How People Read Online: New and Old Findings

since 1997People rarely read online 

they’re far more likely to scan than read word for word.

That’s one fundamental truth of online information-seeking behavior that hasn’t changed in 23 years.

It has substantial implications for how we create digital content.

Tendency Towards Scanning

...the amount of time any individual user is willing to spend reading depends on four factors:
  • Level of motivation
  • Type of task
  • Level of focus
  • Personal characteristics: 

Accept this fact: People are not likely to read your content completely or linearly. 

They just want to pick out the information that is most pertinent to their current needs.

Design content that supports scanning by:

  • Using clear, noticeable headings and subheadings 
  • Placing information up front (in other words, “front-loading”)
  • Employing formatting techniques like bulleted lists and bold text 
  • Using plain language 

2nd edition How People Read Online report

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