Dr Jakob Nielsen, one of the most influential researchers into web reading behavior, and Stanford University/Poynter Institute have conducted many usability studies over the years that have helped us understand more about how people interact with information published online.
Among the most fascinating studies for web writers and publishers is the Poynter Institute’s eye tracking studies. The eye tracking report boils down to a few important facts that many of us perhaps already knew, but just lacked scientific evidence to prove:
Reading copy from a screen is not a smooth process. Web readers don’t move their eyes from left to right across the screen when reading like you would expect. They sweep their eyes horizontally across the page, starting in the upper left corner, then swipe vertically down the left, briefly stopping and scanning interesting text, before moving forward to new pages or going back over the text they’ve already scanned. The resultant eye movement pattern for reading web content roughly resembles an F.
It takes time and commitment to read content on the web. As a web content writer, you need to acknowledge this fact, empathize with readers and obey three basic rules of web content writing upon which other rules anchor.
Don’t start to write until you know who you are writing for. Find out who your core audience is first. This will help you internalize and appreciate that you are writing for real people and not an abstract, obscure audience. Even if you feel like your article/story has a very broad potential audience, it cannot be universal. Ask yourself basic questions to fully understand your audience:
Being yourself, you won’t write dull, generic texts. You won’t try to be unnecessarily clever or aim to please everyone. You will write naturally such that your target audience enjoys reading your work, derives real value from your words and reacts appropriately to your piece.
No matter how complex your subject is, deliver your message in the most direct, concise and interesting way possible. Don’t assault your reader’s patience and intelligence with extraneous ideas and bloated vocabularies.
Our job as web writers and publishers is to connect and communicate with readers not to intimidate and patronize them. Do your job well and you will eliminate ignorance and create exciting opportunities for everyone involved.
See Also: 10 Writing Rules from Famous Writers.
Image credit: shutterstock images
You might also like
Spotlight book of the month
by Hugh MacLeod
Ever wonder what it really takes to make a living as a creative person in today's complicated world?
MacLeod presents some witty keys for creative success, including "ignore everybody. Why should you "ignore everybody"?
Because, he writes, nobody else can tell you whether your idea is worthwhile. People can give you advice, but at the end of the day, it's your decision. The more original an idea, the less helpful the advice is going to be.
Have something to say about this article? Share it with us in the comments section below.