The letters W, T and F on a set of white dice

Copywriting tip 23: WTF – the F shape

The letters W, T and F on a set of white dice

No. WTF doesn’t stand for what you think.

Well, not ‘Wednesday Thursday Friday’, at least.

It stands for Write for The F shape. WTF.

For the past 20+ years, Jakob Nielsen has been studying usability on the web.

In his research, he’s uncovered the way the eye tracks on a screen – the ‘eyetracking’.

It tracks in an ‘F’ shape. Just like this:

Digital Reading Habits | Digital Writing Tips

If you squint, can you see the red ‘F’?

That’s how your eye tracks, and reads.

It starts top left. Goes across a few words.

‘Is this interesting? Is it for me? Am I in the right place.’

Back to where we started, down to the first thing that catches our eye. Across.

Down. Across.

We don’t read in detail. We skim.

In fact, according to the Stanford-Poynter Project:

‘Only 16% of web users read word by word. New visitors to a site largely ignore graphics.
78% of their attention is occupied by headlines, summaries and captions.’

Yep. As I joke with my clients: ‘Only three people are going to read this copy. You, me and my mum.’

(By the way, before you send me a rude email: I’m aware of the latest research from April 2020 on eyetracking. Not just the F shape, but a ‘pinball’, ‘lawn mower’ and ‘layer cake’.)

What does that mean for us when writing for digital mediums?

Don’t fight it.

People are skimming. So structure your digital (web, email, mobile) copy to match.

Bold your key points.

Break it up with subheads.

Punchy, single idea paragraphs.

Use bullet points to:

• break information
• into easily
scanned pieces.

In an ideal world, your reader should be able to scan through and pick up the bulk of your messages.

Without having to read in-depth.

What about an overall structure?

Use the inverted pyramid.

The inverted pyramid is widely used in news-reporting – journalism.

(Its origins are the telegraph wire: you had to make sure the important stuff went through, in case the wire got cut.)

A good piece of journalism will answer six pieces of information, up front. The 5Ws and the H.

Who, What, Why, Where, When and How.

Take a look at this example from essay5w.com:

The Inverted Pyramid 5Ws and H

Can you see how the important information is right up front?

Think about your audience. What do they need or want to know? What’s important to them?

Again, your reader research is vital, here.

The inverted pyramid is particularly useful for websites, mobiles and emails. Mediums where I choose to access the information.

So, next time someone asks you your tips for writing online, just say:



This tip is based on my 30 Tips in 40 Minutes webinar.

Feel free to download a version of the slides and watch a video of the one-hour webinar.

Image source: Pixabay


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Jon Maxim

Jon is a multi-award winning copywriter. For over 30 years, he’s helped clients – large and small – develop engaging concepts, content and copy. For 25 of those years, he’s been teaching people how to do it themselves. His courses on copywriting, ideation and presentation skills are highly sought-after and highly effective. Jon lives in Sydney, Australia: but is often found on a plane, heading to where he’s most needed.