Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: Simple tips to Write for the Web

Concise, SCANNABLE, and Objective: Simple tips to Write for the Web

Summary: Studies of how users read on the Web found they scan the text that they do not actually read: instead. A study of five writing that is different unearthed that a sample internet site scored 58% higher in measured usability when it 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 used in the control condition and many current website pages. Combining these three changes into a single site that was concise, scannable, and objective in addition led to 124% higher measured usability.

Unfortunately, this paper is created in a print style that is writing is somewhat too academic any way you like. We all know this can be bad, but the paper was written once the traditional method 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 much of that on the internet,» said one of our test participants. And our general impression is the fact that most Web users would agree. Our studies claim that current Web writing often does not support users in achieving their main goal: to get useful information as quickly as you possibly can.

We have been running Web usability studies since 1994 Nielsen 1994b, Nielsen and Sano 1994, Nielsen 1995. Our studies have been similar to almost every other Web usability work (e.g., Shum 1996, Spool et al. 1997) and have mainly looked over site architecture, navigation, search, page design, layout, graphic elements and style, and icons. Even so, we now have collected many user comments in regards to the content during this long variety of studies. Indeed, we have come to understand that content is king within the user’s mind: When asked for feedback on an internet page, users will touch upon the standard and relevance regarding the content to a much greater extent than they will certainly comment on navigational issues or the page elements that we consider to be «user interface» (as opposed to simple information). Similarly, when a page comes up, users focus their attention from the center for the window where they see the body text before they bother looking over headerbars or 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 net; instead they scan the pages, trying to pick out a few sentences or even components of sentences to obtain the information they desire
  • users don’t like long, scrolling pages: they prefer the text to be short and also to the purpose
  • users detest anything 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 an individual survey we ran regarding the Sun website:

«One word of advice, folks: let us try not to 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 operating that is leading in today’s world of business. » does not give me, as an engineer, lots of confidence in your capability. I would like to hear fact, not platitudes and self-serving ideology. Hell, why don’t you just paint your house page red under the moving banner of, «Computers around the globe, Unite under the glorious Sun motherland!»

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

Summary of Studies

We conducted three studies for which a complete of 81 users read website pages. The initial two studies were exploratory and qualitative and were directed at generating insight into how users read and whatever they like and dislike. The study that is third a measurement study targeted at quantifying the potential advantages from a few of the most promising writing styles identified in the first 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 very first study would be 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 highly technical users. Also, because of the nature of our site, the majority of the information collected from site surveys was given by technical users.

In Study 1, we tested a total of 11 users: 6 end-users and 5 technical users. The difference that is main technical and non-technical users did actually play out in participants’ familiarity and expertise with search tools and hypertext. The technical users were better informed regarding how to do searches compared to end-users were. Technical users also seemed more aware of and much more enthusiastic about following hypertext links. One or more end-user said he could be sometimes reluctant to use hypertext for concern with getting lost.

Apart from those differences, there seemed to be no major differences in 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 found in most of our previous Web usability studies. Users were typically taken up to the home page of a website that is specific then asked to locate specific information about the website. This process was taken to avoid the well-known problems when users need to find things by searching the entire Web Web that is entire and Hockley 1997Pollock. Let me reveal a sample task:

you plan a visit to Las Vegas and is edubirdies.org legal want to learn about a restaurant that is local by chef Charlie Trotter. You heard it was located in the MGM Grand hotel and casino, however you want extra information concerning the restaurant. You begin by taking a look at the website for Restaurants & Institutions magazine at: http://www.rimag.com

Hint: search for stories on casino foodservice

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

Unfortunately, the internet happens to be so very hard to utilize that users wasted enormous amounts of time trying to find the page that is specific contained the response to the question. Even if from the intended page, users often could not discover the answer since they didn’t look at relevant line. As a result, most 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, the majority of regarding the participants wished to begin with a keyword search. «A good internet search engine is key for an excellent website,» one participant said. If search engines had not been available, a number of the participants said, they might try with the browser’s «Find» command.

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