A successful Web site has the information that users are seeking and is presented in a way that makes sense to them. Thoughtful selection, logical organization, and clear and visual writing are critical components of a usable Web site.
How Users Read
Reading online is different than reading print materials. Typically web users scan the site looking for relevant words that match the information they are seeking.
Users Scan and Select
Most users scan the page, picking out keywords and sentences. Nielsen (2008) found that 79% of users scanned Web pages; they read only 20-28% of the words on the page.
Organize Page Content & Write Visually
Since we know that the majority of users scan the page content, we should write in a style that accommodates that behavior. Large masses of text are overwhelming for users with short attention spans.
You will want to use a technique called chunking. Chunking is nothing more than breaking your text into manageable sections. These techniques will help you to chunk your information and write visually:
- Write short sentences
- Limit paragraphs to two-three sentences.
- Use bulleted or numbered lists.
- Use tables to make complex information easier to understand.
- Use pictures, images, diagrams, or illustrations representative of the ideas expressed in the content.
- Use headings and sub-headings.
- Add a table of contents at the top of the page and hyperlink the categories to the related content on the page.
- Use white space to separate chunks of information.
Clear writing is simple and direct and makes you want to read more. It uses short sentences and words that are easy to understand. Use these techniques to write more clearly:
- Present the main or essential message first.
- Cut out words and watch for prepositions (e.g., “of”, “to”, “on”) because they often mark phrases you can reduce to one or two words.
- Keep paragraphs and sentences short.
- Use words that are familiar to your readers.
- Give examples because users love examples and will often read them instead of the text.