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 keep reading the Web found they scan the text that they do not actually read: instead. A report of five writing that is different unearthed that a sample Web site scored 58% higher in measured usability with regards to was written concisely, 47% higher when the text was scannable, and 27% higher with regards to was written in a goal style as opposed to the promotional style utilized in the control condition and lots of current website pages. Combining these three changes into a site that is single was concise, scannable, and objective on top of that 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 understand this really is bad, nevertheless the paper was written once 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 much 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 absolute goal: to find information that is useful quickly as you can.

We have been running Web usability studies since 1994 Nielsen 1994b, Nielsen and Sano 1994, Nielsen 1995. Our research reports have been just like almost every other Web usability work (e.g., Shum 1996, Spool et al. 1997) and now have mainly looked at 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 with this long series of studies. Indeed, we now have started to recognize that content is king when you look at the user's mind: When asked for feedback on a Web page, users will touch upon the product quality and relevance associated with the content to a much greater extent than they will comment on navigational issues or the page elements that we consider to be "user interface" (instead of simple information). Similarly, when a full page pops up, users focus their attention in the center associated with window where they read the body text before they bother looking over headerbars or any other navigational elements.

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

  • users usually do not continue reading the Web; instead they scan the pages, attempting to pick out a few sentences or 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 point
  • users detest anything that seems like marketing fluff or overly hyped language essays ("marketese") and prefer information that is factual.

This point that is latter well illustrated because of the following quote from a customer survey we ran in 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 dedicated to. " and "Solaris is a operating that is leading in today's world of business. " does not give me, as an engineer, a lot of confidence in your capability. I want to hear fact, not platitudes and ideology that is self-serving. Hell, why not just paint your house page red beneath 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 website pages.

Overview of Studies

We conducted three studies in which a complete of 81 users read website pages. The initial two studies were qualitative and exploratory and were geared towards generating understanding of how users read and what they like and dislike. The study that is third 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 during the summer of 1997 when you look at 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, nearly all of our studies had used users that are highly technical. Also, given the nature of our site, the vast majority of the data collected from site surveys was supplied 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 users that are technical better informed regarding how to execute searches compared to the end-users were. Technical users also seemed more aware of and more thinking about following hypertext links. At least one end-user said he could be sometimes reluctant to use hypertext for anxiety about getting lost.

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

The tasks were classic directed tasks similar to those found in the majority of our previous Web usability studies. Users were typically taken to the house page of a specific website and then asked to get specific info on the website. This process was taken fully to prevent the well-known problems when users need certainly to find things by searching the entire Web Web that is entire and Hockley 1997Pollock. Here is an example task:

You are planning a visit to Las Vegas and want to know about a restaurant that is local by chef Charlie Trotter. You heard it had been found in the MGM Grand hotel and casino, you want additional information in regards to the restaurant. You start by taking a look at the website for Restaurants & Institutions magazine at:

Hint: try to find stories on casino foodservice

You will need to find out:
-what the content said about the restaurant
-where most food is served during the riverboat casino

Unfortunately, the internet is currently so very hard to use that users wasted enormous amounts of time looking for the page that is specific contained the answer to the question. Even though from the intended page, users often could not find the answer simply because they didn't look at line that is relevant. As an end result, a lot of Study 1 ended up repeating navigation issues that we knew from previous studies and we also got fewer results than desired associated with actual reading of content.

Users Would You Like To Search

Upon visiting each site, almost all of the participants wished to start with a keyword search. "an excellent internet search engine is key for a good website," one participant said. If search engines 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 and find the information without using a search tool, because searching was not a focus that is main of study.

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