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Write for Modern Readers

10 Feb 2021 1:29 PM | Deleted user

People are reading less today. The number of people reading for leisure declined more than 30% from 2004 to 2017. Meanwhile, people are spending more time browsing the internet and watching videos online.

What does that mean for resumes and LinkedIn profiles? We can use research on how readers skim, scroll, and swipe on a page to inform our writing and design.

In a recent Resume Writing Academy Open Mastery Call, we explained what writers can learn from web writing best practices to increase readability and six tips to "write tight." View the recording of the webinar and read the summary below.

If we are going to follow the best practices of writing and designing for the web in resumes and profiles, we must know how to "write tight."

Recruiters spend an average of six seconds reviewing a resume. Our goal as writers is to use writing and design techniques that increase the amount of content they can consume in that time.

The challenge: we must also include differentiating accomplishments with enough context and detail to score well in an applicant tracking system (ATS) and rise to the top among those selected for a deeper review to secure an interview.

More than 95% of the Fortune 500 use applicant tracking systems. There are many misconceptions about ATS and resume formatting! See the resources below to stay up to date

And, we need to write well. Jobvite's 2016 recruiter study found that 72% of recruiters care about correct spelling and grammar when reviewing a candidate's online profiles (inferring they most likely also care when reviewing a resume).

Web Reading Insights

Online content consumption data is dismal. A 1997 study found that 79% of readers scanned a page instead of reading. And that was more than 20 years ago today, before the recent research on our decline in reading!

More recent research has found:

The implications for resumes and profiles are the same: readers are skimming and gazing and we have to know how to capture their attention. 

Reading Patterns Inform Resumes & Profiles

When people read a page, they tend to skim and read in specific patterns. Understanding these patterns can help us write and design in ways that increase content consumption.

We've presented before about the "F-shaped" pattern readers demonstrated in the eye-tracking study from 2006. There are several other reading patterns, and here are a few that apply to resumes and profiles.


Less Is More

In addition to writing and designing using the patterns above, if we want readers to read more of our content we must write less.

What we choose to write is important. Content needs to differentiate clients and use the key words or phrases hiring managers seek when reading, scanning the resume with an ATS, or using searches to find a LinkedIn profile. 

Writing concise resumes and profiles starts with a strong overarching focus. What positions is your client targeting? What defines their professional identity? What is their unique promise of value to the target audience?

Then, "write tight" to make it easy to skim and read the content: 

  • Lead with the win
  • Eliminate adjectives
  • Cut prepositions
  • Minimize the mundane

Lastly, use formatting strategically. Draw the eye to the differentiating information for your client that also adds value to their audience. 

Writing & Formatting Traps to Avoid

In the effort to "write tight," do not make statements hard to read! Remove unnecessary words and prepositions while maintaining readability.

Avoid ampersands (&) in body text as they make your client look unprofessional. Reserve them for lists of core competencies and headings.

Balance your white space -- too much makes your client look inexperienced, too little makes the resume hard to read.

Don't believe the myth that modern resumes need to be one page. In fact, recent research suggests a one-page resume may hurt your experienced client. Determine length based on the job requirements and your client's experience. 

As usual, in this session there were questions about ATS and formatting. There are many misconceptions about resume formatting to pass through ATS. Here are a few resources for you to keep up to date and share correct information with clients.


As professionals in the careers industry, it is important for us to stay on top of trends and know what is coming next for our clients. Keep challenging yourself to "write tight" while creating resumes and profiles filled with accomplishments, designed for the human reader, and ready to go through an applicant tracking system.


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