American English vs British English…

Which version of English to use on our website? I think American English. Cue gasps of horror from my fellow British ¬†ex-pats, and mutterings of treachery to the mother tongue. But hold on. Who are we writing for? Ourselves, our old English teacher? No, we are writing for the users of the website who, predominantly, will probably have American English as their first or second language. Furthermore, what language are they searching in? They are not using the Queen’s English to search in Google, that’s for sure, if they have American English as their language.

Jakob Nielsen has an article discussing this, where his conclusion is that as many of our students are Asian or American, then using American English is probably the best bet. I discussed this with him at the seminar he refers to, which was extremely useful – I’ll blog more about it later.

Research Pages Review or ‘Professors Don’t Read’

Summer’s over and I’m back at my desk – there’s a lot of cool stuff coming up in the Autumn, not least the results of an expert review and usability test I’ve commissioned a consultancy to do of the english web pages. I’m looking forward to it with constructive apprehension – watch this space…

I’ve recently completed a review of the research pages of the university – principally just to find out how many we have…We’ve got at least 2500 pages which directly describe research and there’s probably another 5 000 to 10 000 describing, among other things, researchers, equipment, services etc etc. This review will be used to focus further development work.

One issue I saw immediately, in some cases, is the sheer volume of text. Many pages had at least 300 plus words – which is a problem. Why? Here’s some facts:

- Gerry McGovern, in his book Killer Web Content, says that after the first 300 words you’ve lost 40% of the readers.

or, if you want something a bit more empirical (and we are talking about research, after all)

- Based on the work of Weinreich et al. (2008) Jakob Nielsen showed that most visitors to a web page will look at only 28% of the text (on a page with 300 words, users are on it for around 30 seconds)

Ah wait, but the research pages will be read by Professors and such, who have much more patience than the rest of us time starved hunter gatherers of the web. Sorry:

- A study by the British Library (2008) showed that both undergraduates, and professors, exhibited the same tendency for shallow, ‘flicking’ behaviour in digital libraries. Yep, just like the rest of us, professors don’t read.

So too many words, and you’ve lost the reader. Which is a problem if the most exciting stuff is in your last sentence. And this is now 341 words, which means, according to Gerry, that only about 40% of you ever got this far.