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 continue reading the Web found that they don’t actually read: instead, they scan the text. A study of five writing that is different found that a sample Web site scored 58% higher in measured usability when it was written concisely, 47% higher when the text was scannable, and 27% higher when it was printed in a target style instead of the promotional style found in the control condition and lots of current Web pages. Combining these three changes into a single site that was concise, scannable, and objective in addition resulted in 124% higher measured usability.

Unfortunately, this paper is written in a print writing style and is somewhat too academic any way you like. We realize that is bad, however the paper was written due to the fact way that is traditional of on a research study. We now have a short summary that is more fitted to online reading.


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

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. do my homework for me, Shum 1996, Spool et al. 1997) and now have mainly looked over site architecture, navigation, search, page design, layout, graphic elements and style, and icons. Even so, we have collected many user comments concerning the content during this long series of studies. Indeed, we have come to understand that content is king in the user’s mind: When asked for feedback on a Web page, users will comment on the standard and relevance associated with content to a much greater extent than they are going to comment on navigational issues or the page elements that people consider to be “user interface” (as opposed to simple information). Similarly, when a typical page pops up, users focus their attention in the center associated with window where they see the body text before they bother looking over headerbars or other elements that are navigational.

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

  • users try not to keep reading the internet; instead they scan the pages, attempting to pick out a few sentences or even parts of sentences to obtain the information they desire
  • users don’t like long, scrolling pages: they prefer the text to be short and to the point
  • users detest anything that seems like marketing fluff or overly hyped language (“marketese”) and prefer information that is factual.

This point that is latter well illustrated because of the following quote from a person survey we ran in the Sun website:

“One piece of advice, folks: let us do not be so gratuitous and self-inflating. Beginning answers to common sense questions such as “Will Sun support my older Solaris platform?” with answers such as “Sun is exceptionally devoted to. ” and “Solaris is a leading operating system in today’s business world. ” does not give me, as an engineer, a lot of confidence in your capability. I want to hear fact, not platitudes and self-serving ideology. Hell, you will want to just paint your house page red under the moving banner of, “Computers around the globe, Unite underneath the glorious Sun motherland!”

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

Overview of Studies

We conducted three studies by which a total of 81 users read website pages. The initial two studies were exploratory and qualitative and were targeted at generating insight into how users read and what they like and dislike. The third study was a measurement study geared towards quantifying the possibility advantages from some of the most promising writing styles identified in the 1st two studies. All three studies were conducted during the summer of 1997 into the SunSoft usability laboratories in Menlo Park, CA.

A major goal in the first study was to compare the reading behavior of technical and non-technical users. And even though we had conducted some earlier studies with non-technical participants, most of our studies had used users that are highly technical. Also, because of the nature of our site, the majority of the data collected from site surveys was given by technical users.

In Study 1, we tested a total of 11 users: 6 end-users and 5 users that are technical. 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 about how to do searches compared to end-users were. Technical users also seemed more aware of and more interested in following hypertext links. A minumum of one end-user said he could be sometimes reluctant to use hypertext for fear of getting lost.

Aside from those differences, there appeared 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 Web that is previous usability. Users were typically taken to the house page of a website that is specific then asked to get specific all about the site. This method was taken fully to avoid the well-known problems when users have to find things by searching the entire Web Web that is entire and Hockley 1997Pollock. The following is a sample task:

you’ve planned a trip to Las Vegas and want to find out about a restaurant that is local by chef Charlie Trotter. You heard it was found in the MGM Grand casino and hotel, you want more information concerning the restaurant. You start by looking at the website for Restaurants & Institutions magazine at:

Hint: try to find stories on casino foodservice

Try to find out:
-what the content said about the restaurant
-where food that is most is served during the riverboat casino

Unfortunately, the internet happens to be so difficult to use that users wasted enormous amounts 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 find the answer simply because they did not begin to see the line that is relevant. As an outcome, most of Study 1 finished up repeating navigation issues we got fewer results than desired relating to actual reading of content that we knew from previous studies and.

Users Would You Like To Search

Upon visiting each site, the majority of associated with the participants desired to begin with a keyword search. “a search that is good is key for a beneficial website,” one participant said. If a search engine was not available, some of the participants said, they would try utilizing the browser’s “Find” command.

Sometimes participants must be asked to try to get the information without the need for a search tool, because searching was not a focus that is main of study.

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