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News and a Greater Attention Span

There was an interesting article I found the other day regarding the reading habits of users.  The study compared the reading habits of how people read online versus reading information from traditional media like newspapers.  When users found something of interest to them they tend to read word for word.  This contradicts with the popular web usability notion that users are more apt to skim.  “The EyeTrack07 survey by the Poynter Institute, a Florida-based journalism school, found online readers read 77 percent of what they chose to read while broadsheet newspaper readers read an average of 62 percent, and tabloid readers about 57 percent.” (Goldsmith)

Questions and Bullets
The article supports the traditional usability recommendation to break information into easier to digest chunks and make the information interesting. “People paid more attention to items written in a question and answer format or as lists, and preferred documentary news photographs to staged or studio pictures.” (Goldsmith) Thought provoking questions are a great way to hook the users into your content.

Online Versus Offline

The study also points out some key points of focus being different for online versus offline readers.  In newspapers the readers focused on large headlines and photos. When a reader was on a web site their initial focus was on navigation and story teasers.

What's the Impact?
It will be interested to see how some of the gurus in the usability industry react to the findings. A number of findings reemphasize what current web usability already supports, but there are some counterpoints.  You still need to give the user a good reason to click on an article.  Users aren’t apt to read anything that doesn’t hold their interest or is poorly written either online or offline.

*Source: Web news readers have greater attention span: study

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Neil Sanderson

Poynter is now reassessing their original claim that online readers read more. The problem is that online stories are shorter than print stories on average. See

Cam Beck

Eugene - This is true in my experience, too, both in my personal habits and what I've observed in testing.

Unfortunately, it's also true that companies tend to think their marketing language is more interesting than it really is. In these instances, I recommend staying true to Steve Krug's maxim: Happy Talk Must Die!


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