Readability on the web

Duncan Stephen
Thursday 25 July 2013

How users read have published their Service Design Manual, an amazingly comprehensive resource about digital service delivery. This particular section outlines the background to the Government Digital Service’s thinking when it comes to writing content.

Users only really read 20-28% of a web page. With services, where users just want to complete the task as quickly as possible, you have added user impatience so you may find users skim words even more.

Website reading: It (sometimes) does happen

We know that on average users only read around a quarter of the text on a webpage. But we also know that sometimes users do read more. Jakob Nielsen assessed what makes a user start reading word for word. He highlights good information architecture and good page layout with well-written subheadings as being essential.

…helpful IA and effective page layout are key to getting users to read your copy. However, our eyetracking data also detected a third ingredient for converting users from scanners to readers: high-quality writing.

Sorry, no real surprise — although we’ve identified 83 detailed guidelines for web content, they really boil down to that. Having guided people to your content, it must be good.

The Readability Test Tool

When writing for the web, it is important to write clearly and avoid jargon. You can check text against a variety of readability tests using this tool.

Opinions vary on which tests are the most accurate or valid. But it can still be useful to check text to ensure that it can be easily understood by as many people as possible.

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