Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How Users Read on the Web

I found this article on writing on the web and thought it was relevant for two reasons:
  1. It deals with communication in a specific context
  2. It deals with how to structure your writing on the web (such as in blogs or wikibooks).
I've included a link, but here is an excerpt as well:

How Users Read on the Web

They don't.

People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. (Update: a newer study found that users read email newsletters even more abruptly than they read websites.)

As a result, Web pages have to employ scannable text, using

  • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
  • meaningful sub-headings (not "clever" ones)
  • bulleted lists
  • one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  • the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing
More on this at http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html.


In response to Amy's comment about the rather "old-school" source for this post (circa 1997)), here are a few other links on reading on the web (much more current):

"F-Shaped Pattern..." From the same site, but from 2006.

"Eyetracking..." From a site maintained by USC (March 2007).

There's a video released March 2007 by Poynter Institute explaining the results of their study.

Feel free to leave additional links in the comments if you stumble across other new research.


Amy said...

1997? You cited something about the web from 1997?

TW said...

Well, it seems like only yesterday...

And our textbook is from 1977 (that's an additional 20 years prior for those of you keeping score).

I think the article still makes some valid points about reading and writing in a specific context, but grant that some of it is probably a bit dated.

I'll update my post accordingly. :)

Reader1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BeardedFury said...

Dude, you broke the pre-2000 rule! Well, I guess it wasn't your rule so much as it was mine--so I'll give you that. But yeah, that's interesting and not altogether surprising. Reading on the web causes too much eye strain, I think. If I look at a computer monitor for too long my eyes start to feel like they've had a glaucoma test.

Reader1 said...

What's all this hullabaloo about quoting dated material? Computers/internet may have changed but people haven't.

wildcat007 said...

It's an interesting study, regardless of the year it was conducted. Some of the same scanning techniques occur in newspaper and magazine reading as well.