How do we read on the Web?

The answer is: we don’t. We scan.

I know I don’t read. The proof is the post prior to this one.

In a document on Blackboard, I was asked to write a post related to the Internet, Web or web publishing. This is what the paragraph I read looks like:

Please note – the topics of each week’s class are included in the schedule below as a suggested starting point for your blog post – however you are encouraged to choose your own topics for your blog posts. Anything about the internet, the Web or web publishing specifically is appropriate for discussion in the blog, as it’s purpose is to get you thinking and writing about what you’re learning during the course.

This is how I read it on a Sunday night when I was tired and just wanted to get the work over with:
The words just shrank the more I read. I paid more attention to the first two lines, and paid almost no attention to the last. Hence, why my last post had nothing to do with the Internet.

The way I read this paragraph is consistent with findings by Eyetracking Web Usability from the Nielsen Norman Group. Using heatmaps, researchers recorded how 232 users looked at thousands of Web pages. They determined that users read in an F-Shaped Pattern (as seen in the heatmap below).

Red areas indicate where users looked at the most, while blue areas are where they looked at the least. Click on picture for more details.

Users read most of the top part of the page (first two paragraphs), less of the second quarter, and very little of upcoming sections. This is why links that come up first on Google matter the most.

This makes reading on the Web similar to reading a newspaper. The headline in bigger font grabs the most attention, following the first few paragraphs. It’s known that if you need to shrink the article to fit in a convenient space, you cut from the end. Sometimes, we are in awe of the Internet and its effects on our lives as a novelty, but I doubt it is as novel as we think.

Tell me: Do you notice differences when reading from a screen vs print?

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