Should Reading Behavior Affect Your Design?

F-pattern visual Have you ever asked yourself whether your site visitors actually read everything on your website? Sure you have. And online reading patterns are an important factor to consider when writing and designing marketing, informational and branding content, which is structured and presented differently than longer narratives.

User eye-tracking research has shown that most people initially scan the first few sentences somewhat thoroughly when taking in large chunks of content — resembling the cross-bars of an F — but read less and less as they continue down the page. Eventually, they only skim the content’s left side in a straight line (or its right side in languages that are read right to left, like Hebrew, Japanese or Arabic).
Reading patterns are an important factor to consider when writing and designing marketing, informational and branding content, which is structured and presented differently than longer narratives. Click To Tweet
F-pattern visualMany of your site visitors will absorb only the beginning of each sentence or paragraph further down a page, a fraction of your content, to find information quickly.

This reading pattern is called the F-Pattern.

Based on this behavior, it is important to adjust the structure of your informational content and its design:
  • Place your key content in the first paragraph at the top of your piece (don’t bury the lead!).
  • Then, put the key points at the beginning of each section.
  • Equally important is not to confront your readers with a wall of text but with small chunks that are spaced apart and easy to scan.
  • Put extra emphasis on formulating headlines and subheads (for more on this, read my article on good headline writing practices).
  • Design headlines, subheads, or quotes to stand out visually; your readers will scan them separately.
  • Bullet points/numbering and bolding also help draw attention to important content.
  • Guide your readers’ eyes to what you want them to read. From top to bottom, from most to least important.

So, assist your readers in taking in your informational content with minimum effort. No, that does not mean dumbing down your writing. But it means structuring your content with an extra emphasis on key elements. As a result, your readers might even linger a bit longer and keep reading — as long as you capture their attention fast enough.

But don’t let this approach become the norm. Not every piece of content is meant to be skimmed, skipped, dissected, or scanned quickly. You should still structure your narrative writing so that your readers eagerly hold their breath in anticipation of revelations yet to come.

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About the author

Content Designer, Editor, Writer and Web Developer for content-rich websites with a global reach. Founder of Content+Design™ LLC. Helping you focus on your content to get your message out.

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