Reading – the text is too short

Forum magazine (the organ of DIK, a Swedish union) has a feature about one of my favourite subjects, reading on the web. The author is Tomas Dalström, the article’s in Swedish, but the main points are:

- Text is more attractive than pictures

- The most common mistake is to have text which is too short

- 92% of readers look at text first, not the pictures

When I first read this, I was surprised by the ‘text is often too short’ comment, but (unless my Swedish has gone completely haywire) he qualifies this by explaining that short text often lacks the necessary words to lock in the readers interest. One of the cool things about the article is that he links content to cash, that all texts are used in some way and have the potential to generate either a profit or, unfortunately, a loss if incorrect. Words equal money – I like that.

I think that there is a happy medium to be found, clearly you don’t want text which is so short that you struggle to get your meaning across. But I still remain to be convinced that reading longer texts on a computer screen is something we can do with any degree of success.

Raspberry Frog has a similar feature about reading, going back over Jakob Nielsen’s eye tracking work. It has some examples of good practice, in their opinion, from the non-profit sector.

And finally, speaking of the non profit sector check out User Experience for Non-Profits which has a good article on recruiting research participants.


Google Makes You Stupid. Part II

A while ago I blogged about Nicholas Carr’s article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’, I noticed that there was a piece in the Guardian (by Charles Arthur) which explores this a bit more and gives another angle on the themes I commented on in my entry ‘Professors Don’t Read’. The main point is:

- It’s very hard to read lots of text on a computer screen

The Web Will Change How Your Brain Works

Scary article from Nicholas Carr ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’. It’s also a great, thought provoking article. It even starts with a quote from 2001, which can’t be bad…

The gist of the article is that:

- By using the web, we condition and change the way our brain functions

- Because of this, we have lost the ability to absorb long text or print

- Similar changes have occurred in the past, for example with the advent of the clock or the printing press

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.

Report confirms scanning behaviour by readers – back button use also declining

A paper published in ACM Transactions on the web in February 2008 takes a detailed, and scientific look, at peoples behaviour on websites.

Backtracking through a site is no longer so popular, back button usage has been replaced by multiple tabs. Scanning text, rather than reading it, remains the norm. These are the results of work published by researchers who examined peoples behavior in a long term study and compared it with similar studies from the mid ‘90s.

Here’s the reference:

Weinreich, H., Obendorf, H., Mayer, M. (2008). Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use. ACM Transactions on the Web. Vol.2. No. 1.

Their results can be divided into:

The new character of web navigation:

The most significant change is the increased number of pages opened in new windows (reflecting the introduction of this feature in modern browsers), the raised importance of form submissions and a decrease in back button usage. The back button is functioning more as an ‘undo’ tool.

The speed of web navigation:

Only 10% of all visits were longer than two minutes. 75% of all pages were viewed for less than 10 seconds. 25% of all pages were viewed for less than 4 seconds. Pages visited for less than 4 seconds had an average number of 430 words – far more than can be read in that time.

Jakob Nielsen takes a more detailed look at this – How little do users read?