The three main guidelines for writing for the Web are:
: write no more than 50% of the text you would have used in a hardcopy publication
: don't require users to read long continuous blocks of text
hypertext to split up
long information into multiple pages
Reading from computer screens is about
than reading from paper. Even users who don't know this human factors research usually say that they feel unpleasant when reading online text. As a result, people don't want to read a lot of text from computer screens: you should
write 50% less text
and not just 25% less since it's not only a matter of reading speed but also a matter of feeling good. We also know that users don't like to scroll: one more reason to keep pages short.
The screen readability problem will be solved in the future, since screens with 300 dpi resolution have been invented and have been found to have as good readability as paper. High-resolution screens are currently too expensive (high-end monitors in commercial use have about 110 dpi), but will be available in a few years and common ten years from now.
Because it is so painful to read text on computer screens and because the online experience seems to foster some amount of impatience, users tend not to read streams of text fully. Instead, users scan text and pick out keywords, sentences, and paragraphs of interest while skipping over those parts of the text they care less about.
Skimming instead of reading is a fact of the Web and has been confirmed by countless usability studies. Webwriters have to acknowledge this fact and write for scannability:
Structure articles with two or even three levels of
(a general page heading plus subheads - and sub-sub-heads when appropriate). Nested headings also facilitate access for
Use meaningful rather than "cute" headings (i.e., reading a heading should
the user what the page or section is about)
highlighting and emphasis
to make important words catch the user's eye.
can also be used for emphasis, and hypertext anchors stand out by virtue of being blue and underlined
Make text short without sacrificing depth of content by
splitting the information up into multiple nodes
connected by hypertext links. Each page can be brief and yet the full hyperspace can contain much more information than would be feasible in a printed article. Long and detailed background information can be relegated to secondary pages; similarly, information of interest to a minority of readers can be made available through a link without penalizing those readers who don't want it.
be used to segment a long linear story into multiple pages: having to download several segments slows down reading and makes
more difficult. Proper hypertext structure is not a single flow
"continued on page 2"
; instead split the information into coherent chunks that each
focus on a certain topic
. The guiding principle should be to allow readers to select those topics they care about and only download those pages. In other words, the hypertext structure should be based on an
Each hypertext page should be written according to the "
" principle and start with a short conclusion so that users can get the gist of the page even if they don't read all of it.
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