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Module 3: Pre-Referral and Referral Activities

Title slide for Module 3September 2014
A legacy training module from NICHCY

Every State’s early intervention system must include a child find system that ensures that all infants and toddlers with disabilities eligible for EI services are identified, located, and evaluated. That’s quite a sweeping obligation.

This module takes a detailed look at what the Part C regulations require in terms of the  activities States must carry out as part of their “child find” obligations. Module 3 provides trainers with:

  • 1 slideshow presentation about pre-referral and referral activities;
  • a separate, “concluding” slideshow that can be used to review;
  • a trainer’s guide explaining all the content;
  • Speaker Notes for both slideshows; and
  • 2 handouts and 1 activity sheet for participants.

Please help yourself! Download the components you need to learn on your own and/or to train others about pre-referral and referral activities in Part C.

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Files You’ll Need to Download

Trainer’s Guide | The trainer’s guide to Module 3 focuses on the content emphasized in the module—namely,  conducting a public awareness program, setting up a referral system, and maintaining a Central Directory. Moving slide by slide, the trainer’s guide provides images of each slide, instructions for how to operate the slide (e.g., when to click to reveal more of the slide or to advance to the next slide), and an explanation of the content on the slide. The trainer’s guide is available in two formats, for your convenience:

PDF | Trainer’s Guide for Module 3 (66 pages)

Word | Trainer’s Guide for Module 3 (for accessibility)

Slideshow | The main slideshow for Module 3 has 18 slides in total. So does the Jeopardy-style review slideshow (optional concluding activity). Both are provided as a PowerPoint Show. Download the file sto your computer. As a SHOW, each slideshow will automatically launch when you open the file. They will then operate as described in the Trainer’s Guide.

Slideshow for Module 3

Slideshow for Jeopardy-style Review (optional)

Speaker Notes | We know from experience that many trainers find it helpful to have Speaker Notes of the slideshow. The Speaker Notes show each slide picture with blank lines beneath (for taking notes). Use the Speaker Notes for your own planning (it’s in Word, so you can add your own notes where the blank lines are) or share it with participants for their own taking of notes.

Speaker Notes of the slides in Module 3 | in Word

Speaker Notes of the slideshow for the Jeopardy-style review | in Word

Pictures of individual slides in Module 3 | in PDF

Handouts  and Activity Sheets for Participants | Module 3 comes with 2 handouts and 1 activity sheet for participants. Each is provided in PDF and Word formats. The PDF is designed to share with participants. The Word version is made available for those participants who need or request accessible materials.

Handout  4 | Comprehensive Child Find System  (IDEA’s verbatim regulations)

~~ Handout 4 in PDF
~~ Handout 4 in Word (for accessibility)

Handout  5 | Public Awareness and the Central Directory (IDEA’s verbatim regulations)

~~ Handout 5 in PDF
~~ Handout 5 in Word (for accessibility)

Activity Sheet 10 | How Many Places and People Can You Name?

~~ Activity Sheet 10 in PDF
~~ Activity Sheet 10 in Word (for accessibility)

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And there you have it, Module 4 on the pre-referral and referral activities that States must conduct in Part C. We wish you good luck with all your trainings!

 

Module 5: Procedures for IFSP Development, Review, and Evaluation

Title slide in Module 5September 2014
A legacy training module from NICHCY

Every child receiving early intervention services under Part C of IDEA must have an IFSP—an individualized family service plan.

This module takes a detailed look at what the Part C regulations require in terms of the procedures used to develop, review, and evaluate a child’s IFSP. Module 5 includes:

  • 1 slideshow presentation;
  • a trainer’s guide explaining all the content;
  • a Speaker Notes version of the slideshow; and
  • 1 handout and 2 activity sheets for participants.

Please help yourself! Download the components you need to learn on your own and/or to train others on how IFSPs are developed, reviewed, and revised; who is involved; and what procedures are required, including use of the child’s and family’s native language.

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Files You’ll Need to Download

Trainer’s Guide | The trainer’s guide to Module 5 focuses on the content emphasized in the module—namely, an overview of the procedures that lead agencies and early intervention providers must follow when a baby or toddler’s IFSP is developed, reviewed, and evaluated. Moving slide by slide, the trainer’s guide provides images of each slide, instructions for how to operate the slide (e.g., when to click to reveal more of the slide or to advance to the next slide), and an explanation of the content on the slide. The trainer’s guide is available in two formats, for your convenience:

PDF | Trainer’s Guide for Module 5 (34 pages)

Word | Trainer’s Guide for Module 5 (for accessibility)

Slideshow | The slideshow for Module 5 has 11 slides in total. The file is provided as a PowerPoint Show. Download the file to your computer. As a SHOW, the slideshow will automatically launch when you open the file. It will then operate as described in the Trainer’s Guide.

