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Writing For the Web: Summer 2011
Usability and WritingUsability and Writing
For The WebFor The Web
Marie K. Shanahan
is abundant, digital, interactive and mostly
Journalists who wish to remain relevant
need to be able to tell stories on digital
platforms in an interactive way.
Traditional linear formats are not
Traditionally, the news media
was a system of “one to many.”
Why do people visit aWhy do people visit a
Most people visit a website because they want or
need one or more of the following:
To be entertained - diversion
To connect with others
Commerce - make purchase or donation
- Vincent Flanders, webpagesthatsuck.com
““Too many organizations believe thatToo many organizations believe that
a web site is about opening a newa web site is about opening a new
marketing channel or gettingmarketing channel or getting
donations or to promote a brand.donations or to promote a brand.
No. It’s about solving yourNo. It’s about solving your
customers’ problems.”customers’ problems.”
- Vincent Flanders, webpagesthatsuck.com- Vincent Flanders, webpagesthatsuck.com
What makes for aWhat makes for a
good website?good website?
The most popular sites
Pages that load fast
Reliable search function
Layouts that are easy to navigate
Information that caters to intended
The best websites fulfill
users expectations with
least amount of stress.
Content is king
The single most important thing most Web
sites can offer to their users is content
that those users will find valuable.
Information is what drives web sites. Any
site must begin with engaging content.
You have 90 seconds
Every human being has his/her own
distinct thought processes to take him/her
from POINT A to POINT B.
People make a subconscious judgment
about a person, environment, or product
within 90 seconds of initial viewing.
Don’t Make Me Think
Be as obvious as
The webThe web
is ais a
On a web page, successful communication
is influenced by:
Text on the screen
Images: graphics and photos
Psychology of Color
“Vision is the primary source for
all our experiences.”
“We become bored in the
absence of a variety of colors
and shapes… Color addresses
one of our basic neurological
needs for stimulation.”
- Jill Morton, “Why Color Matters” (2005)
Satisfaction or irritation?
If visitors feel like they have a “sense of
mastery” over a web site, they will achieve
their goals and find satisfaction with the
But if visitors find a web page confusing and
difficult to use, many will click away,
feeling irritated and unfulfilled.
In linear media (print or broadcast) people
expect you to construct their
experience for them. Readers/views are
willing to follow the author's lead.
On the non-linear web, users want to
construct their own experience by
piecing together content from multiple
sources, emphasizing their desires in
the current moment.
Individuality rules online.Individuality rules online.
Consumers are in control.Consumers are in control.
Scanning and searching
Loyalty only to the page where they
Rarely do web users start and end
sessions in the same place
Users stick with one site as long as
it delivers what they are looking for.
Reading on a computerReading on a computer
is tiresome.is tiresome.
Users aren’t really
People scan pages, using their visual
Provide visual hierarchy on a web page
with text size, color, emphasis.
“The more important something is, the more
prominent it is. For instance, the most important
headings are either
larger, bolder, in a distinctive color,
set off by more white space,
nearer the top of the page, or some combination of
the above.” – Steve Krug, ‘Don’t Make Me Think’
Images from www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html
Put your text on a diet
79% of web users scan any new page for
individual words and sentences.
Only 16 percent read it word-for-
Use half the word count of
Headlines – less than 8 words
Sentences – less than 20 words
Paragraphs – less than 70 words
Pages – less than 400 words
Readability on the web
One idea per paragraph
Make hyperlinks part of the copy
Divide up information into logical
segments or chunks
Don’t disorient me
The computer screen provides a limited
view of long documents.
Long web pages tend to disorient readers.
Long web pages require users to scroll
and remember what is off-screen.
Chunking helps to orient users.
Never construct a sentence around a link
phrase, such as “click here for more
Write as you normally would. Place the
link on the words that best describe the
Poor: Click here for more information on
placing links within your text.
Better: Avoid problems with Web links by
managing their placement within the
context of your document.
Search engines can lead people
to your information.
SEO / Headlines
SEO stands for Search Engine
Headlines should be Search Engine
Include obvious keywords that people
would use to search.
Headlines: Obvious =
Online, headlines alone must provide
enough “information scent” to let users
predict what they'll get if they click.
Usually, nothing else explains a story's
Headlines should be meaningful.
-Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox
Other stylistic considerations
Cultivate a voice. Web readers welcome
a measure of individuality from their
With so many competing sources, a unique
conversational voice may help distinguish
The Manolo says…
“Do not be afraid to be different. In fact,
being different it is the advantage in the
marketplace where there are fifty
thousand new blogs on the topic you
Food packages will be distributed by the
organization’s volunteers. (passive)
Volunteers will distribute food packages.
Volunteers will hand out food. (active,
Users expect to be able to
read, listen, watch, choose,
click and/or participate.
Visualize your readers
Always keep your audience in
mind before and during your
After you post
Share with sources
Share with topic “influencers”
A particular slide catching your eye?
Clipping is a handy way to collect important slides you want to go back to later.