Write to be read

In 1997, Jakob Nielsen wrote How Users Read on the Web. His organization conducted a formal study of usability and found:

  • Concise text (half the words) is 58% more readable than rambling text.
  • Scannable text (bullets) is 47% more readable than wall of text.
  • Neutral language (facts) is 27% more readable than marketese.

Nielsen added specific recommendations:

  • Mark keywords
  • Use descriptive headings (not puns or references)
  • Use bullets
  • Limit one paragraph to one idea
  • Start with the conclusion
  • Halve the wordcount

Concise text

Blaise Pascal: I have only made this letter long because I have not had the time to make it short.

Maintaining high information density is hard. You need to edit and cut the dead text. It takes up your time, but it saves readers time; it is respectful.

Scannable text

I think that Jakob Nielsen and Jeff Atwood overuse bolding. Nevertheless, they remain widely read because their postings are clear and readable. I can see at a glance their topics, their reasoning, and their conclusions.

Neutral Language

Being positive and writing empty boasts is different. Don’t blather about awesomeness, or people will ignore even the facts.

Inverted pyramid style

Observe:

  • Newspaper stories start with the most important fact and work down.
  • Essays start with the thesis and then prove it.
  • Reports start with an executive summary.

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