desperate, never-ending hyperconsumption of more, bigger, faster, cheaper, nastier — and towards eudaimonia: living meaningfully well, by investing in endlessly powerful, infinitely delicate human potential, instead of mass-made junk, whether paper chits or designer diapers.

Here's what I'm not suggesting: that you impoverish yourself financially to enrich yourself spiritually, intellectually, relationally, and emotionally. Rather, I'm suggesting that the economy as we've built it — and as we choose to live it — might just be doing something like the reverse. Authentic prosperity's probably more about achieving a balance. Hence, it's time for us — each and every one — to recognize that real prosperity doesn't just mean hitting the strip mall, watching Jersey Shore, and living la vida Sheen. Rather, here's how I'd describe it.

While investing in gold, stocks, and bonds might be a recipe for hedonic wealth — riches that can be used to buy the dismal, mass-produced, rapidly depreciating, worthless-by-next-month commodities that line the sagging exurban shelves of every crammed-to-the-brim, beige big box store from here to Pluto — my little suggestion's a set of ingredients to craft your own recipe for eudaimonic wealth — riches that are made up of the stuff you probably can't buy, but have to earn: the stuff that people usually don't (and probably won't) sell, but can choose to freely bestow upon you, give to you, and keep in trust for you.

I'd argue seeding the stuff we can't buy, not just the stuff we can buy, is exactly the quantum leap that our economy has to make, and probably should have made decades ago (but didn't). What's this never-ending crisis really about? Both Tyler Cowen and I have called it a Great Stagnation — so what's stagnating? I'd say: human potential itself. Hence, a megacrisis that never ends: at root, it's a crisis of underinvesting in human potential, and overinvesting in lowest-common-denominator junk; a crisis of too many plastic widgets chasing too little imagination, wisdom, connection, and purpose.

Hence, my tiny suggestion might be not just a motivational nugget, but a challenge: that it's beyond time to make an economic paradigm shift. As the never-ending global economic crisis has intensified, we've had plenty of what economists call "capital flight" to "safer" financial assets, whether gold, bonds, or blue chip stocks. But perhaps the safest investments of all are the human, social, and emotional ones. They're what give human life texture, depth, resonance, and meaning.

Authentic prosperity isn't about stockpiling chits and bits that you can — if you're lucky — sell to the next guy before the house of cards collapses in on itself. It's watching the people you love grow and flourish, making the dreams you've dared to nurture and safeguard come roaring to life, and, above all, living a life that matters long after you're gone. That's the stuff not merely of shareholder "value" — but of authentic, enduring, human worth. Hence, I'd gently suggest: the economic sparkplug missing from our so-called prosperity won't be invented in Silicon Valley, manufactured in Shenzhen, hawked by Madison Avenue or Wall Street, or ordained by Washington. It will be found in the pursuit of wisdom, grace, humility, courage, and great achievement. It's the hard work of investing in the people you love, the dreams you have, and living a life that matters.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Impeded Stream

Impeded Stream

As I am made deeply uncomfortable by the taking of a human life before birth, I am also made deeply uncomfortable by the taking of a human life after birth. Obviously, it can be well argued that the world would be better off if certain people had never been born or if they had been killed in early youth by a fall from a tree. And I certainly can imagine circumstances in which I might kill another person. But I don’t believe that mere humans have the mental or moral capacity to decide rightfully, let alone infallibly, that another human should be killed. As I don’t condone the illegal killing of a human by a human, I cannot condone the legal killing of a human by a human. One killing is not rectified or atoned for by the addition of a second. An illegal killing is in no way made better by a legal killing. A society is not made saner or more morally secure by the deputation in it of legalized killers. Whereas many illegal killings are done in hot blood, legal killings are always done in cold blood and with a procedural deliberation that is horrifying. Hot-blooded killing is of course horrifying also, but to me it is more understandable. Probably we have no choice against illegal killing, which continues to happen against the wishes of nearly everybody. But it is possible, morally and rationally, to choose to withhold one’s approval from legal killing, and I so choose.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fish don't know they're in water | Derek Sivers

Fish don't know they're in water | Derek Sivers

Fish don't know they're in water

Fish don't know they're in water.

If you tried to explain it, they'd say, “Water? What's water?”

