September 9, 2004

Sometimes it’s hard even to take my own advice. …

As I mentioned yesterday, Poynter and its partners released the Eyetrack III study this week. There’s a lot in it, so here on E-Media Tidbits I’m going to occasionally call out interesting tidbits from the study. (How about one a day?)

One observation we made is worth pulling out: Shorter paragraphs appear to greatly enhance the amount that people read on news website article pages.

Articles presented with short paragraphs (1-2 sentences) received, on average, more than double the eye fixations from our group of test subjects than articles with longer paragraphs. Shorter paragraphs simply encouraged reading; longer paragraphs discouraged it.

Now, this definitely is NOT new. Usability and online writing experts have been telling us about the benefits of short paragraphs for years. Yet most news sites don’t employ them; in a survey of 25 top news sites, we found only seven that routinely edited articles to make paragraphs shorter.

On this weblog, our items are short, but paragraphs typically are long. I’ve broken this item into short paragraphs.

Did you read most of it? Is this a good idea? Frankly, I’m not fond of the look. But perhaps as editor of this weblog, I should listen to the Eyetrack results. What do you think?

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Steve Outing is a thought leader in the online media industry, having spent the last 14 years assisting and advising media companies on Internet strategy…
Steve Outing

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