We’re usually in a hurry. Much of our web use is motivated by the desire to save time. As a result, web users tend to act like sharks……they have to keep moving or they’ll die. We just don’t have time to read any more than necessary. Also: We know we don’t have to read EVERYTHING. On most pages, we know we’re interested in just a fraction of what’s there. So we need to scan it to find the stuff that is relevant.
It’s like this cartoon. The dog appears to be listening attentively while he gets a serious talking to about staying out of the garbage. But from the dog’s point of view, he only hears what’s relevant: His name. That’s how we look at web pages. Like Ginger, we focus on words and phrases that seem to match (a) the task at hand or (b) our current personal interests or c) those trigger words we’re hardwired for: Sex. Free. Our own name.
How can you see it’s happy talk? When you’re reading it, do you hear a little voice saying blah blah blah blah? Happy talk might tell you how great something is. Without delineating what makes something so great. Happy talk comes at the end of the story, summarizing what I just read and tying it up with a cute bow. When I just want to click to the next page.
Taken from an actual class blog! What’s wrong with this? Let’s list the ways.
Writing for the web
Writing for the Web
How do we interact differently:
Using Internet vs watching TV?
Lean forward vs. lean back
• On the Web, users are
engaged and want to go
places and get things
done. The Web is an
• Watching TV, viewers
want to be entertained.
They are in relaxation
mode. They don't want
to make choices. TV is a
Example: Tall Travelers
• An article can be a great newspaper article
and a not so great online article.
• Example: A story with the headline “Coping
with the Tall Traveler’s Curse” in the New
Writing for print vs online
• Headline “Tall traveler's curse" is a bit
enticing and might draw print readers in. But
online? The words "tall traveler's curse" are
• The first 3 words have no information-
• The headline lacks keywords, which are
important for SEO.
Print vs. online
• In print, I would appreciate that it is well-
written with good anecdotes. I might be
looking for a good read.
• Online, I am more likely to find the story via
search or when looking for the news. In this
case, I might not take time to read it because
it lacks immediacy and utility.
How are newspapers (print
medium) different from online?
• Print publications contain linear content.
They use a narrative storytelling
• Web content must be brief. Users are
likely to be on a specific mission. Web
users want actionable content.
Who is in control?
• In linear media readers expect you to
construct their experience for them.
Readers follow the author's lead.
• In non-linear hypertext, users want to
construct their own experience. They
want to piece together content from
multiple sources. Online, users want to be
How do users read on the web?
• They don’t.
• They scan.
• It’s harder to read on the web. They rarely
read word by word.
• A web page has three seconds or less to
get you to read it.
Web pages have to employ
Highlighted keywords (hypertext
links serve as a form of highlighting;
boldface and color are others)
Meaningful sub-headings (not
Example: Meaningful subheads
• Subheads that are included only to be clever
and cute don’t help.
• Meaningful subheads do.
Here’s an example:
Let’s examine those subheads
Dad to Ann Coulter: Apologize!
Dad demands Coulter apology
Radio silence from Coulter
Parent to Coulter: ‘What is your excuse?’
Celeb use of the ‘R’ word
Social media fuels buzz
Actress to Coulter: STOP!
When famous people say ‘retard’
Free speech argument
Advice to Coulter?
What does that mean?
• To front-load your content, you put the
most important information first.
• Emphasize it in the first sentence and in the
Keep it simple:
One idea per paragraph.
Credibility is important
How to improve credibility:
• High-quality graphics
• Good writing
• Use of outbound hypertext links. (Shows
you’ve done your homework)
• Lack of “marketese” language or puffery
• Jakob Nielson conducted studies on how
people read online
• Presented the same information in several
• Measured how quickly and how well users
absorbed the information.
Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized
attractions that draw large crowds of people
every year, without fail. In 1996, some of the
most popular places were Fort Robinson State
Park (355,000 visitors), Scotts Bluff National
Monument (132,166), Arbor Lodge State
Historical Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge
(86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
(60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical
The concise version
In 1996, six of the best-attended attractions in
Nebraska were Fort Robinson State Park, Scotts
Bluff National Monument, Arbor Lodge State
Historical Park & Museum, Carhenge, Stuhr
Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, and Buffalo Bill
Ranch State Historical Park.
• 58% improvement in how quickly readers
absorbed the information and how well
they recalled it.
• Shorter = better.
The scannable version
Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized
attractions that draw large crowds of people every year,
without fail. In 1996, some of the most popular places
Fort Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors)
Scotts Bluff National Monument (132,166)
Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum (100,000)
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer (60,002)
Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park (28,446).
• 47% improvement
• Organize as bulleted list = better
The objective version
Nebraska has several attractions. In 1996,
some of the most-visited places were Fort
Robinson State Park (355,000 visitors),
Scotts Bluff National Monument
(132,166), Arbor Lodge State Historical
Park & Museum (100,000), Carhenge
(86,598), Stuhr Museum of the Prairie
Pioneer (60,002), and Buffalo Bill Ranch
State Historical Park (28,446).
• Just this one change – taking out the
“marketese” – improves readers ability to
absorb the information by 27%
• Cut the puffery = better
Combined version: concise, scannable,
In 1996, six of the most-visited places in
• Fort Robinson State Park
• Scotts Bluff National Monument
• Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Museum
• Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
• Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park
• 124% improvement!
• Combines these improvements
• No “marketese”
Happy talk must die
• Happy talk is
with no useful
information. It hurts
• In person it’s the small
talk we use to be
• Online people just want
to get to the point.
If you haven't been to Boomers yet, you haven't
lived. This amazing entertainment facility is a great
time, every time. Upon entering this heaven on
earth, you will not be prepared for what you're
about to experience. Miniature golf, go karts,
bumper boats, bowling, laser tag, a rock wall, kid's
playground, and a larger-than-life game room are
just a few of the activities Boomers offers. Also,
Boomers will give you 5000 FREE game tickets on
your birthday! Best birthday present ever, if you ask
me! So go with a friend, go with your little sister, or
go with the kids you're babysitting to keep them
entertained (and entertain yourself). You are sure to
have a blast at Boomers, and you may never want to
Now that was happy talk.
• It was 125 words long.
• It didn’t even say where Boomers is located.
• The gushing tone made me suspect the
author was exaggerating (or works for
Boomers.) A credibility issue.
• It can be reduced to 55 words with the
Boomers is a popular place for entertainment in Boca Raton
•a rock wall
•a huge game room.
And mark your calendar for this: Boomers will give you
5000 FREE game tickets on your birthday. (Best birthday
present ever, if you ask me.)
Example: A complex story
written for newspaper
With authorities on high alert for potential
terrorist attacks, police today arrested a
German man with an assault rife in his
luggage soon after he arrived at London’s
Heathrow Airport, prompting the
evacuation of one of the airport’s
How does this work online?
• Too much information in one sentence.
• Too many details
• The online reader will have trouble
following this story.
• Better to break it down. Fill in the details
later in the story.
Police today arrested a man with an
assault rifle in his luggage at London’s
Authorities, on heightened alert for
terrorist attacks, evacuated one of the