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HomeGuidelines > 2. Make text scannable. > 2b. Insert meaningful headlines and subheads.                     

 

Diagram

Background

Examples

Audience Fit

Challenges

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2b. Insert meaningful headlines and subheads.

  • Start any new topic with a heading.
  • Provide two or three levels of headings, so people can build a hierarchical model of your content in their head. Not too many levels. Each level gets its own format, to signal the differences in importance.
  • Make headings meaningful, not cute, suggestive, punny, or metaphorical. Just describe the content to follow.
  • Make the first word or phrase in the heading express the unique content of the section. If someone in a hurry were to ask you what the page is about, your first few words give the gist of it.
  • Make sure that the heading predicts the content that follows, even if you have to add some text to express that accurately.
  • Look at the set of headings, to see if the structure makes sense. If not, rearrange sections. The headings, by themselves, should provide a reasonable outline of the content of the page.

Other ways to make text scannable

2a. Create a meaningful
      title.

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

2d. Turn any list into a
       bulleted or numbered
       list.

  Diagram

Resources on scannability

Taking a Position on Scannability

Heuristic Online Text (HOT) Evaluation for Scannability

Poster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background

Because it is so painful to read text on computer screens and because the online experience seems to foster some amount of impatience, users tend not to read streams of text fully.

... Instead, users scan text and pick out keywords, sentences, and paragraphs of interest while skipping over those parts of the text they care less about. —Nielsen (2000b)

Use anything you can to signal the transition from one topic to the next.—Van Dijk & Kintsch (1983)

Structure articles with two or even three levels of headlines (a general page heading plus subheads and sub-subheads when appropriate). Nested headings also facilitate access for blind users with screen-readers.—Nielsen (1997a)

In a recent study John Morkes and I found that 79 percent of our test users always scanned any new page they came across; only 16 percent read word by word. As a result, Web pages have to employ scannable text, using…meaningful sub-headings (not "clever" ones). —Nielsen (1997b)

Settle on as few heading styles and subtitles as are necessary to organize your content, then use your chosen styles consistently. —Lynch & Horton (1999)

Text is not so easy to read on screen, so short, clear headings help. … The subheads act as mileposts along the way as the reader reads or skims. —Bricklin (1998)

Microcontent should be an ultra-short abstract of its associated macrocontent… .Make the first word an important, information-carrying one. —Nielsen (1998b)

A single chunk of 100 words can still benefit from two or three subheads. —Kilian (1999)

Limit the use of metaphors, particularly in headings. Users might take them literally.—Sun (2000)

In general, "online copy" is broken up with more subheads, bullet lists, and pull quotes than the print equivalent. —Lynch (2000)

As readers scroll, they become lost, and headings help mark the way. Headings, like link labels, must be concrete enough to help readers predict what content will ensure. Just as link labels help readers decide whether to pursue content on another page, headings help readers decide whether to pursue content on the current page. —Spyridakis (2000)

Use headings and subheadings to help reveal visually the relationships among the text elements they label. —Williams (2000)

Through experience with different information and text structures, readers build content and structural schemata or frameworks (Ausubel 1986; see Williams 1994 for a review of schemata studies). When readers possess a preexisting content or structure schema that is relevant to the information they are reading, the reading task is easier and more successful. They identify high level information and form hierarchical frameworks in memory for incoming information more easily. However, with hypertext—which lacks typical text structures—readers may need to develop new strategies to identify top-level structural informationEsperet (1996)

See bibliography: Ameritech (1997), Bricklin (1998), Esperet (1996), Hartley and Trueman (1983), IBM Ease of Use (1999), Kaiser (2000), Lorch & Lorch (1985, 1995), Lynch (2000), Lynch & Horton (1999), Kilian (1999), Mayer, Dyck & Cook (1984), Morkes & Nielsen (1997a, 1997b, 1998b, 1999d, 1999f, 2000b), Spyridakis (2000), Sun (2000), Van Dijk & Kintsch (1983), Williams (2000)

Examples

Original Passage

You should invest in bonds. Bonds give your portfolio stability and predictability. The way you earn money from bonds means they will be a good investment for bad times, retirement, or years when you are facing a big tax bill.

When you buy a bond, you are loaning money to a corporation, government, or agency. You get a fixed amount of interest on a regular basis, and eventually, when the bond "matures," you get your principal back. If the organization goes bust, you have first claim on the assets, way ahead of ordinary stock holders. Also: Bond prices tend to go up when the economy heads downhill, because bonds promise steady income.

Bonds are also a good idea if you need regular income. If you’re about to retire, or you need a regular stream of income for other investments, bonds let you predict exactly what you will receive, and when.

And if you want to avoid heavy tax burdens, try bonds, because if you hold bonds for more than a year, you are taxed at a lower rate on any profit you make when you sell them. That rate is known as the capital gains tax, which is usually 20%. Your regular income tax rate is probably 27.5% or 33.5%.

Revised Passage

You Should Invest in Bonds

Bonds give your portfolio stability and predictability.

The way you earn money from bonds means they will be a good investment for bad times, retirement, or years when you are facing a big tax bill.

How Bonds Work

When you buy a bond, you are loaning money to a corporation, government, or agency.

You get a fixed amount of interest on a regular basis, and eventually, when the bond "matures," you get your principal back. If the organization goes bust, you have first claim on the assets, way ahead of ordinary stock holders.

If Stocks are Going Down

Bond prices tend to go up when the economy heads downhill, because bonds promise steady income.

If You Need Regular Income

If you’re about to retire, or you need a regular stream of income for other investments, bonds let you predict exactly what you will receive, and when.

If You Want to Avoid Heavy Taxes

If you hold bonds for more than a year, you are taxed at a lower rate on any profit you make when you sell them. That rate is known as the capital gains tax, which is usually 20%. Your regular income tax rate is probably 27.5% or 33.5%.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audience Fit
 
If visitors want... How well does this guideline apply?
To have fun More headlines, more fun, if your users want to jump around.  But if you are offering a chance to settle into your world, absorbing your point of view, then long passages without headings work just fine.
To learn Headings help users find, understand, and recall.
To act Headings guide the user visually and intellectually to the point of action.
To be aware Making your work more skimmable can't hurt.  But face it, to put in more headings, you have to get organized...and you may not like thinking structurally. Hmm, something to contemplate.
To get close to people Helpful and courteous, even in e-mail.

Ready for some challenges?

 

 

 

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