They're so surrounded by it, that it's impossible to see.

They can't see it until they get outside of it.

This is how I feel about culture.

We're so surrounded by people who think like us, that it's impossible to see that what we think are universal truths are just our local culture.

We can't see it until we get outside of it.

I was born in California and grew up with what I felt was a normal upbringing with normal values.

I was speaking to a business school class here in Singapore. I asked, “How many people would like to start their own company some day?” In a room of 50 people, only one hand (reluctantly) went up.

If I would have asked this question to a room of 50 business school students in California, 51 hands would have gone up. (Someone would have run in from the hallway just to raise their hand.)

Thinking maybe they were just shy, I asked, “Really!? Why not?” - and asked individuals. Their answers:

  • “Why take the risk? I just want security.”
  • “I spent all this money on school, and need to make it back.”
  • “If I fail, it would be a huge embarassment to my family.”

Then I realized my local American culture. The land of entrepreneurs and over-confidence. I had heard this before, but I hadn't really felt it until I could see it from a distance.

All of my Singaporean friends live with their parents. Even pretty successful ones, even married ones, even up to age 35, live with their parents at their parents' home.

When I told one that I left home at 17, she was horrified. She said, “Isn't that horribly insulting to your parents? Weren't they devastated?”

Then I realized my local American culture again. The emphasis on individualism, rebellion, following your dreams. I had heard this before, but I hadn't really felt it until I could see it from a distance.

My culture isn't in the center. It's off on the edge, like one petal in a flower, like they all are. Not right or wrong - just one of many options.

Yes, the rest of the world can enjoy a good laugh at the stereotypical American - just now realizing he's not the center of the universe.

I'm just a fish who didn't know he was in water.

UPDATE: A few people have linked me to this David Foster Wallace speech. Wow. I don't remember ever reading this, but I must have, long ago. Wildwhat our subconscious remembers.

Umair HaqueEudaimonicsRedesigning Global Prosperity.: Redesigning Prosperity: A Six-Step Extreme Makeover

Umair HaqueEudaimonicsRedesigning Global Prosperity.: Redesigning Prosperity: A Six-Step Extreme Makeover

SUNDAY, 31 JULY 2011

Redesigning Prosperity: A Six-Step Extreme Makeover

If the challenge is raising societies up to higher levels of eudaimonic prosperity--meaningfully well lived lives--then what are the levers that are powerful enough to begin doing do so? What are some real world choices that societies can make to begin making a eudaimonic transition? In geek-speak, what's what you might call the beginnings of a eudaimonic "strategy (or policy) space"?

