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Attention helps save our life

Attention follows emotion

Attention attaches to people

 So, to draw attention to your text

The point of attention

Attention acts as a scout.

If we have a conscious purpose, we can direct our attention very efficiently. If we have a sharply defined goal on a visit to a Web site, we tend to represent the quest to ourselves in words, and as we scan, our attention seems to pick up any of those words in the text.

Unfortunately, this kind of scanning is hard to do onscreen because of the fuzzy display of text. So we direct attention to certain areas (at the top of the page, for instance) and we look for certain formats (such as headings, boldface phrases, the first line of a paragraph), because we expect that if the words show up in those spots, the text will be relevant to our concern.

Primed to catch certain words in choice real estate, attention seizes on them--if it can spot them. When pursuing a goal like this, human attention turns out to be an excellent hunter.

And when we actually pay attention to something, our mind ignores the other things in the neighborhood. If we try, we can attend to several different items at once, but we soon feel the strain. Essentially, our being is built to focus. Attention acts as a kind of filter.

In fact, research shows that we usually devote attention to only one thing at a time, even if we switch quickly from one to another. In most cases, what we think of as multi-tasking is actually just shifting our attention from one thing to another, and back. At any moment, our attention is one-pointed, but the point shifts from moment to moment.

When we do not have an intensely felt or fully articulated goal, attention seems to float over the page, watching for targets of opportunity, eventually swooping down and pouncing on a particular object.

Why does undirected attention seem to be pulled to one object, and not another?


Attention! (Full chapter from Hot Text in PDF, 670K, or 12 minutes at 56K)


Attention helps save our life

A certain instinct for self preservation directs attention, before anything else catches our eye.

We seem to be genetically wired to notice sudden change, because that could suggest danger. Anything that changes the scene dramatically, introduces something new, or transforms something that we were already familiar with, draws our attention instantly.

We may be annoyed to find we are looking at a flashing text or inverted video advertising insurance but our attention went to the motion, automatically.

Similarly, attention descends on any word or phrase that has a different format from the rest of the text--boldface, say, or blue and underlined. We can see the physical difference long before we understand the difference in meaning, as we move from one word to another. Attention tends automatically to ignore the routine, and swoops down on the exception.

Attention follows emotion

Next, passion draws attention--good old greed, lust, envy, curiosity, hero worship, ambition, rage, or vanity can arise in a split second, triggered by a mere word, nudging attention toward the scene. Whatever we have a passionate interest in, our attention discovers, even in the most unlikely places.

And if a phrase evokes any strong feelings, our attention is quickly drawn to the emotion-laden text. Then, if we are what the psychologists consider normal, we can, if we want, withdraw our attention just as quickly--without thinking too much about the subject. But if we are anxious, defensive, neurotic, or downright crazy, we will take more time to ponder, fondle, and digest the words. In either case, attention is riveted to the text's area and significance, for as long as it takes to enjoy and then disengage.

Attention attaches to people

People, too, attract our attention inadvertently. Think how quickly you size up a stranger. But if you see a friend, or someone you love, your attention settles on them. Just seeing the name of the object of your affection, attention circles the text. Love, and its companion desire, guide attention.

To draw attention to your text

Make scanning easy by putting key terms where attention knows to look first--at the top of the page, in headings, and so on.

Write about topics that people are looking for. When they spot one, they'll pay attention, and praise your text as relevant.

Respond to the purposes that bring visitors to your site. The more you use the terms they think of to explain their goals, the quicker their attention will pounce on your text.

Avoid distracting visitors with a lot of off-topic text, links, images. Keep the focus.

Write something new, as the poet Ezra Pound suggested. Surprise, oddness, and unfamiliarity attract attention. Put key terms in a format that stands out.

Let your own passion show through the prose. Mention feelings, interests. Yes, it's OK to get emotional: in the cold world of the computer, those strong feelings capture attention.

Talk about people. We're always more interested in other people. If your audience has some heroes or heroines, indulge in a bit of biography.

Reveal yourself. Hey, you're a person. Letting that secret out will automatically interest other people.










Where does your attention go?


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