Slideshow for Module 5

Speaker Notes | We know from experience that many trainers find it helpful to have a Speaker Notes version of the slideshow. The Speaker Notes version shows each slide picture on the left and provides blank lines on the right (for taking notes). Use the Speaker Notes version for your own planning (it’s in Word, so you can add your own notes where the blank lines are) or share it with participants for their own taking of notes.

Speaker Notes version of the slides in Module 5 | in Word

Pictures of individual slides in Module 5 | in PDF (7 pages)

Handouts  and Activity Sheets for Participants | Module 5 comes with one handout and two optional activity sheets for you to share with participants. Handout 8 gives participants the verbatim Part C regulations for IFSP procedures. Activity Sheet 7 takes a look at the contents of the IFSP. Activity 8 presents a case study. Each of these documents is provided in PDF and Word formats. The PDF is designed to share with participants. The Word version is made available for those participants who need or request accessible materials.

Handout  8 | Individualized Family Service Plan  (IDEA’s verbatim regulations)

~~ Handout 8 in PDF
~~ Handout 8 in Word (for accessibility)

Activity Sheet 7 | A Quick Look at the Content of an IFSP

~~ Activity Sheet 7 in PDF
~~ Activity Sheet 7 in Word (for accessibility)

Activity Sheet 8 | Case Study: Extended Family Participation in the IFSP Meeting

~~ Activity Sheet 8 in PDF
~~ Activity Sheet 8 in Word (for accessibility)

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And there you have it, Module 5 on the procedures for developing, reviewing, and evaluating the IFSP! We wish you good luck with all your trainings!

Return to the Table of Contents of Building the Legacy for Our Youngest Children with Disabilities

 

Module 6: Content of the IFSP

Title slide of Module 6, Content of the IFSPSeptember 2014
A legacy training module from NICHCY

Every child receiving early intervention services under Part C of IDEA must have an IFSP—an individualized family service plan.

This module takes a detailed look at the content that must be included in each child’s IFSP, according to the Part C regulations. Module 6 includes:

  • 1 slideshow presentation;
  • a trainer’s guide explaining all the content;
  • a Speaker’s Notes version of the slideshow; and
  • 2 handouts and 1 optional activity sheet for participants.

Please help yourself! Download the components you need to learn on your own and/or to train others on the content of the IFSP.

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Files You’ll Need to Download

Trainer’s Guide | The trainer’s guide to Module 6 takes a close look at each element that’s included in the IFSP of a baby or toddler receiving early intervention services under Part C of IDEA. Moving slide by slide, the trainer’s guide provides images of each slide, instructions for how to operate the slide (e.g., when to click to reveal more of the slide or to advance to the next slide), and an explanation of the content on the slide. The trainer’s guide is available in two formats, for your convenience:

PDF | Trainer’s Guide for Module 6 (62 pages)

Word | Trainer’s Guide for Module 6 (for accessibility)

Slideshow | The slideshow for Module 6 has 21 slides in total. The file is provided as a PowerPoint Show. Download the file to your computer. As a SHOW, the slideshow will automatically launch when you open the file. It will then operate as described in the Trainer’s Guide.

Slideshow for Module 6

Speaker Notes | We know from experience that many trainers find it helpful to have a Speaker Notes version of the slideshow. The Speaker Notes version shows each slide picture and provides blank lines below (for taking notes). Use the Speaker Notes version for your own planning (it’s in Word, so you can add your own notes where the blank lines are) or share it with participants for their own taking of notes.

Speaker Notes version of the slides in Module 6 | in Word

Pictures of individual slides in Module 6 | in PDF (6 pages)

Handouts  and Activity Sheets for Participants | Module 6 comes with 2 handouts and 1 optional activity sheet for you to share with participants. Each is provided in PDF and Word formats. The PDF is designed to share with participants. The Word version is made available for those participants who need or request accessible materials.

Handout  8 | Individualized Family Service Plan  (IDEA’s verbatim regulations)

~~ Handout 8 in PDF
~~ Handout 8 in Word (for accessibility)

Handout  11 | Model IFSP Form (developed by the U.S. Department of Education

~~ Handout 11 in PDF
~~ Handout 11 in Word (for accessibility)

Activity Sheet 9 | IFSP Review

~~ Activity Sheet 9 in PDF
~~ Activity Sheet 9 in Word (for accessibility)

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And there you have it, Module 6 on the required content of the IFSP. We wish you good luck with all your trainings!

