What is the F pattern and how can it improve your copywriting?

Understanding the eye movements of readers could make your copy more compelling

You know your target audience’s time and attention are limited. You have a very narrow window within which to gain their attention.

So what do you do?

You drop an F bomb.

No, not that one!

Although we all remember the ubiquitous French Connection UK campaigns of the 2000s.

We’re talking about the F pattern.

Get to know this pattern and you’ll better understand how your readers parse your online content and you can tailor copywriting accordingly.

Are you ready?

Let’s take a closer look.

The F Pattern Explained

The F pattern describes the way our eyes are drawn to text. Whenever we speed read or quickly scan a web page, a blog post or a book we will often unconsciously filter out sections of text that we consider extraneous.

When reading in this pattern we will usually scan the first line of text in its entirety.

Then the first

few words

of subsequent


we will then track the next horizontal line

probably to a lesser extent

and keep



Of course, this doesn’t happen whenever we read anything; only under certain conditions.

These tend to be:

  • When we are short of time
  • When we are looking for a certain sentence or passage
  • When text is poorly structured in a wall or slab
  • When we are not particularly invested in the text
  • When we are trying to read as efficiently as we can

We primarily tend to read using the F pattern when we’re perusing online content – that infinitely abundant grist to our cognitive mill. Much as passionate bloggers may hate to admit it, readers rarely have the time or inclination to luxuriate over online text. There are usually too many other demands on their time and attention.

Moreover, when readers examine text on a mobile device, they combine elements of the F pattern with marking when they parse text. This is where the reader fixes their eye on a certain point and manipulates the text by scrolling or swiping up or down.

Copywriters should be aware of the F pattern and the inevitable truth that some of the text they write will be skimmed over by their readers.

Of course, the text above featured some playful and on-the-nose implementations of this pattern. But how can knowledge of the way users navigate text improve your writing? Don’t worry, you don’t have to contort all of your writing into F shapes.

Here are some tips on writing around the reader’s eye movements.

F Pattern Heatmap

(Nielsen 2006b) via ResearchGate

Start strong

A 2006 study by the Nielsen Normal Group demonstrated that the first sentence is paramount.

This is the one that is most likely to be read in its entirety. After this the user will start to move their attention vertically downwards, making ever-decreasing movements from left to right.

Needless to say, writers need to make that first sentence count.

Start strong and engage the reader’s attention. Present your thesis in the most punchy and efficient way possible.

This will reduce their chances of lapsing into vertical browsing patterns and ensure that they absorb more of the text they read.  

Make sure your subheaders match the content

Subheaders are an excellent example of the F pattern in practice. Readers will often skim content, using the subheaders as a roadmap for the information they need. This makes them a quick and easy way to make your copy more skimmable.

However, your reader’s attention will diminish the further they scroll. Therefore, copywriters must ensure that their subheaders properly reflect the content of the following paragraphs. Try to keep the preamble to a minimum and address the premise inherent in the subheader.

By rule of thumb, your first two paragraphs are the most important. Be sure to frontload blocks of content with compelling facts, stats and arguments.


Stick to the left (and make bullet points your best friend)

In the Western world, we read from left to right. Therefore, our eyes tend to be biased towards the left. When readers’ attention dwindles, it will usually float leftwards. This means that





to engage their attention

when you

keep to the left.

According to the Norman Nielsen study, the vertical axis quickly becomes the most prominently used when readers have been on a page for a while. Which means you have yet another reason to love bullet points. Bullet points are a copywriter’s best friend, and utterly invaluable when they want to ensure that important facts, stats or data are not skimmed over by fatigued eyes.

Click on just about any post within the Write Arm blog, and you’re almost certain to find that bulleted lists have been used once or more.

Here are just a few of the reasons we love bullet points:

  • Readers are over 30% more likely to remember facts or stats from bulleted lists
  • They can dramatically improve readability
  • They make online content more visually engaging
  • They lend themselves well to mobile viewing
  • A bulleted list is the perfect way to regain wandering attention
  • They can neatly summarise paragraphs
  • They may boost scroll depth which is an important performance metric

While bulleted lists are extremely helpful, they should be used sparingly and for specific purposes. If you want to arouse the reader’s attention, introduce a list of facts and stats, or give a series of directions, they are a silver bullet (pun intended) against reader apathy.

Make sure your points are short, punchy and laden with compelling information. Try not to make bulleted lists too long. Five to eight bullet points is usually the sweet spot. 

Bake brevity into your paragraphs

If you take absolutely nothing else away from this post, remember this:

Readers’ engagement inevitably dwindles over time.

Breaking your copy into paragraphs with relevant subheaders can combat this somewhat. Still, copywriters should resist getting lost in long and meandering paragraphs. The sense of flow a writer experiences when churning out a string of quality sentences is, unfortunately, not representative of the reader’s experience.

So, what’s a writer to do?

Mix it up a bit.

Throw in a paragraph break.

And keep your paragraphs short, punchy and concise.

When you bake brevity into your paragraphs, you’ll find yourself incorporating the F pattern into your writing without even realising it.

If you need a helping hand delivering the kind of eye-catching copy that grabs the reader’s attention and feels authentic to your brand, our delightful team is just a click away.

< Back

We work with

Responsive website designed & developed byMadison Web Solutions logo