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.

5 thoughts on “Research Pages Review or ‘Professors Don’t Read’

  1. Ahh, good to know I made the 40%. Interestingly, technical writers quote similar statistics for technical documentation.

    I appreciate the value of concise, punchy writing for the web with clear signposting of themes and structure. Nonetheless, I regret the missed opportunity to share writing that is reflective, playful, and unhurried.

  2. Thanks for reading (all!) the entry…it would be great if you had any references to the technical documentation statistics.

    You might be interested in an article ‘The Atlantic’ published by Nicholas Carr ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid’ which examines the effect of the web on our ability to read, both offline or online.
    You can see it here:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google
    It’s rather worrying stuff…

  3. It may have been in Software for use by Constantine and Lockwood. – I’ve lent my copy so I can’tcheck.

    Thanks for the reference. Carr quotes Clay Shirkey who has interesting (and provocative) things to say about taxonomy.

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  5. Pingback: Google Makes You Stupid. Part II « University Usability

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