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September 24, 2006

EL236 Net Readers Read What Catches Them

Back in the day, my friend Amanda asked me to do a usability test of the website she had created in Writing for the Internet. This was our freshman year (now 4 years past). Obvious the course has changed since then because, well, the web-world has changed without our permission or knowledge at times.

I remember being confounded by the details I had to examine in the test. It was more like I was being put through the ringers as the user instead of the site. Was the usability test a test of the site's usability or this user's ability to use? Who really knows.

Regardless, I find it interesting that, 4 years later, I'm faced with the same challenges in the same course (I was supposed to take this in my sophomore year, but that's a whole other story). We're looking at readers who scan text, readers who don't understand credibility, readers who don't know navigation unless you hand them your page's compass, and readers who just don't read.

Nielsen's article "Reading on the Web" tells us about the goal of credibility:

We found that credibility is important for Web users, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links. Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.

While the article was written in 1997, I believe some of it is consistent with today's standards (nearly ten years later...). However, adding a page with nice pictures and links doesn't always get my vote. What's peculiar, though, is popularity of sites that index large amounts of information like Wikipedia and how, even though they're editable by anyone, they remain popular and widely used. I know I use wikis. It's convenient, and the search works well... But doesn't that sort of go against citation standards (for, say, MLA or APA, where credibility is judged on last update, authors, and relation to an organization or formally accredited site)?

Dr. Jerz's reference "Writing Web Pages: Top 5 Conventions" parallels what Nielsen says in the previous article, but gives more simplified examples. Nielsen's article almost seems like a "do as I say not as I do" sort of spiel in comparison with Dr. Jerz's.

My favorite convention on Jerz's page concerns linked text. Now, I know that this is not one of my sharpest skills... But reading the example given helps me get a grip on what I ought to be linking. (Even though I've probably not done the best job writing this post with links that are meaningless...)

Regardless of who we are and how we think we read, I think that the best tip from the both of these articles is that net readers read what catches them--and only the lines (not between them).

Posted by KarissaKilgore at September 24, 2006 3:39 PM


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