September 24, 2006

Web Wording Workings

"Visual appearance is one of the most effective variables for quickly differentiating one application from another."
Bob Baxley

"How Users Read on the Web - They don't." That initial heading and paragraph of Jakob Nielsen's article made me laugh when I read it.

This might be in part because I was reading these words for the first time off of my print-out of the article. I am one of the 79 percent of internet users identified that scans any new page I come across. If I feel I'm actually going to read it, I print it out.

Jakob Nielsen shows that by making writing more concise, scannable, and objective, usability increases by 124%. He takes the time to make sure that he is not only preaching these methods of internet writing, he puts them into practice. I decided that I'd try making my own versions of his opening sequence to see just how effective it really was.

Jakob Nielsen's concise, scannable, and objective version:

"People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In a recent study we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.

As a result, Web pages have to employ scannable text, using

* highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
* meaningful sub-headings (not "clever" ones)
* bulleted lists
* one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
* the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
* half the word count (or less) than conventional writing"

My objective language version:

Web pages aren't read word-by-word by the majority of internet users. According to a recent study, word-by-word web readers make up only 16 percent of all internet users. The remaining 79 percent of internet users simply scan any new page they come across, picking out individual words and sentences. The results of this study show that Web page designers have to write more scannable text in order to encourage higher Web page traffic. More scannable text results from employing highlighted keywords that easily catch readers attention, offering meaningful sub-headings that reference to the actual text instead of being clever, providing bulleted lists of information, limiting paragraphs to one idea that can be discovered within the first few words, starting with the conclusion following the inverted pyramid style of writing, and cutting the total word count in half as compared with the traditional narrative.

My concise text version:

Only 16 percent of internet users read word-by-word. The remaining 79 percent scan new pages they come across. Web page designers must employ more scannable text in order to keep users on their pages. Text is made scannable as the result of highlighted keywords, meaningful sub-headings, bulleted lists, single idea paragraphs, stating the conclusion first, and cutting down the total word count.

My scannable layout version:

Web pages aren't read word-by-word by the majority of internet users. According to a recent study, word-by-word web readers make up only 16 percent of all internet users. The remaining 79 percent of internet users simply scan any new page they come across, picking out individual words and sentences.

The results of this study show that Web page designers have to write more scannable text in order to encourage higher Web page traffic.

More scannable text results from:
* employing highlighted keywords that easily catch readers attention
* offering meaningful sub-headings that reference to the actual text instead of being clever
* providing bulleted lists of information
* limiting paragraphs to one idea that can be discovered within the first few words
* starting with the conclusion following the inverted pyramid style of writing
* cutting the total word count in half as compared with the traditional narrative

My combined version:

Only 16 percent of internet users read word-by-word. The remaining 79 percent scan new pages they come across. Web page designers must employ more scannable text in order to keep users on their pages.

Text is made scannable as the result of:

* highlighted keywords
* meaningful sub-headings
* bulleted lists
* single idea paragraphs
* stating the conclusion first
* cutting down the total word count

Well, I didn't add in the highlighting, but I don't think I did to badly at my versions of Jakob Nielsen's opening. Now for the challenge; how about the closing? Is Nielsen practicing what he preaches there?

"It was somewhat surprising to us that usability was improved by a good deal in the objective language version (27% better). We had expected that users would like this version better than the promotional site (as indeed they did), but we thought that the performance metrics would have been the same for both kinds of language. As it turned out, our four performance measures (time, errors, memory, and site structure) were also better for the objective version than for the promotional version. Our conjecture to explain this finding is that promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts "Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions," their first reaction is no, it's not, and this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site."

Posted by Diana Geleskie at 3:54 PM | Comments (0)