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Thursday, September 9, 2004

Opening sentences count most. Shorter paragraphs keep people reading.

Journalism teachers have said that for years. So have online "usability" experts.

Now the Poynter Institute's third "Eyetrack" study of online news site design agrees -- after using sophisticated equipment to follow readers' eye movements across dozens of sample home pages and story pages. (Here's the Poynter report's section on article-page design. And I'll admit that at this point I've only spent about an hour browsing through the report. Feel free to add comments below to suggest other sections I should read.)

The overall Eyetrack III project has more to do with the visual form and function of Web sites than the details of writing style. However, it's very nice to have it arrive -- saying that words do count -- just as I'm preparing to deliver the same message to my news writing classes.

The Poynter study deals with images, multimedia and advertising (so far the main way to pay the all-important writers' salaries), but those aren't my main topics this semester.

I do want to go back and check out the report's own multimedia: Videos that overlay news page samples with the maps of the readers' eye-movement, and heatmaps that show what parts of a page viewers focused on the most. However, I'm writing this at home with a dial-up connection; the multimedia links are better saved for the higher-bandwidth office. So is the 11.9 MB PDF file of the full 169-page report.

10:36:59 AM    

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