Here's a quick take: six areas in policy space I believe advanced economies will have to enter--and master--to make the quantum leap to 21st century prosperity. Here's the little analogy behind it: if America were a person, it'd probably be something like a morbidly overweight, thoroughly broke, highly superficial, junk-food loving, MTV-addicted couch potato with little ambition: a giant waste of human potential. Hence, a six step program to turn sluggardly decline a tiny bit more eudaimonic.
  1. Detox. While most advanced economies claim to be "post-industrial", the plain fact is that belching, capital-intensive, rapidly depreciating, high-maintenance, often downright self-destructive industrial age stuff still receives the lion's share of subsidies: agriculture, oil, water, "banking". A eudaimonic transition can't happen if you're too busy propping the industrial age--hence a vital step is likely to be gracefully (or fractiously, whatever it takes) letting yesterday's structure of subsidies subside and wane.
  2. Makeunder. Do you know what a makeunder is? When a person wearing way too much bad makeup takes it off--and looks a lot better for it. That's pretty much the state our economy's in: industrial age concepts like GDP are giant slabs lipstick, massive swathes of eyeliner, and gigantic dollops of foundation on the proverbial pig--they perpetually let us overstate real prosperity, as it matters in authentic human terms. When it comes to numbers, we (seriously) need an institutional makeunder: loads less desperately artificial less-than-attractive prettification, and more natural beauty shining through.
  3. Credit card. In most advanced economies, debt's heavily subsidized (through tax shield effects, and the like). Result? A structurally tilted playing field, that incentivizes debt--and accelerates bubbles and crises. A more eudaimonic approach is to limit debt subsidies, and, where markets fail, subsidize equity instead--because equity rewards joint effort, active engagement, and fuels participation, and punishes disengagement. America's stock markets aren't broken because there's too much equity--but because there's far too little (fewer than 15% of Americans own "shares", etc). Our economy's built on thin financial bedrock that limits and stifles productive economic interaction--in favor of a revolving door of once-cheap (and now suffocating) credit.
  4. Gym. It's one thing to limit subsidies for centuries-old stuff. It's another to reward groundbreaking breakthroughs--and most societies have few ways to do so except relying on "venture capital" (which is in real economic terms, I'd suggest, as grossly inefficient as allocating capital as Wall St is). Advanced economies will need to provide a range of 21st century public goods--Which they currently suck at providing. Hence, I'd suggest a new workout regimen for the atrophying muscles of great achievement: not just subsidies for public "school", but for public contests, tournaments, debates and intellectual battles, in cities and towns, large and small--all aimed at igniting, sparking, and rewarding breakthrough thinking in every discipline. Let's create social incentives to make sitting on the couch all day, banging down "food-like products", and obsessing over Jersey Shore look like the excremental waste of human potential it actually is.
  5. Charm School. Let's face it: our institutions need far sharper checks and balances, if we're going to prosper--for civil society's been rendered as toothless as a kitten. Corporations should face real liability when they err--not just today's wrist-slaps: hence, less regulation, but better enforcement of tougher regulation. Politicians should face sharper sanctions when they act like tantrum-prone infants: hence, structural reform of lobbying, replaced by more information, faster. And as "consumers" and "citizens", too, people's self-destructive disengagement and apathy should be punished: simple value added taxes for hyperconsumption, and, conversely, incentives for basic civic engagement.
  6. Diet. Let's simplify the onerous, socially pointless complex tax code--we all know it is the way it is to prop up pure rent-seeking, written by tax lobbyists for tax lawyers. Here's a simpler, better approach: if it's harmful to people, or useless to society, tax it. If it's beneficial to people, useful to society--don't. We can debate the precise calculus, but the principle's straightforward: the former half would include stuff like carbon, banking, congestion, massive inheritance, dumbification, and obesity (as in food, not people) taxes. The point, of course, is to create socially productive incentives--not just zombifying malincentives. Now, there are those who might argue that yesterday's tax code was, once upon a very long time ago, written to do so--but I doubt there are many who believe it hasn't become a cynically grotesque caricature of itself.
Now, the above isn't "the list" of eudaimonic policy choices. It's not even the beginnings of "the list". It's just a very incomplete scratchpad of ideas that might help us discern the direction of 21st century prosperity that's built to last, instead built to crash.

Pioneering that trail will, if you ask me, take a decade of tough choices--or more. Here's the catch.

Some nations are setting out on the journey now. Some, making preparations for a hard journey. And some are still on the couch, downing junk-food, howling at the screen--and maybe just frittering their future away.

Write Your Own Obituary to Take Stock of Your Accomplishments and Goals

Write Your Own Obituary to Take Stock of Your Accomplishments and Goals

Write Your Own Obituary to Take Stock of Your Accomplishments and Goals

It may sound morbid, but writing your own obituary and considering the way you want to be remembered by your friends and loved ones is an excellent way to get perspective on what you've done and where you'd like to go, both professionally and personally.

Stepcase Lifehack points out that writing your obituary, hopefully years before your death, gives you a unique opportunity to think about how you'd like to be remembered, remember your own mortality, and immediately take stock of your life goals and where you are in making them reality.

It's also a good opportunity to take stock of whether you're happy with what you're doing, and happy with the direction you're moving in life, or if now is as good a time as any to think about changing course and becoming the person you want to be remembered as, if you're not there already. What do you think, is it over the top or a good opportunity for a self-review? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. Photo by Jason Hickey.

Wake-Up Call: Write Your Obituary | Stepcase Lifehack

You can reach Alan Henry, the author of this post, at, or better yet, follow him on Twitter.

Pareto: 80% of Your Time is Spent on Trivialities « Leadership Freak

Pareto: 80% of Your Time is Spent on Trivialities « Leadership Freak

Pareto: 80% of Your Time is Spent on Trivialities

By Dan Rockwell

The 80/20 rule (Pareto Principle) indicates 80% of your activities are trivial and 20% deliver results. Who wants to go to their CEO and say I’m wasting 80% of my time?