Return to the Table of Contents for Building the Legacy for Our Youngest Children with Disabilities

Module 14: System of Payments and Use of Public and Private Insurance in Part C

Title slide in Module 14 slideshowSeptember 2014
A legacy training module from NICHCY

 

Funding the early intervention services that eligible infants and toddlers with disabilities (and their families) receive is a challenging affair for the federal government, State systems, and local systems. The federal appropriations for Part C for the year 2013 are in the order of $419.7 million! 

So, big surprise: It’s very important for State lead agencies to be fiscally responsible, have detailed written guidelines and policies regarding use of funds under Part C, disclose those policies to families, and work closely with other agencies and entities to provide and fund the range of services needed by babies, toddlers, and families involved in Part C.

This module takes a detailed look at what the Part C regulations require in terms of how Part C funds may be used. Module 14 includes:

  • 1 slideshow presentation;
  • a trainer’s guide explaining all the content;
  • a Speaker Notes version of the slideshow; and
  • 1 handout and 3 activity sheets for participants.

Please help yourself! Download the components you need to learn on your own and/or to train others on States’ systems of payment and the use of public and private insurance in Part C.

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Files You’ll Need to Download

Trainer’s Guide | The trainer’s guide to Module 14 focuses on the content emphasized in the module—namely, how States may permissibly use Part C funds. Moving slide by slide, the trainer’s guide provides images of each slide, instructions for how to operate the slide (e.g., when to click to reveal more of the slide or to advance to the next slide), and an explanation of the content on the slide. The trainer’s guide is available in two formats, for your convenience:

PDF | Trainer’s Guide for Module 14 (90 pages)

Word | Trainer’s Guide for Module 14 (for accessibility)

Slideshow | The slideshow for Module 14 has 32 slides in total. The file is provided as a PowerPoint Show. Download the file to your computer. As a SHOW, the slideshow will automatically launch when you open the file. It will then operate as described in the Trainer’s Guide.

Slideshow for Module 14

Speaker Notes | We know from experience that many trainers find it helpful to have a Speaker Notes version of the slideshow. The Speaker Notes version shows each slide picture on the left and provides blank lines on the right (for taking notes). Use the Speaker Notes version for your own planning (it’s in Word, so you can add your own notes where the blank lines are) or share it with participants for their own taking of notes.

Speaker Notes version of the slides in Module 14 | in Word

Pictures of individual slides in Module 14 | in PDF

Handouts  and Activity Sheets for Participants | Module 14 comes with one handout and three optional activity sheets for you to share with participants. Each is provided in PDF and Word formats. The PDF is designed to share with participants. The Word version is made available for those participants who need or request accessible materials.

Handout 13 | Subpart F—Use of Funds and Payor of Last Resort (IDEA’s verbatim regulations)

~~ Handout 13 in PDF
~~ Handout 13 in Word (for accessibility)

Activity Sheet 11 | What’s Available in Your State?

~~ Activity Sheet 11 in PDF
~~ Activity Sheet 11 in Word (for accessibility)

Activity Sheet 12 | Putting It All Together: Case Study 1

~~ Activity Sheet 12 in PDF
~~ Activity Sheet 12 in Word (for accessibility)

Activity Sheet 13 |  Putting It All Together: Case Study 1

~~ Activity Sheet 13 in PDF
~~ Activity Sheet 13 in Word (for accessibility)

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And there you have it, Module 14 on the system of payments and the use of public and private insurance in Part C! We wish you good luck with all your trainings!

Return to the Table of Contents for Building the Legacy for Our Youngest Children with Disabilities

 

Writing for the Web

Image of a computer keyboard, with the earth behind.September 2014
A legacy dissemination resource from NICHCY

Is your website one of your project’s most valuable ways of disseminating information? If so, this page will give you 6 tips for writing content that engages and motivates your web visitors—and, most importantly, helps them find the information they’re looking for. The tips are:

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1 | Understand How People Read on the Web

People come to your webpage with a mission, a question they want to answer, a task they want to know how to do. They don’t really read your content—they scan and skim it until they hit the keyword, question, or heading that speaks to their mission. If they don’t see what they’re looking for, poof! they exit. Sometimes in a matter of seconds.

