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HomeRants > Web Text = Content + Interface > Your words are virtually there. > Some of your words are just signposts.

 

 

 

When words are buttons

Web text is three-dimensional

Some of your words are just signposts

People turn to your language for quick indications of structure and location.

In a book, readers have many cues to their location within the overall structure--

  • The front cover
  • The back cover
  • The headers and footers
  • The headings
  • The chapter openers
  • The chapter endings
  • Summaries

But on a Web site, users cannot tell how much info it contains, where it begins, or where it ends.

Bonus
What will the web do to my text? (Full chapter from Hot Text in PDF, 700K, or 12 minutes at 56K)

When words are buttons

To find out where they are in the hierarchy of a site, users need to look at words as button labels ("Products," "FAQ," "About Us"). And they study the words that make up menu items, because these words offer an idea of the structure of the site.

Layout and graphics reinforce the words, but as with icons, a user must first figure out what the graphic representation means before being able to rely on it as an indication of the department, section, or topic.

Within a page, people rely very heavily on your title, headings, and boldfacing for indications of your structure, and their location within it.

Oddly, because they cannot flip through the pages quickly like a book reader, Web users are more dependent on verbal cues about their position in the hierarchy than book users are.

Moral: you have to be more aware of structure when you write online than you were when you wrote for paper.

The shape and scope of your online writing is difficult for users to perceive. So you have to work harder to communicate your main point, your organizing patterns, and your starting and stopping points.

Web text is three-dimensional

Visitors to your site are following an erratic path that goes forward and back, up and down, in and out.

Short-term memory is quickly exhausted trying to recall the trail, so the users must devote considerable energy to deciding where to go next, and figuring out where they are now.

They ask that question of your text long before they choose to "read" it for meaning. Like visitors to a new city, they are wondering:

  • Have I come to the right place?
  • Is this the topic I am interested in?
  • Does this person have anything interesting to say?
  • Are the paths through this material recognizable?
  • Are its districts clearly defined?
  • Are there landmarks I can use to navigate with?

On the Web, people use the text for movement up, down, and in--long before they actually read for ideas.

Who is that behind the grid? Remember that people see text first as interface, only looking behind that on occasion.

 

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  2003 Jonathan and Lisa Price
The Communication Circle
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