It’s shocking to suggest that 80% of an employee’s time is available for richer activities. It’s even more uncomfortable to apply that rule to ourselves.

You may be thinking, if 80% of my activities are trivial, why am I stressed out and time pressured? One reason, you haven’t identified triviality. What are you doing that doesn’t take you where you want to go – that doesn’t deliver results?

I was reminded yesterday that organizations support their mission with trivial activities. For example, when someone signs off on documents they don’t read, they’re engaged in trivial activities.

You may suggest that the sign-off is to keep them in the loop. Is the delay worth it? Would a weekly or monthly report satisfy the need?

Is your team spinning their wheels? Maximizing their time and energy requires clear direction, guiding values, planning, goals and objectives, prioritizing, scheduling, controlling, delegating, and more.

Drucker explained, “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

80% of our time is spent on trivialities because effectiveness and efficiency require persistent intention and focus.

A word of caution:

Accepting the challenge of effectiveness and efficiency drives some toward ineffectiveness. You may believe honing processes, procedures, and getting more things done is the answer. There’s a place for that. But, effectiveness and efficiency begins with people.

Great teams love delivering meaningful results; enable them.

How can leaders create effective, efficient environments where team members spend more time delivering meaningful results and less time on trivialities?

11 Books to Inspire, Encourage, and Cleanup Your Writing

11 Books to Inspire, Encourage, and Cleanup Your Writing

11 Books to Inspire, Encourage, and Cleanup Your Writing

I’d like to call myself a writer. But I have found that it is hard to do. Mostly because of fear of the craft and how I sometimes don’t think that I can “stack up” to other, better writers.

What I have found is that my notion of me being terrible at writing isn’t anything unique. Not in the slightest. The best writers in the world all struggle with this notion on a daily basis. It’s hard for me to believe that writers like Steven King and Natalie Goldberg don’t believe that they are awesome at writing all the time, but it’s true.

So, instead of being hard on myself I decided to read what other writers had to say as well as learn some writing technique in the process. Below are 11 books that can help you inspire, encourage and clean up your writing.

On Writing Well

This book is a classic and one of the first that I read when I got into writing. Zinsser writes in a very approachable style and reminds you that writing isn’t always fun; that it is a real job and that you have to write through blood, sweat, procrastination, and tears to be considered a writer.

He is the one that helped me understand that writing less is more.

On Writing

It would be hard to not include a book about writing from one of the best selling authors of all time; Stephen King. This book dives into King as a person and also provides the reader with how he stays motivated and how he goes about the writing process. There is some excellent stuff in this book and definitely worth reading a few times to glean.

Anyone that listens to Metallica while writing horror and mystery is my kind of human.

Writing Down the Bones

Ah, what can I say about Natalie Goldberg? That she is one of the greatest writing enthusiasts and teachers I have come across.

In Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg reminds us that we can’t beat ourselves up as writers and no matter what we will. She shows us how to get out of our “monkey mind” and how to write without the inner critic stopping your from putting down your ideas.

If you are a writer or even know a writer, Writing Down the Bones can “inspire” you and move you to keep your ideas and pen moving.

The Artist’s Way

Several months ago I heard about the idea of writing 750 words a day to get out of myself and to keep the flame of writing alive. It helps you by making a guarantee with yourself; no matter what, no matter how tired or apathetic I am, I will write 750 words a day.

That idea came from the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Cameron suggests writing “Morning Pages” every day. The idea is to write 3 pages of long hand writing and no matter what don’t stop while you are writing. It is supposed to liven the writer in you as well as work through some cruft so you can be more creative.

And it works.

Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird is a book by the infamous Anne Lamot. I have yet to read it but from the endless awesome reviews at Amazon, it seems to be a truly great book about writing.

Lamott is known for speaking her mind and isn’t afraid to tell you the truth about writing. She has written around a dozen books

The Courage to Write

The Courage to Write is what it says; a short book to help writers not be afraid of the keyboard or pen and help to get them writing more. Raplh Keyes is a well known writing teacher and in this book tries to help us get over the fear of putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboards).

