Writing for the web? Plan on impatient readers

“Write for impatient users.”

If you take nothing else away from the latest study done by web usability expert Jakob Nielsen, that would be it.

While Nielsen was specifically looking at how teens navigate online, you could make the case that everyone is impatient online. Think of how quickly you abandon ship when a site takes too long to load, or when you can’t find what you’re looking for in a couple of clicks. Those of us who are writers or web content providers had best pay attention.

Nielsen found that teens had “dramatically lower levels of patience” than adults, one of three reasons that led to teens completing fewer assigned tasks than adults in the study. The other reasons are insufficient reading skills and less sophisticated research strategies.

“To improve your site’s usability among teens, you must consider all three factors,” Nielsen said.

Whether your readers are teens or any other age, it seems much of the traditional advice for writing online applies:

  • Make your text easy to scan, with small chunks of copy and lots of white space.
  • Use familiar words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Write at a 6th-grade reading level. You aren’t “dumbing” the content down, you’re making it easy to grasp the meaning. (Check some readability stats at Edit Central.)
  • Make sure your site loads quickly. Remember those impatient visitors!
  • Stay away from small font sizes. Whatever the condition of the reader’s eyesight, larger type allows scanning.

Read more details in the Feb. 1, 2013 Alertbox.

Image: “pat138241″ and FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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