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

Summary: Studies of how users keep reading the Web found they scan the text that they do not actually read: instead. A research of five different writing styles unearthed that a sample Web site scored 58% higher in measured usability with regards to was written concisely, 47% higher once the text was scannable, and 27% higher with regards to was written in a target style as opposed to the promotional style found in the control condition and lots of current website pages. Combining these three changes into a single site that was concise, scannable, and objective at the same time resulted in 124% higher measured usability.

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


“Really good writing – that you do not see much of that on line,” said certainly one of our test participants. And our general impression is the fact that most Web users would agree. Our studies suggest that current Web writing often does not support users in achieving their absolute goal: to find useful information as 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 much 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 have collected user that is many about the content during this long series of studies. Indeed, we have come 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 high quality and relevance for 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 pops up, users focus their attention on the center regarding the window where they browse the body text before they bother looking over headerbars or any other elements that are navigational.

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

  • users usually do not continue reading the Web; instead they scan the pages, wanting to pick out a sentences that are few even components of sentences to obtain the information they need
  • users do not like long, scrolling pages: they choose the text to be short and to the point
  • 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 in the Sun website:

“One word of advice, folks: Why don’t we 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 world of business. ” doesn’t give me, as an engineer, a lot of confidence in your capability. I wish to hear fact, not platitudes and ideology that is self-serving. Hell, why don’t you just paint your home page red beneath the moving banner of, “Computers of the world, Unite underneath the glorious Sun motherland!”

Even though we have gained some comprehension of Web content from studies that mainly concerned higher-level Web design issues, we felt that individuals needed to know 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.

Overview of Studies

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

A major goal in the initial 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, the majority of our studies had used users that are highly technical. Also, given the nature of our site, the majority of the information collected from site surveys was supplied by technical users.

In Study 1, we tested a complete of 11 users: 6 end-users and 5 technical users. The main distinction between technical and non-technical users appeared to play call at participants’ familiarity and expertise with search tools and hypertext. The users that are technical better informed about how to perform searches compared to end-users were. Technical users also seemed more aware of and more interested in following hypertext links. One or more end-user said he is sometimes reluctant to use hypertext for anxiety about getting lost.

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

The tasks were classic directed tasks similar to those used in almost all of our previous Web usability studies. Users were typically taken to the home page of a specific website and then asked to locate specific information about your website. This method 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. Listed here is a sample task:

you plan a trip to Las Vegas and want to realize about a local restaurant run by chef Charlie Trotter. You heard it had been located in the MGM Grand casino and hotel, however you want extra information about the restaurant. You begin by looking at the website for Restaurants & Institutions magazine at:

Hint: search for stories on casino foodservice

Try 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 hard to use that users wasted enormous amounts of time searching for the page that is specific contained the answer to the question. Even if on the intended page, users often could not get the answer because they didn’t see the line that is relevant. As a result, a lot of Study 1 wound up repeating navigation issues that people knew from previous studies so we got fewer results than desired relating to actual reading of content.

Users Would You Like To Search

Upon visiting each site, the majority of of this participants desired to begin with a keyword search. “a search that is good is key for a good website,” one participant said. If the search engines had not been available, a number of the participants said, they would try utilising the browser’s “Find” command.

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