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ACM SIGCHI WWW Human Factors (Open Discussion)


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Boniface Lau <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Sat, 13 Nov 1999 12:55:50 -0500
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Hal Shubin wrote:

> I've told lots of people about Jakob Nielsen's readability guidelines
> ( -- basically, people read
> differently on the Web, so we have to write differently.

I disagree with Nielsen's claim that people do not read on the web. People DO
read on the web. But that doesn't mean they read every web page or they
always read a certain type of pages.

Whether people read a web page depends on their purpose and expectation. When
they want to understand an issue, they read to see the issue unfolds. When
they expect bits and pieces of easily identifiable information, they scan
instead of read.

> I'm content to believe what he says without doing explicit research myself;
> nothing I've seen in testing contradicts it.

What Nielsen said about meaningful headings, organizing items as a list, one
idea per paragraph are true for good writing in general, regardless of
whether it will appear as a web page.

As to highlighting keywords, that applies only when you expect users to scan.
If you expect users to read, then keyword highlight can be annoying,
especially when there are many highlighted keywords. Highlighting keywords is
like using exclamation marks. When there is only one exclamation mark, it
speaks volume. When there are exclamation marks throughout an article, they
lose significance.

Regarding word count, succinct writing style is always the preference
regardless of whether a person is writing for the web. Therefore, I do not
agree with Nielsen's claim that web writing
should have half the word count of traditional writing. A passage that can be
expressed equally well in half the word count is poorly written, regardless
of whether it is on a web.

> But without doing testing myself, I don't have any good examples to show.
> Do you? What sites that you've seen, created or tested offer really good,
> Web-appropriate readability?

Articles in Wall Street Journal Interactive are often well written. The
journal is a paid subscription. But you can get a feel of the writing style
by visiting

Boniface Lau