6.5: The paradox of control

Both of these are true:

  1. The writer does not give up control in hypertext.
  2. The reader has always had a large degree of control.

Carhenge near Alliance, Neb. In writing about it, avoid the hyperbole of “marketese.”

How users read on the Web

They don't, or so say Jakob Nielsen and John Morkes, who have conducted several studies on Web site use. They write:

  1. People rarely read Web pages word by word.
  2. Instead they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.
  3. In a 1997 study, John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen found that 79 percent of test users always scanned any new page they came across
  4. Only 16 percent read word-by-word.

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

Morkes and Nielsen found that credibility is important for Web users:

The authors also found that users detested "marketese"; the promotional writing style with boastful subjective claims ("hottest ever") that currently is prevalent on the Web:

Measuring the Effect of Improved Web Writing

To measure the effect of some of the content guidelines, Morkes and Nielsen developed five versions of the same Web site with:

They then had users perform the same tasks with the different sites and measured such variables as task time to find answers in the text; errors in performing these tasks; recognition and recall of the text; and satisfaction.

The results:

The authors were somewhat surprised that usability was improved by a good deal in the objective language version (27 percent better).


  • How is reading on the web different from reading a newspaper or magazine?
  • What things can you do to make your web pages more scannable?
  • When should you chunk your text, and when should you avoid chunking?
  • The Web Style Guide authors and Jakob Nielsen both like the inverted pyramid writing style. Explain what it is and why it is useful for writing web pages.
  • List three of George Orwell’s rules for writing. How do they relate to writing for web pages?
  • Why should you place keywords at the beginning of headings and page titles? Where else should you use them?
  • The Web Style Guide authors suggest that you not use italic tags <i></i> or bold tags <b></b>, especially not in place of heading tags. Explain why.
  • How can embedded hyperlinks disrupt the flow of your page? What can you do to prevent this?
  • In your own words, explain the paradox of control