Keyes writes about the reasons why we become fearful of writing and it’s no surprise that the fear is something in ourselves rather than something external.

The Pocket Muse and The Pocket Muse 2

This is a fun book and isn’t truly a writing technique book like most of the others. What the Pocket Muse is intended to do is give writers a spark to write and be creative. There are many sayings and prompts throughout the book with different types of visuals to get a writer’s mind going.

It’s a nice little book to have by your side, especially if you want to find something for a little boost to get started writing.

The Daily Writer

The Daily Writer is another book that isn’t completely about writing technique. What the Daily Writer provides is 366 prompts and writing exercises that you can use everyday. Every good writer that I have encountered over the years has kept a journal or has written every single day without fail. So, something like the daily writer coupled with the above mentioned Morning Pages can kickstart your writing habit and your creative process.

I’ve used the Daily Writer for almost 7 months now and it is definitely worth the time and money to check out.

Immediate Fiction

I tend to not write fiction but have been thinking about trying some more and more. Especially when a friend recommended “Immediate Fiction” to me. Once again, I don’t have first hand knowledge of this book, but according to my friend and reviewers on Amazon, this is one of the best books for help with writing fiction.

The Elements of Style (4th Edition)

Ah, the classic. I remember sitting in my first semester of college writing with this weirdly colored and amazingly short book as our text. I in no way recognized the importance of Mr. Strunk’s book then. It took several years and a revisit to college to understand its impact on my writing.

The 11 rules of Usage and Composition are extremely valuable and something that every potential writer should take note of.

The Essential Don Murray: Lessons from America’s Greatest Writing Teacher

Don Murray is sort of the “black horse of writing”. Not too many people outside of the field know about him as he doesn’t have the grand allure of authors like Steven King. But Don Murray may have been one of the best writers and writing coaches in the West.

The Essential Don Murray is a collection of all of Murray’s scattered works and provides the reader with many strategies and tips for writing. But, what this book truly shows us is how much Murray loved writing and tries to help the reader love it too.

7 Best Practices for Improving Your Website's Usability

7 Best Practices for Improving Your Website's Usability

The Web Design Usability Series is supported by, an easy way to instantly share your screen with anyone. lets you collaborate on-the-fly, put your heads together super-fast and even just show off.

Writing content for web users has its challenges. Chief among them is the ease with which your content is read and understood by your visitors (i.e. its readability).

When your content is highly readable, your audience is able to quickly digest the information you share with them — a worthy goal to have for your website, whether you run a blog, an e-store or your company’s domain.

Below are a handful of dead-simple tips and techniques for enhancing the usability and readability of your website’s content.

These tips are based on research findings and suggestions by well-regarded usability experts such as Jakob Nielsen.

This list is not exhaustive, and is meant merely to arm you with a few ideas that you can implement right away. If you have additional tips to add, please share them in the comments.

General Goals of User-Friendly Web Content

Usable, readable web content is a marriage of efforts between web designers and web content writers.

Web pages must be designed to facilitate the ease of reading content through the effective use of colors,typography, spacing, etc.

In turn, the content writer must be aware of writing strategies that enable readers to quickly identify, read and internalize information.

As we go through the seven tips below, keep these three general guidelines in mind:

  • Text and typography have to be easy and pleasant to read (i.e. they must legible).
  • Content should be easy to understand.
  • Content should be skimmable because web users don’t read a lot. Studies show that in a best-case scenario, we only read 28% of the text on a web page.

What simple things can we do to achieve these goals? Read on to see.

1. Keep Content as Concise as Possible

It’s pretty well known that web users have very short attention spans and that we don’t read articles thoroughly and in their entirety. A study investigating the changes in our reading habits behaviors in the digital age concluded that we tend to skim webpages to find the information we want.

We search for keywords, read in a non-linear fashion (i.e. we skip around a webpage instead of reading it from top to bottom) and have lowered attention spans.

This idea that we’re frugal when it comes to reading stuff on the web is reinforced by a usability study conducted by Jakob Nielsen. The study claims a that a 58% increase in usability can be achieved simply by cutting roughly half the words on the webpages being studied.

Shorter articles enhance readability, so much so that many popular readability measurement formulas use the length of sentences and words as factors that influence ease of reading and comprehension.