Here are three interesting findings from research to consider:

  • Web users swipe what they see on their screen in a roughly F-shaped pattern (two horizontal swipes followed by a vertical swipe).
  • Headings and subheadings catch their eye.
  • So do headings posed as questions.
These findings offer all of us powerful insights into how to design our websites to match the way that users search for information on the web.  ||  Read more about how people read on the web


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2 | Help Readers Skim and Scan

Consider how users read—and don’t read—content. They’ve come on a mission, and you can help them accomplish that mission efficiently with the way you design and write for the web.  Here are four ways you can help web users skim and scan:

  • Use the tips discussed on this page, because all of them will help speed your web visitors to the content that’s relevant to them.
  • Include a table of contents that makes it easy for readers to see what content the webpage includes and jump to sections of interest to them.
  • Keep paragraphs short and use the keywords that readers themselves use.
  • Don’t center text on the page. Visitors often don’t even see it!

Read more about how to help readers skim and scan

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3 | Put the Essential Message First

Because web users don’t read text thoroughly or for very long, make sure your webpages state your essential message first, right up front. In the first two paragraphs, in fact. Use keywords and an active voice to give a quick summary that orients readers to the page and what they’ll find there.

People also pay the most attention to the first and last words in a sentence—and to the first and last sentences in a paragraph. Strategically place keywords and important information there. If that information is what visitors are looking for, bull’s eye! They’ve found it—and efficiently. || Read more about putting the essential message first

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4 | Chunk Your Information

The average computer screen doesn’t display a lot of content at one time, and you can’t count on visitors scrolling down to see more. Make it easier for readers to scan your content by:

  • delivering it in small paragraphs (maybe no more than 100 words)
  • breaking up longer paragraphs into bulleted lists, which readers can quickly skim and, at the same time, absorb
  • taking out the fluff and the unnecessary, paring the content down to an understandable minimum

You can always offer more detailed information on the subject in a separate page, for visitors who need and want the details. ||  Read more about chunking content

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5 | Use Headings and Subheadings

Web visitors definitely make use of a webpage’s headings and subheadings in their rapid eye scan for content of interest. Headings and subheadings are also a useful way to break up content and make it easier to read. To write good headings and subheadings:

  • Use active, strong, information-carrying words, which also helps search engines find and share your page
  • Pose questions, especially questions that mirror those that your web visitors have
  • Code all headings and subheadings with HTML tags that mark them as an H1, h4, h4, or H4 heading (rather than just bolding the text). This enables visitors who use screen-readers to skim the page, jumping from one heading to another until they strike on the piece of information they were looking for.

Read more about using headings and subheadings

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6 | Write in Plain Language

It’s always a good idea to write in plain, understandable language, but never more than on the web. Plain language is friendly and easy-going, avoids jargon (or explains it), and is characterized by shorter sentences written in an active, engaging voice.  It’s especially helpful to readers with limited reading skills or English skills. ||  Read more about writing in plain language

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How People Read on the Web

A man looks at his computer screen with concentration.

Eye-tracking studies tell us a lot about how people read on the web.

August 2012
A legacy dissemination resource from NICHCY

 

Understanding how people read on the web and search for information can directly influence how we design our webpages and websites. One of the most influential researchers into web reading behavior has been Jakob Nielsen, who sums up his findings like this:

How Users Read on the Web
They don’t. (1)

The truth is, people are going to skim and scan all the lovely content you’ve written, looking for something (a keyword, a header perhaps?) that catches their attention or matches the reason they’re visiting your website in the first place.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, the research.

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Eye-Tracking Studies of Reading

We’ve learned a lot about how people read on the web by tracking people’s eye movements and fixation points while they look at web content. Interestingly, eye-tracking studies have been conducted since the 1800′s as part of learning more about how we read.  From those early studies, researchers learned that:

Reading is not a smooth process of moving our gaze from left to right as we follow the words across the page.

We sweep our eyes over the text and often stop briefly (called fixations), then move forward to new text or go back over the text we’ve already scanned. (2)

The chances that a reader will fixate on an individual word depends on how long the word is (we tend to skip over short words) and whether the word is a content word (85%) or a function word (35%). (3)

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Eye-Tracking Studies of Reading on the Web

Eye-tracking studies have also greatly informed what we know about how people read on the Internet. Because the Internet has become such a rich source of information, web visitors can and do make lightning-fast decisions about whether a webpage is worth reading. They sweep their eyes across the page in a pattern that’s roughly shaped like an F, starting in the upper left corner. They take two horizontal swipes across the page, then swipe vertically down the left. These three heatmaps of web users’ eye movements capture this dominant reading pattern.

