Web Communications

Writing for the web

Posted on by Doug Widner

You may or may not have heard of Jakob Nielsen. He is one of the best known “web usability gurus.” Almost nobody likes everything he has to say. A colleague who was particularly disgruntled by Nielsen’s advice once said to me, “If we designed a website to be the most useful website in the world, based on Nielsen’s guidelines, we’d have a website for dummies.” Hyperbole aside, I’ve remembered this for a long time.

Nielsen makes a lot of sense most of the time. I’m recommending one article of his in particular (recommended to me by Cary Hazelwood in IS&S): “How Users Read on the Web” (link below).

One of the reasons Nielsen irritates so many people is his research “based on averages.” In this article, for instance, he writes, “In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.” Why did only 16 percent read “word-by-word?” More to the point and in spite of our affection for those who read what we write “word-by-word,” are we putting our writing on the web for 16% of our visitors? We hope not.

So read Nielsen’s article “word-by-word” and learn how to craft prose that will resonate with the majority. Then let us know what YOU think by crafting a comment to this post.

How Users Read on the Web – by Jakob Nielsen (10/1/1997)

Doug Widner

One Response to Writing for the web

  1. James McWhorter says:

    Jakob Nielsen is a personal hero of mine. ;)


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