Friday, October 07, 2005

Fluff-in-mouth disease

A colleague and I have been discussing ways to improve the readability of web sites. (All aspects of readability: word choice, sentence and graf length, voice, tone, fonts, colors, use of links and buttons, column widths, and use of bullets.)

We've been collecting ideas, and that sent me back to one of the classic web readability writers, Jakob Nielsen. This page is worth visiting if you do any writing for the web. I love the way Nielson's research with users demonstrates the inherent unreadability of what he calls "marketese."

Of course, marketese is also inherently unreadable on the printed page for exactly the same reason: It's padded with a lot of self-congratulatory fluff.

Here's an example of classic marketese. Write this way, and your marketing team will dislocate their shoulders patting each other on the back.

We've been hard at work developing more great features for our loyal readers! You'll find more than 50 scrumptious new recipes for holiday meals and treats that'll have your friends and family jumping for joy. Plus plenty of links to sites on holiday party planning. Be sure to check out the new pages on selecting a turkey, carving a pumpkin, making cranberry sauce, and using your kitchen mixer to prepare pie crust. Need more help? Head for our our video library on cooking techniques.


Now here's the same information, rescued. But, sad to say, the only people who will congratulate you for writing this way are the readers who are trying to get information from your site.

New on the site:

• 12 recipes for seasonal meals
• 38 recipes for cookies, cakes, and candies
• Party planning links
• Selecting a turkey
• Carving a pumpkin

Need more help? Check out:

• How-to guides
• The video library of cooking techniques

Nielson concludes:

Promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts "Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions," their first reaction is no, it's not, and this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site.

I'd argue that, outside of his experimental environment, web users don't even get far enough on the page to argue with the fluff. I think they just scan it, move down the page looking for actual information, and (if they don't spot it), go to the next website on their Google results list.

1 comment:

  1. >they just scan it, move down the page looking for actual information, and (if they don't spot it), go to the next website on their Google results list.

    Yup, 100% right.

    ReplyDelete