Newsletter #166 How DO You Write for Mobile?

Posted on Oct 15, 2019, 8:30 PM

Mobile apps and mobile Web usage now account for over 60% of all digital media consumption and that news is over a year old! If that's the case shouldn't we be spending more time considering how content looks on mobile? Just because text looks good on a wide screen doesn't mean it's suitable when the screen gets smaller.

Mark Liberman of Language Log analysed US presidential 'inaugural' and 'state of the nation' addresses since the late 1700s and found that the average sentence length had gone down from around 40 words to 20 in 2011. In an age of microblogging, Twitter and SMS messaging it seems like we are already selecting for shorter sentences.

This trend towards shorter sentences is also a practical one: As Philip Tetley-Jones of the Dispensary says: "A good rule to follow in this regard is the classic ‘Less is more.’ So if you can say it in 10 words rather than 20, that should be your goal." But it's not always easy to do as Blaise Pascal pointed out in the 17th century: "I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time."

Make Your Website Mobile Responsive
Responsive design is the implementation favoured by Google and it's the way we build mobile friendly Websites. If your site has failed the Google test, you need to contact us now!

Paragraphs are even more important in determining good readability; their structure and length can help or hinder the reader as s/he scans down the page. Philip again: "Paragraphs will link a few connected thoughts in a logical way, rather than ranging around the topic while they meander down the page."

The ideal then is to have concise sentences that explain a subject or tell a story, grouped into paragraphs that provide break points and show the reader the writer's logic. Words also should be as short as possible as Republican pollster Frank Luntz says, if you use long words it "..tends to raise suspicions: What is this guy trying to sell me? Does he have an ulterior motive?"


Assuming content for mobile and small devices continues to evolve, what does the future hold? Maybe:

  1. Paragraphs themselves change so that a summary of the paragraph is in the first sentence and the rest of it is hidden unless you decide to click or swipe to view. 
  2. We go back to indenting the first line of the paragraph and move paragraphs closer so we don't lose so much space between them on mobile.
  3. Currently responsive design ordains that all devices get the same text content, but perhaps we need to write separate content for groups of devices.
  4. Notwithstanding 3. above, the text content for larger screens is driven by what works on mobile not the other way around. In the Web design industry over the last five years, mobile design has had a massive effect on design for desktops and laptops.


Of course 'Content is King' still holds sway, people will only read your content if it's interesting, thought-provoking and adds to their knowledge. Sort of like this article I suppose? :-)


Best wishes

Alex Garden