This paper was written over ten years ago and still holds as a definitive guide to effective website writing. Written by Jakob Nielsen who is considered by many ‘The Guru’ of website usability.

We Monkey Developers, have found that our website writing style benefits from revisiting this paper once in a while.

Hope you find it useful for your internet presence. For an example of a page with text optimized by this effective style of writing see our ‘New Life’ website for HypnoBirthing® practitioners.

How Users Read on the Web

By Jakob Nielsen‘s Alertbox at

They don’t.

F-Shaped Pattern visitors use to read web content

People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences. In research on how people read websites we found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word-by-word. (Update: a newer study found that users read email newsletters even more abruptly than they read websites.)

As a result, Web pages have to employ scannable text, using

  • highlighted keywords (hypertext links serve as one form of highlighting; typeface variations and color are others)
  • meaningful sub-headings (not “clever” ones)
  • bulleted lists
  • one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  • the inverted pyramid style, starting with the conclusion
  • half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

We found that credibility is important for Web users, since it is unclear who is behind information on the Web and whether a page can be trusted. Credibility can be increased by high-quality graphics, good writing, and use of outbound hypertext links. Links to other sites show that the authors have done their homework and are not afraid to let readers visit other sites.

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.

Measuring the Effect of Improved Web Writing

To measure the effect of some of the content guidelines we had identified, we developed five different versions of the same website (same basic information; different wording; same site navigation). We then had users perform the same tasks with the different sites. As shown in the table, measured usability was dramatically higher for the concise version (58% better) and for the scannable version (47% better). And when we combined three ideas for improved writing style into a single site, the result was truly stellar: 124% better usability

Continue learning at:

Jakob Nielsen is a principal of the Nielsen Norman Group and has been called “the world’s leading expert on Web usability” by U.S. News and World Report. His Alertbox column has been published on the Internet since 1995 ( A previous Sun Microsystems Distinguished Engineer, Nielsen is the author of numerous books, including the worldwide best-seller Designing Web Usability (New Riders, 2000).
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