Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write when it comes to Web
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Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write when it comes to Web

Summary: Studies of how users read on the Web found that they don’t actually read: instead, they scan the text. A study of five different writing styles unearthed that a sample internet site scored 58% higher in measured usability with regards to was written concisely, 47% higher as soon as the text was scannable, and 27% higher when it was printed in an objective style rather than the promotional style utilized in the control condition and lots of current Web pages. Combining these three changes into a single site that was concise, scannable, and objective at exactly the same time resulted in 124% higher measured usability.

Unfortunately, this paper is written in a print style that is writing is somewhat too academic however you like. We know this is bad, however the paper was written while the traditional means of reporting on a research study. We now have a summary that is short is more fitted to online reading.


„Really good writing – that you don’t see most of that on the net,” said one of our test participants. And our impression that is general is most internet users would agree. Our studies suggest that current Web writing often does not support users in achieving their definitive goal: to locate useful information as quickly as possible.

We’ve been Web that is running usability since 1994 Nielsen 1994b, Nielsen and Sano 1994, Nielsen 1995. Our studies have been much like most other Web usability work (e.g., Shum 1996, Spool et al. 1997) and also have mainly looked at site architecture, navigation, search, page design, layout, graphic elements and style, and icons. Even so, we have collected many user comments about the content with this long number of studies. Indeed, we have started to realize that content is king when you look at the user’s mind: When asked for feedback on an internet page, users will comment on the quality and relevance associated with the content to a much greater extent that we consider to be „user interface” (as opposed to simple information) than they will comment on navigational issues or the page elements. Similarly, when a web page pops up, users focus their attention in the center for the window where they browse the body text before they bother looking over headerbars or other navigational elements.

We now have derived three main conclusions that are content-oriented our four years’ of Web usability studies Nielsen 1997a:

  • users usually do not read on the internet; instead they scan the pages, attempting to pick out a sentences that are few even elements of sentences to get the information they need
  • users don’t like long, scrolling pages: they choose the text to be short and also to the idea
  • users detest something that may seem like marketing fluff or overly hyped language („marketese”) and prefer information that is factual.

This latter point is well illustrated because of the following quote from a client survey we ran on the Sun website:

„One piece of advice, folks: Let’s do not be so gratuitous and self-inflating. Beginning answers to good judgment questions such as „Will Sun support my older Solaris platform?” with answers such as „Sun is exceptionally committed to. ” and „Solaris is a operating that is leading in today’s world of business. ” doesn’t give me, as an engineer, lots of confidence in your capability. I want to hear fact, not platitudes and ideology that is self-serving. Hell, why not just paint your home page red under the moving banner of, „Computers around the globe, Unite beneath the Sun motherland that is glorious!”

Even that we needed to know more about Web writing in order to advise our content creators though we have gained some understanding of Web content from studies that mainly concerned higher-level Web design issues, we felt. We therefore designed a number of studies that specifically looked at how users read Web pages.

Overview of Studies

We conducted three studies by which a total of 81 users read Web pages. The first two studies were exploratory and qualitative and were targeted at generating understanding of how users read and what they like and dislike. The third study was a measurement study directed at quantifying the possibility benefits from probably the most promising writing styles identified in the first two studies. All three studies were conducted through the summer of 1997 in the SunSoft usability laboratories in Menlo Park, CA.

A goal that is major the very first study would be to compare the reading behavior of technical and non-technical users. Despite the fact that we had conducted some earlier studies with non-technical participants, almost all of our studies had used users that are highly technical. Also, given the nature of your site, the vast majority of the data collected from site surveys was provided by technical users.

In Study 1, we tested an overall total of 11 users: 6 end-users and 5 technical users. The main disimilarity between technical and non-technical users seemed to play out in participants’ familiarity and expertise with search tools and hypertext. The technical users were better informed about how precisely to do searches as compared to end-users were. Technical users also seemed more aware of and much more thinking about following hypertext links. A minumum of one end-user said he is sometimes hesitant to use hypertext for concern with getting lost.

Apart from those differences, there seemed to be no differences that are major how technical and non-technical users approached reading on line. Both groups desired text that is scannable short text, summaries, etc.

The tasks were classic directed tasks similar to those used in nearly all of our previous Web usability studies. Users were typically taken fully to the home page of a specific website and then asked to locate specific information on your website. This approach was taken to avoid the well-known problems when users need certainly to find things by searching the entire Web Web that is entire and Hockley 1997Pollock. Let me reveal a sample task:

You are planning a vacation to Las Vegas and would like to find out about a restaurant that is local by chef Charlie Trotter. You heard it had been found in the MGM Grand casino and hotel, you want more information about the restaurant. You begin by taking a look at the website for Restaurants & Institutions magazine at:

Hint: try to find stories on casino foodservice

Make an effort to find out:
-what the article said about the restaurant
-where most food is served during the riverboat casino

Unfortunately, the internet is currently so hard to use that users wasted enormous levels of time searching for the page that is specific contained the answer to the question. Even though on the intended page, users often could not discover the answer simply because they didn’t begin to see the relevant line. As an end result, most of Study 1 wound up repeating navigation issues we got fewer results than desired relating to actual reading of content that we knew from previous studies and.

Users Like To Search

Upon visiting each site, the majority of for the participants desired to begin with a keyword search. „a beneficial search engine is key for an excellent website,” one participant said. If a search engine was not available, some of the participants said, they might try making use of the browser’s „Find” command.

Sometimes participants needed to be asked to try to get the information without needing a search tool, because searching had not been a focus that is main of study.