What you can do:

  • Get to the point as quickly as possible.
  • Cut out unnecessary information.
  • Use easy-to-understand, shorter, common words and phrases.
  • Avoid long paragraphs and sentences.
  • Use time-saving and attention-grabbing writing techniques, such using numbers instead of spelling them out. Use “1,000″ as opposed to “one thousand,” which facilitates scanning and skimming.
  • Test your writing style using readability formulas that gauge how easy it is to get through your prose. The Readability Test Tool allows you to plug in a URL, then gives you scores based on popular readability formulas such as the Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease.

2. Use Headings to Break Up Long Articles

A usability study described in an article by web content management expert Gerry McGovern led him to the conclusion that Internet readers inspect webpages in blocks and sections, or what he calls “block reading.”

That is, when we look at a webpage, we tend to see it not as a whole, but rather as compartmentalized chunks of information. We tend to read in blocks, going directly to items that seem to match what we’re actively looking for.

An eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen revealed an eye-movement pattern that could further support this idea that web users do indeed read in chunks: We swipe our eyes from left to right, then continue on down the page in an F-shaped pattern, skipping a lot of text in between.

We can do several things to accommodate these reading patterns. One strategy is to break up long articles into sections so that users can easily skim down the page. This applies to block reading (because blocks of text are denoted by headings) as well as the F-shaped pattern, because we’re attracted to the headings as we move down the page.

Below, you’ll see the same set of text formatted without headings (version 1) and with headings (version 2). See which one helps readers quickly skip to the sections that interest them the most.

What you can do:

  • Before writing a post, consider organizing your thoughts in logical chunks by first outlining what you’ll write.
  • Use simple and concise headings.
  • Use keyword-rich headings to aid skimming, as well as those that use their browser’s search feature (Ctrl + F on Windows, Command + F on Mac).

3. Help Readers Scan Your Webpages Quickly

As indicated in the usability study by Nielsen referenced earlier, as well as the other supporting evidence that web users tend to skim content, designing and structuring your webpages with skimming in mind can improve usability (as much as 47% according to the research mentioned above).

What you can do:

  • Make the first two words count, because users tend to read the first few words of headings, titles and links when they’re scanning a webpage.
  • Front-load keywords in webpage titles, headings and links by using the passive voice as an effective writing device.
  • Use the inverted pyramid writing style to place important information at the top of your articles.

4. Use Bulleted Lists and Text Formatting

According to an eye-tracking study by ClickTale, users fixate longer on bulleted lists and text formatting (such asbolding and italics).

These text-styling tools can garner attention because of their distinctive appearance as well as help speed up reading by way of breaking down information into discrete parts and highlighting important keywords and phrases.

What you can do:

  • Consider breaking up a paragraph into bulleted points.
  • Highlight important information in bold and italics.

5. Give Text Blocks Sufficient Spacing

The spacing between characters, words, lines and paragraphs is important. How type is set on your webpages can drastically affect the legibility (and thus, reading speeds) of readers.

In a study called “Reading Online Text: A Comparison of Four White Space Layouts,” the researchers discovered that manipulating the amount of margins of a passage affected reading comprehension and speed.

What you can do:

  • Evaluate your webpages’ typography for spacing issues and then modify your site’s CSS as needed.
  • Get to know CSS properties that affect spacing in your text. The ones that will give you the most bang for your buck are margin, padding, line-height, word-spacing, letter-spacing and text-indent.

6. Make Hyperlinked Text User-Friendly

One big advantage of web-based content is our ability to use hyperlinks. The proper use of hyperlinks can aid readability.

What you can do:

7. Use Visuals Strategically

Photos, charts and graphs are worth a thousand words. Using visuals effectively can enhance readability when they replace or reinforce long blocks of textual content.

In fact, an eye-tracking study conducted by Nielsen suggests that users pay “close attention to photos and other images that contain relevant information.”

Users, however, also ignore certain images, particularly stock photos merely included as decorative artwork. Another eye-tracking study reported a 34% increase in memory retention when unnecessary images were removed in conjunction with other content revisions.

What you can do:

  • Make sure images you use aid or support textual content.
  • Avoid stock photos and meaningless visuals.