There is a vast difference between how users with a high-literacy level read web pages when compared with low-literacy users.
In my last post, titled Writing Web Content – "Scanning Not Spamming"--we discussed how the high-literacy user scans web pages, reading out a sentence here and there—seeking relevance, headings, links, bolded text, and calls-to-action. They effectively scan and read only 20–28% of the text on a page.
We tend to make a concentrated effort to cater to the high-literacy user when writing content for the web.
According to the US National Center for Educational Statistics, 30 million Americans (14%) have below basic literacy skills, and 63 million (20%) have just basic literacy skills. That means that approximately 43% of US residents have a low level of literacy. Do we assume that this figure is also representative of the number of low-literacy users utilizing the Internet? Even considering that this sector may have a lower disposable income and limited access to the technology, this is still a huge number of people who are largely not catered to when we write or build web pages.
Have you ever watched a person with low literacy reading? They read one word at a time, moving slowly, line by line, frequently agonizing over multisyllabic words. I should note here that 'low literacy' does not mean 'illiterate.' If something becomes too hard, they move on rather than become too bogged down—potentially missing important information.
This can also apply to people with certain disabilities and users who have English as a second language (ESL/ELL/EFL users).
These users do not scan pages.
Tips for writing web pages for low-literacy users:
- Place important information at the top of the page. It is more likely to be read word for word than if it were further down the page.
- Avoid long pages of text. This is too time-consuming and difficult for the low-literacy user.
- Keep writing simple and easy-to-read. Do not use big words or uncommon words.
- Keep in mind the difficulties of scrolling when writing and designing a web page. Scrolling can be difficult for low-literacy users who may not be able to scan to find where they were on the page.
- Don’t expect these users to be able to use a search box successfully to find what they are looking for. They may not be able to spell what they are seeking and may not be able to interpret the search results. Often they will simply choose the top option.
- As well as prioritizing information and keeping information simple, it is important to keep the user focused on the goal. As low-literacy users tend to move from page to page when things get difficult, it is easy for them to get lost or disorientated.
If your Web visitors are a combination of people from all literacy levels, place all important information and calls-to-action at the top of the page, and background detail further down for those who wish to read more.
This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.