Don’t make me read (useless words)

If you’ve ever watched people read online, you’ll know they often don’t read closely. Most people scan-read a lot of the time. In our usability studies, they tell us they skim because they just want the information they need. They can’t be bothered with the rest.

Why do people skim over content

One of the main reasons people don’t read everything is that so much of what gets published online is wordy. There are three problem areas: wordy writing, repetition, and low-value content such as:

  • welcome messages — as though someone will be offended if we don’t welcome them every time they come to our website
  • instructions that don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know — ‘click on the links below to find the information you want’
  • introductions that state the obvious or repeat information that appears further down the page
  • background information that people already know or don’t care much about.

An article in the current edition of The Atlantic suggests that people prefer online newspapers because the print versions are unnecessarily long. It includes some great examples. Although the analysis relates to journalism, there are lessons here for web writers too.

See: Cut this story, by Michael Kinsley