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Posts from April 2006

Web Users Read in an F-Shaped Pattern

At least that's the word from Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen (http://www.useit.com/).  His April 17 Alertbox (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html) describes the results of an eye tracking study in which participants demonstrated a dominant reading pattern that looks like an F.  Nielsen describes a three step process:

  • First, a horizontal scan at the top.
  • Second, some vertical movement down the left side of the page and then a shorter horizontal scan.
  • Third, a final vertical scan down the left side of the page.

Here are some examples of the pattern that he describes as "F for fast."F_1

Based on this research, Nielsen has some advice for Web site designers:

  1. Recognize that users won't read the text thoroughly.  Exhaustive reading is rare.
  2. Put the really important stuff in the first two paragraphs because that's what gets the attention. 
  3. Start subheads, paragraphs, and bullet points with information carrying words.

Of course, the real challenge here is to figure out what this implies for Web survey construction.  Mostly it would seem to add on to what we already know, that is, that Web users are scanners, don't read every word, and appreciate parsimony.  Flowery prose is not effective on the Web.  It also suggests that the left hand side of the page is key and that's where we need to put the important stuff. I think it also sheds some light on why horizontally-oriented grids are effective and vertically oriented grids are not.