How Users Read on the Web is an article from 1997 on writing style, formatting and language – and research on what worked best for websites. It’s old, but I’d still put stock in it, just from how tired I still get after reading hyped, flashy, marketing copy.
Here are some highlights:
People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.
[W]e found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word.
Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links.
Users detested “marketese”; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims (“hottest ever”) that currently is prevalent on the Web. Web users are busy: they want to get the straight facts. Also, credibility suffers when users clearly see that the site exaggerates.
Check out the table with test results for how changing writing style improved usability. Their theory of why it happened hit home for me:
Our conjecture to explain this finding is that promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts “Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions,” their first reaction is no, it’s not, and this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site.
This video is ridiculous and I don’t even like Harry Potter. But it made me laugh. YouTube’sMoodWall delivers.
You can read some sciencey thoughts about MoodWall at the Humintell blog – what stuck for me was the distinction between emotions and mood:
[Dr. Matsumoto, Humintell’s director] defines emotions as immediate, automatic, and involuntary reactions to events that are important to us. Moods, on the other hand, are states of mind that may make us more predisposed to having a certain emotional response.
For example, being in an irritable mood may make a person more predisposed to becoming angry more easily.
Thinking back to last week’s post on voice and tone, I wonder how empathic design & writing can help us understand moods better for those situations where we wish toinfluence a user’s mood and emotions. When is it productive to use happy talk, and when should you get to the point? How could a brochure site turn a skeptic into a buyer?
Many things to wonder. 🙂
Much of the time, we take a pragmatic approach to communicating with our users – as in: “Here’s a situation. Here’s what they need to know. Let’s tell them.” And much of the time, our circumstances are so simple, we get away with not fussing more.
Other times, it pays to consider a user’s emotions and mindset in a given situation, particularly when the stakes are high, a subject is touchy, a topic is complicated, or if the brand we represent is less than trusted.
The company who run MailChimp (a diy email newsletter service) run an interactive handbook of common communication scenarios, what users are feeling in those scenarios, and simple tactics for adapting your language to address those feelings.
All the examples are relative to email marketing, but skimming a few will give you a feel for good ways to cater to your audience’s mood.
How to write good on the internet:
The writer of this article is a giant robot dinosaur named FAKE GRIMLOCK who is on a mission to “DESTROY SUCK ON THE INTERNET”.
THIS MOSTLY INVOLVE PUNCH STARTUPS IN FACE WITH TRUTH UNTIL FAIL BEATEN OUT OF THEM. GET AHEAD OF GAME, PUNCH SELF NOW!
You can enjoy more of his advice at http://fakegrimlock.com.
One of the worst mistakes copywriters make is to assume their job is about writing. It’s not.
When you write a novel or a poem, readers wants great words. People expect this kind of writing to deliver a certain art and beauty. When you write websites, ads, white papers, or other business materials, readers simply want information. They just want to find out how to solve a problem or meet a need.
This isn’t to say that copywriting can’t be well-crafted. But it should be crafted in such a way that the words disappear and the meaning shows through. I like to think of good copywriting as if it’s a toy store window: clean, polished, and invisible, providing a clear view of the wondrous goodies inside.
Source: Why Good Copywriting Goes Bad: You’re Not Stupid. You’re Just Ignorant.
And some funnies…
Pic sauces: http://www.happyplace.com/3907/unintentionally-inappropriate-test-responses-from-children
Good writing is more than just saying what needs to be said. It’s all in how and when you say it.
Greek rhetoricians defined kairos as saying or doing the right thing at the right time. Clues to understanding kairos lie in its dual etymological roots: Weaving and archery. In weaving, kairos occurs in the instant at which the shuttle passes through an opening in the loom’s threads; this is the moment when all the threads come together to create the fabric. Similarly, on the web, the threads of technology, design, content, culture, and user science intertwine to form the fabric—or context—that swathes the opportune moment.
But what seizes the moment? That’s where the other etymological root of kairos, archery, sheds light. Something has to act like an arrow and—ZING!—hit the mark, with enough force to stick. For Greek rhetoricians, that something was spoken language. On the web, that something is written language.
As web professionals, we craft a context for the opportune moment. But we then need to aim at that context with words that zing. To do that, I believe we have much to learn from kairos.