How reading a book made me think about reading online

This weekend I started reading Clout: the art and science of influential web content, written by Colleen Jones.

My initial thoughts (I’m up to page 82) are:

  1. I really should have read this already
  2. it smells nice (I’m a bookophile).

I’ve littered it with post-it notes already to remind me to go back and re-read some really interesting sections – and do some further reading around the points.

Something I have already talked about in the office was written as a sidebar. It was the heading that caught my eye:

Blasting the myth that people don’t read

If you aren’t familiar with Jakob Neilsen then you can read his article ‘How users read on the web‘ to get the main points, but he (and others) believe that users don’t read online. They scan.

I’ve never been entirely comfortable with this, I know that I do read online – and surely I can’t be the only one?

Collen points to the Poynter EyeTrack07 study that supports the idea that users read more deeply online than offline.

Erin Kissane puts it succinctly in her blog post on the subject, “people read on the web almost exactly the way they read anywhere else: they skim till they find what they need.”

I think the key difference here is the difference between skimming and scanning:

  • scanning implies speed but no depth
  • skimming is a precursor to delving in.

If no-one reads online then why do we bother with text at all?

I’m happy to agree with lots of points about the way we read online, however it’s important that the art of web writing still remains. It’s not just about bullet points and highlighted key words.

Depth of knowledge about our user and how our words can connect with them is key to creating quality, influential content that is read and understood.

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3 thoughts on “How reading a book made me think about reading online

  1. Good article. There is a missing variable though, and it is what the user is reading. If you ‘feel’ like what you’re looking at (‘feeling’ being derived from design, skimming, etc) is not quite what you’ve come to the site for, you scan. When you find something that ‘feels’ like it is what you’ve visited for, you read. Imagine the task of finding a solution to a technical problem; you Google the error message, skim the results, pogo stick into a few pages, skim the paragraphs, you become your own mini-Google, finding your keywords on the pages you’ve dipped into. When your confidence hits the ‘Destination Reached’ mark, you read. This is why I just read your blog – I know, through knowing you, quality of previous article, subject, etc. that this is something I shouldn’t flit through, so I read. If this was some crap on Groupon, my brain is set to ‘Scan for the % sign’ or ‘Scan for the £ sign’, as an example, THEN read.

  2. Jenni Taylor says:

    You’re exactly right – what you are reading and the context in which you are reading it is a massive variable.

    I’m now at the point with Groupon that I scan the email titles and then delete – they don’t even get opened any more. Unless I’m offered a free puppy that is.

  3. Debbie Emmitt says:

    Good article, Jen, and thanks for including ol and ul lists, and short paras, so that I could scan-read it 😉

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