Tablet tips: How to write for iPads, Kindles and more

January 28, 2013

Call it the bailout point.

People reading news on an iPad spent an average of  78.3 seconds on stories that they didn’t finish. That’s according to EyeTrack: Tablet, the Poynter Institute’s 2012 eyetracking study.

So how can you keep your reader’s attention? Here are three findings from Eyetrack: Tablet.

1. Place a “gold coin” 250 words in.

Put a “gold coin” at the bailout point to keep people reading, Poynter researchers suggest. That could be a provocative question, a juicy detail, a plot twist or another element to regain interest.

If people read at an average of 200 words per minute, then that means you’d include a gold coin after about 250 words.

Other bailout points to be aware of include:

  • People spent an average of  98.3 seconds on the first story they read on an iPad.
  • People watch videos for an average of  75 to 90 minutes.

2. Design for reading and scanning.

Half of online “readers” actually just scan, according to Poynter’s 2007 eyetracking research. The same is true of iPad “readers.” Of the total audience in the EyeTrack: Tablet study:

  • 52 percent scanned.
  • 48 percent read methodically.

But break out older and younger readers, and those numbers change. The Poynter Institute looked at two different demographics for this study.

Digital natives: These 18-to-28-year-olds are among the first adults who don’t have strong memories of  life before digital media. Of this group:

  • 75 percent scanned.
  • 25 percent read methodically.

Printnets: These 45-to-55-year-olds have one foot in the print world, the other in the online world. Of this group:

  • 24 percent scanned.
  • 76 percent read methodically.

Don’t decide that young people and scanners have attention deficit disorder: These folks spent as much time as older people and methodical readers absorbing information — they just did it differently.

“It’s the style, not the degree, of consumption,” says David Stanton, managing developer at Smart Media Creative, who worked on the study.

Mario Garcia goes further.  The CEO of Garcia Media and founder of the Graphics & Design program at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, adds, “There’s a scanner inside every methodical reader.”

The reverse is also true:  Scanners often read methodically once they find what they’re looking for.

3. Engage the finger.

Tablet design adds touch to the other elements of electronic communication. Most people keep nearly constant contact with the screen.

  • 61 percent of participants were intimate. That is, they kept their finger on the screen constantly — touching, tapping, pinching and swiping to adjust their view.
  • 39 percent were detached. They carefully arranged a screenful of text before sitting back to read.

When organizing your copy, consider how readers will interact with your content. “Avoid the ‘frustrated finger’ when designing for tablets,” Garcia says. “Engage the finger as well as the brain and eyes.”

Copyright © 2013 Ann Wylie. All rights reserved.

Ann Wylie

Ann Wylie ( works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. To learn more about her training, consulting or writing and editing services, contact her at


Becky says:

I am surprised that people watch video fro 75 to 90 MINUTES. Should that seconds? I guess if you are watching a movie, but if you are watching information, that seems rather long.

June 11, 2013

Annette W. Gorey says:

I wondered the same thing about the 75 to 90 minutes. I believe it must be seconds.

Sept. 5, 2013

Post a Comment

Editor’s Note: Please limit your comments to the specific post. We reserve the right to omit any response that is not related to the article or that may be considered objectionable.


To help us ensure that you are a real human, please type the total number of circles that appear in the following images in the box below.

(image of five circles) + (image of seven circles) + (image of seven circles) =