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HomeGuidelines > 2. Make text scannable. > 2a. Create a meaningful title.                                                               





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2a. Create a meaningful title.

  • Start your title with your key idea. Not just a topic, an idea.
  • If you must start the title with your corporate name, keep it short.
  • Smithsonian: Publications
  • CNN: World News
  • Drop the corporate name on pages after the Welcome. Or move department and corporate information to the end of the title.
  • Home and Home Office (secondary page at Hewlett-Packard)
  • Air and Space (museum within Smithsonian complex)
  • Establishing Meaningful Outcomes: part of Constructing Knowledge@2Learn.ca
  • Make each title distinct, at least at the beginning. In this way, the title will stand out in a set of search results, or rollover text.
  • Images
  • Articles
  • Discuss
  • FAQ
  • About Us
  • Contact Us
  • Keep the critical part of the title short.
  • Doublecheck to make sure that the title reflects the content of the page accurately, after you have worked on the page for a while. The title gives advance notice of the topic of the page, helping people digest the information.
  • If the page is part of a sequence, use the same term in each title in that set, to indicate the relationship between the pages.
  • Toolbar: Overview
  • Toolbar: Icons Explained
  • Toolbar Functions
  • Make a set of titles consistent in grammatical expression (the same grammatical form over and over).
  • NASA for Kids
  • NASA for Students
  • NASA for Educators
  • Use the title verbatim in menus and links, so that when people click that linktext and come to the page, the title at the top of the page confirms they have reached their target. (This is an ideal, not always possible).

Other ways to make text scannable

2b. Insert meaningful
      headlines and

2c. Highlight keywords and
      phrases--and links.

2d. Turn any list into a
       bulleted or numbered

Resources on Scannability

Taking a Position on Scannability

Heuristic Online Text (HOT) Evaluation for Scannability
















Thematic titles help users notice key points.—Waite (1982)

The title should ideally be less than 64 characters in length. That is, many applications will display document titles in window titles, menus, etc. where there is only limited room.—Berners-Lee(1995)

The title is crucial, because the page title is often the first thing visible to users using slow Internet connections, and because the title becomes the text for any bookmarks the reader makes to your pages. The page title should:

  • Incorporate the name of your company, organization, or Web site.
  • Form a concise, plainly worded reminder of the page contents.

Lynch & Horton (1999)

Make titles unique and understandable out of context as most search engines list them in their search results page. —Ameritech(1997)

Look for two characteristics: consistency in terminology and consistency in granularity. —Rosenfeld & Morville (1998)

Don’t start all page titles with the same word; this makes them hard to differentiate when scanning a page. —Uncle Netword (1999b).

Many of the important uses of page titles are taken out of context, so it is important that the title have enough words to stand on its own and be meaningful when read in a menu or a search listing. —Nielsen (1999f))

An informative, concrete title helps orient readers, whether they have come from inside or outside a site. —Spyridakis(2000)

Simple page titles that start with a salient keyword help users pick out pages from the minimized tiles in the Windows task bar. —Nielsen (2000b)

Web pages, therefore, should contain some explicit content that can help readers to orient themselves; access relevant prior knowledge; access relevant content and structural schemata in Long Term Memory, or construct new schemata; and identify content relationships within and across pages.
Spyridakis (2000)

Readers possess prior knowledge for both content and text structure that strongly influences how successful they will be in comprehending discourse. Numerous studies have shown that prior knowledge facilitates comprehension (Meyer 1984; Lawless and Kulikowich 1996; Voss and others 1986).

See bibliography: Ameritech (1997), Ausubel (1968), Berners-Lee (1995), Bricklin (1998), Dumas (1988), Frisse (1988),Lawless and Kulikowich (1996),  Levine (1997), Lynch & Horton (1999),  (Meyer 1984), Nielsen (1996, 1999f, 2000b), Rosenfeld & Morville (1998), Spyridakis (2000), Uncle Netword (1999b), Voss et al (1986), Waite (1982), Williams (1994).

Other guidelines

Make Text Scannable

Cook up Hot Links

Write Chunky Paragraphs

Reduce Cognitive Burdens

Make Meaningful Menus
























  Original titles Revised titles
  Pig Iron The Pig Iron Market Today
  Spotting the Correlation: A Personal
Finance Analysis of Your Investments
and Your Own Personal Goals
Analyze Your Goals & Investments
  Iroquois Enterprises, Inc., Algonquin
Division, What you should do if you
are lacking a W-2 form.
No W-2? What to do. Tax Help from
Algonquin, a Division of Iroquois
Enterprises, Inc.
  Minnesota Office of Workfare:
Client Information: The Process of
Transitioning from Extended Welfare
to a Fulltime Job
From Welfare to Work:
Client Information from the
Minnesota Office of Workfare
  Archives of the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration: Mariner Six
Mission Report: Chaotic Terrain
Chaotic Terrain on Mars: Mariner
Six Mission Report from NASA
  Investment Analysis Program: Help:
What a P/E Ratio Tells You
What a P/E Ratio Tells You
  Noah’s Low-Risk Investing Strategy #1:
Dollar-Cost Averaging
Investing the Same Amount Each Month
(Dollar-Cost Averaging):
Low-Risk Investing Strategy #1
from Noah
  Noah’s Low-Risk Investing Strategy #2:
Reinvestment of All or Most of Your Dividends
Reinvesting Your Dividends:
Low-Risk Investing Strategy #2
from Noah
  Noah’s Low-Risk Investing Strategy #3:
Purchases of Short-Term Treasuries
Buying Short-Term Treasuries:
Low-Risk Investing Strategy #3

from Noah

Audience Fit
If visitors want... How well does this guideline apply?
To have fun Not so relevant.  Visitors to webzines and game sites tolerate inconsistency and unpredictability, even look for it.  They welcome a title that doesn't make sense until they read the article.
To learn Very relevant.  Predictability and accuracy help reinforce the structure you are building in the user's mind.
To act Critical.  Without a revealing title,users may conclude they have clicked the wrong link, and back out, never to return.
To be aware Writing a meaningful title is like doing kitchen yoga.  Not very glamorous, but a real challenge for your unruly mind.
To get close to people What this guideline urges is simple courtesy.

Ready for some challenges?




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