How do you think of the typical
Do you imagine
someone who is seated comfortably in a favorite reading chair – or perhaps
stretched out in the backyard hammock with a cold glass of lemonade in hand –
who has set aside the afternoon to hang on your every word. Or do you think of
someone who may or may not give you a moment before moving on?
According to a study conducted by John Morkes and Jakob
Nielsen, 79 percent
of online readers don’t read. They scan.
Nielsen, author of Designing Web Usability,
offers four plausible reasons:
“Reading from computer screens is tiring for the eyes and about 25 percent
slower than reading from paper.”
“The Web is a user-driven medium” that encourages users “to move on and click on
who have learned that most pages are not worth their time, rely on “information
“Modern life is hectic.”
In other words, writing for
online readers is like aiming at a
To complicate matters, you are using a medium that is
at once slow and fast. Compared with flipping through a paper document,
scrolling down a screen is awkward. And yet a Web page has no set boundaries,
and moving through hyperlinked text is almost instantaneous.
Here’s how to compensate for the slowness of moving
through online text while taking advantage of the speed of electronic
scannable text. As Nielsen advises,
highlight keywords (both with color fonts and hypertext links); use meaningful –
not clever – subheadings; present your points in bulleted lists; limit your
paragraphs to one idea; use the inverted pyramid approach to present your
conclusion first; and use half the words (or less) than conventional writing.
outbound hypertext links judiciously.
Don’t send your reader away too soon. According to the Web Style Guide,
too many links can
frustrate Web users, especially if the links are not maintained.
overdo your graphics.
Resist the temptation to make your site glitzy rather than
substantive. Irrelevant graphics and pointless animation are counterproductive.
According to John Vinton, Chair of the Management
Division at Walden University, graphic design should be used to “enhance your
message” rather than to “demonstrate the Web author’s virtuosity.”
neglect your text. According to Dale
Dougherty, publisher of Web Review, “Graphics may get attention, but good
writing rewards it.”
Take the same care with your language as you would in submitting any article for
errors in grammar, punctuation, usage, and spelling.
Because “it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page
can be trusted,” Nielsen argues, credibility is especially important for Web
users. Don’t blow yours by posting unprofessional copy.