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Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write for the Web

Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: How to Write for the Web

Summary: Studies of how users read on the internet found they scan the text that they do not actually read: instead. A study of five writing that is different discovered 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 with regards to was written in an objective style instead of the promotional style found in the control condition and many current Web pages. Combining these three changes into a single site that was concise, scannable, and objective at the same time lead to 124% higher measured usability.

Unfortunately, this paper is created in a print writing style and is somewhat too academic in style. We know this can be bad, but the paper was written as the way that is traditional of on a research study. We have a summary that is short is more suited for online reading.


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

We’ve been running Web usability studies since 1994 Nielsen 1994b, Nielsen and Sano 1994, Nielsen 1995. Our research reports have been similar to almost every other Web usability work (e.g., Shum 1996, Spool et al. 1997) and possess mainly looked at site architecture, navigation, search, page design, layout, graphic elements and magnificence, and icons. Even so, we have collected many user comments about the content during this long group of studies. Indeed, we now have started to recognize that content is king into the user’s mind: When asked for feedback on a Web page, users will touch upon the high quality and relevance regarding 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 typical page comes up, users focus their attention in the center of the window where they read the body text before they bother looking over headerbars or any other navigational elements.

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

  • users try not to continue reading the Web; instead they scan the pages, wanting to pick out a sentences that are few even elements of sentences to obtain the information they want
  • users don’t like long, scrolling pages: they choose the text to be short and to the idea
  • users detest something that may seem like marketing fluff or overly hyped language (“marketese”) and prefer factual information.

This latter point is well illustrated by the following quote from a customer survey we ran regarding the Sun website:

“One word of advice, folks: let us do not be so gratuitous and self-inflating. Beginning answers to sense that is common such as “Will Sun support my older Solaris platform?” with answers such as “Sun is exceptionally focused on. ” and “Solaris is a leading operating system in today’s business world. ” doesn’t give me, as an engineer, a lot of confidence in your capability. I would like to hear company fact, not platitudes and ideology that is self-serving. Hell, why don’t you just paint your house page red beneath the moving banner of, “Computers of the world, 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 series of studies that specifically looked at how users read Web pages.

Overview of Studies

We conducted three studies in which an overall total of 81 users read website pages. The very first two studies were exploratory and qualitative and were aimed at generating understanding of how users read and whatever they like and dislike. The third study was a measurement study geared towards quantifying the possibility advantages of some of the most promising writing styles identified in the 1st two studies. All three studies were conducted throughout the summer of 1997 within the SunSoft usability laboratories in Menlo Park, CA.

A goal that is major the initial study was to compare the reading behavior of technical and non-technical users. Even though 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 our site, almost all of the data collected from site surveys was provided by technical users.

In Study 1, we tested a complete of 11 users: 6 end-users and 5 technical users. The difference that is main 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 regarding how to do searches than the end-users were. Technical users also seemed more aware of and much more thinking about following hypertext links. At least one end-user said he could be sometimes hesitant to use hypertext for concern about getting lost.

Apart from those differences, there appeared as if no differences that are major how technical and non-technical users approached reading on the internet. Both groups desired scannable text, short text, summaries, etc.

The tasks were classic directed tasks comparable to those utilized in nearly all of our Web that is previous usability. Users were typically taken up to the house page of a specific website and then asked to find specific all about your website. This process was taken to avoid the well-known problems when users need certainly to find things by searching the entire Web PollockWeb that is entire and Hockley 1997. Let me reveal a sample task:

You are planning a visit to Las Vegas and want to know about a local restaurant run by chef Charlie Trotter. You heard it absolutely was found in the MGM Grand casino and hotel, you want more details concerning the restaurant. You start by looking at the website for Restaurants & Institutions magazine at:

Hint: try to find stories on casino foodservice

Attempt to find out:
-what the article said in regards to the restaurant
-where most food is served during the riverboat casino

Unfortunately, the internet is currently so hard to use that users wasted enormous amounts of time looking for the specific page that contained the response to the question. Even when in the intended page, users often could not find the answer since they did not look at line that is relevant. As an outcome, much of Study 1 ended up repeating navigation issues we got fewer results than desired relating to actual reading of content that we knew from previous studies and.

Users Want to Search

Upon visiting each site, nearly all regarding the participants wanted to start with a keyword search. “a great internet search engine is key for a good website,” one participant said. If the search engines was not available, a number of the participants said, they might try making use of the browser’s “Find” command.

Sometimes participants needed to be asked to attempt to find the information without needing a search tool, because searching was not a focus that is main of study.

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