You only have a few seconds to get your message across to a mobile user. Make them count.

We talk about simplicity a lot when it comes to content. Simple words. Simple formats. Simple sentences. Nowhere is simplicity and concision more necessary than when writing for mobile apps.

What makes mobile different

If you’ve ever found yourself reading your mobile news app on a bus or an elevator—or anywhere in the wide world of distraction—you know how challenging it is to focus. You can only really absorb messages that are short, clear, focused, and easily delivered on a small screen. Like most writing, it’s a question of understanding your audience and their needs, which takes a frame shift. Mobile users aren’t reading for the writing, they’re reading for the message.

Writing for a small screen

Social media and journalism instructor at Poynter Institute Regina McCombs made a recommendation to writers of mobile apps: “You’re designing for a small screen that’s probably moving. You have to be super-focused and help people find the information they want quickly.”

When you’re writing for mobile platforms, don’t think journalism. Think Twitter,

Focus

Ryan Matzner, Lead Strategist at Fueled, says, “The best mobile content is tweet-worthy, even if it’s not being written for Twitter.”

Focused writing will keep readers engaged in your message for the small amount of time they have to pay attention to your content.

How to get there

  1. Write strong headlines. “Content will have to be quick and clear so that users get the point right away, but with just enough mystery and intrigue to encourage them to continue reading and to also share the content with others,” says Matzner.
  2. Defer secondary content. According to Jakob Nielsen of the Nielsen Normal Group, “When writing for mobile users, focus their attention on the essential content.” This means relegating less essential content to a secondary screen. Nielsen has a great example of a Groupon mobile coupon to illustrate this point. Definitely worth a look. Essentially, the main points of the coupon are delivered in a bulleted list and a secondary screen, “More about this deal,” gives the reader additional information about the business itself.
  3. Test your content. Matzner advises that designers come up with several screens to test with Google Website Optimizer, which is available through your Google Analytics account. Matznr also recommends A/B Testing, especially if you’d like to pit one version against another.

Conclusion

If it’s your first time writing for mobile, don’t be afraid to check out Twitter. Make a study of what works (i.e., what gets retweeted). Download a few apps and takes notes on what grabs your attention and what doesn’t.

As in any writing genre, the best writers read and study other writing. Don’t be afraid to dive in.