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Hiding Content in Plain Sight

This morning a friend asked me if I was going to attend a film tonight that was listed in a weekly email newsletter. I told her I had not seen the event in the newsletter, and she insisted it was mentioned there. Skeptically, I opened the email again to look for it.

I was shocked to see the event listed at the very top of the newsletter. How did I miss it?

See if you can determine why I missed the listing, using my nonsense information below.

Upcoming Events

Be sure to attend the blah blah film screening on Friday night. This blah, blah, wonderful film . . . blah, blah, blah . . . .

Don't forget next week's blah, blah, special event featuring blah, blah, blah and blah, blah, blah. . . .

It is obvious why I missed tonight's film listing, isn't it? Despite the film getting top billing, the content below it screamed for my attention.

If you have an example of hiding content in plain sight, please share it.

Syntax Training

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

5 comments on “Hiding Content in Plain Sight”

  • I am curious if anyone else has the problem I have – the more the writer tries to make something obvious, the more likely I am to overlook it. I seem to miss things that are in bold, red typeface, or are set off in a box. I don’t know what it is, but I have a knack for missing them. It’s embarrassing when people point out that what I missed was the most obvious item on the page. I’m learning to slow down and look carefully, but every once in a while I am caught by surprise again.

  • I have the same problem Randy has – I often skim things and miss what’s there.

    It seems like content is often “hidden” or minimized when the content creator is trying to make you do something. For instance, I’m regularly asked to record a cell phone number for my email account. I have to look really hard for the tiny little link that lets me skip this step. And they vary the position of the link so I can’t find it as easily the next time!

  • Hi, Randy and Val. It is interesting that writers’ efforts to communicate with you are failing.

    Randy, in your case, you overlook the bold, boxed, and red. Writers need to communicate with you using more traditional formatting such as content at the left margin, a black font, and regular chunks of text.

    Val, your messages make you work too hard to do something. My experience often matches yours. I must search a screen to find the step I am supposed to take. Often the writer makes us do too much work!

    Randy and Val, your comments have encouraged me to spend more time on the topic of formatting. Thank you!

    More to come.


  • I think part of the problem is that techniques used by writers to make text stand out (bold face, enclosing information in boxes) are also frequently used by advertisers. With web pages and email newsletters scattered with ads, we’ve become accustomed to glazing over such things.

    In your example, Lynn, perhaps they did intend to push the following week’s event more than the more upcoming event. Maybe that was just tacked on as an aside, and the ordering had more to do with chronology than first billing.

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