15 March 2007

Eye tracking gives us clues on how to write for the web

In late 2005, Nielsen/Norman conducted an eyetracking test with 255 people in New York City. Sessions with each test subject lasted about one to two hours.

The study helped to highlight how people read web pages and illustrated some interesting differences in the way males and females scan the screen differently.

Here is one of the key findings:

An original press article should not be used on the web - Rewriting & reformatting can increase recall.

Rewriting a dense text resulted in higher comprehension and retention than the original newspaper article.

The original version was revised to increase white space, make the main idea concise, remove unnecessary images, shorten lines of text and adding a graphic for each element in the article.

The eyetracking data highlighted the length of time that readers spent looking at each area of the screen. Readers spent a longer amount of time (about one minute) viewing the original version of the content but remembered 34 percent less than those who received the reformatted story. In both cases a greater amount of time was spent looking at the left-hand side of the page.

Readers find it difficult to read large amounts of dense text on screen unless it can be made memorable in some way. Take this into account when constructing copy and test wherever possible the readability and clarity of what has been written.

BTW, this post has been constructed to follow those guidelines, so make sure you remember what you have read!

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