Heat map of readers' eye movements form a rough pattern that looks like the letter F.

     The F-shaped pattern for reading web content.

 

See the F? (It’s especially apparent in the center picture.)  These pictures come from Jakob Nielsen’s research, as posted on his website. (4)

Nielsen’s been studying the reading behaviors of web users since 1995, and his findings are as fascinating as they are useful for web designers and web content writers. His website is also a testament to those findings, because its design is driven by them.

So, in addition to identifying the F-shaped pattern that readers on the web use, what else has Nielsen found? What conclusions does he draw about how we should then design and present our content so users can quickly find what they’re looking for? Read on, and see.

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Users Look Most Above the Fold

  • Web users spend 80% of their time looking at information above the page fold (meaning, the part of the webpage that’s visible when users first land there). Although users do scroll, they allocate only 20% of their attention below the fold. (5)
  • Users spend 69% of their time looking at the left half of the webpage and 30% viewing the right half. (6)
Implications  for Content Writers
  • Put the most important content first, in the opening sentences and paragraphs. Don’t start with that nice, smooth blah-blah intro.
  • Get to the point. Immediately.
  • Users are much more likely to scroll past the fold if the first content they see captures their attention or matches their need.
  • Don’t center text (since readers strongly prefer the left side of the page and won’t even see text that’s centered).
  • Keep headers (and links) flush to the left margin, so that visitors can readily see them, especially during their downward swipe of the page (the stem of the “F” pattern).

Example
Each content page of Nielsen’s site starts with a summary of no more than 2 or 3 sentences placed on a light yellow background, so that visitors get the essential message of that page immediately.

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Users Scan and Skim Web Content

  • Web users at most have the time to read little more than 20% of the words on a webpage during an average visit. (7)
  • “Scanning text is an extremely common behavior for higher-literacy users.” (8)
  • Lower-literacy users “plow text” rather than scan it.  (9)

Implications  for Content Writers

  • Make webpage text easy for users to scan.
  • Use bolded headings and subheadings that make sense and include keywords of the content.
  • Use bulleted lists when you can to break up content. Bullets are also easy to scan.
  • Read the suggestions offered in Helping Readers Skim and Scan.

Example
This page is purposefully written to be easy to scan and skim through.

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Credibility Matters

Credibility of the website is important to visitors. They want to know that the information offered is accurate and objective. They ignore any page that sounds or looks like an ad.  Exaggerations, boasts, and market-ese hype also turn visitors off—and cause them to leave. As Nielsen says, “Web users are busy; they want to get the straight facts.” (10)

Implications for Content Writers

  • Write in plain language that’s stripped of big claims or promises you can’t keep.
  • Use objective, non-biased language. Avoid “loaded” words that spark strong emotions or indicate your particular viewpoint or opinion.
  • Offer an “About Us” section that says who you are, what you do, and what services or products you offer to visitors to your site. Include a tagline on your home page that summarizes, in one sentence or phrase, what you do.

Example | Here’s a sampling of taglines from around the TA&D network…

Center Tagline
CADRE Encouraging the use of mediation and other collaborative strategies to resolve disagreements about special education and early intervention programs
IDEA Partnership Dedicated to improving outcomes for students and youth with disabilities through shared work and learning
NICHCY Helping you help children with disabilities
PEPNet Advancing educational opportunities for people who are deaf or hard of hearing
Reading Rockets Teaching kids to read and helping those who struggle
NCIPP Your source for induction and mentoring in special education

Wouldn’t you agree that these taglines make it instantly clear what the mission of the project is? Visitors get an instant “read” on who and what we are and what we’re up to, with taglines like these.

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PDF Files Can Cause Problems

Oh, say it isn’t so! PDFs seem like such a nice thing to offer!

Apparently PDFs can cause users many problems, such as:

  • Users have to have software that will open a PDF file (and many people don’t)
  • Users don’t want to download and install yet another software, just so they can read the PDF
  • PDFs often make the BACK button inoperable—and the BACK button is like a lifeline to web users
  • PDFs are hard to read online, especially when the content is presented in columns (making up-and-down scrolling necessary to flow along with the text).

PDFs are best used when visitors download them for later reference or print them out and read them like traditional print materials. (11)

Implications for Content Writers | Don’t offer your content in PDF only. Don’t surprise visitors by content that suddenly opens up in PDF. Offer content via webpages in HTML, which are quicker to load, keep the BACK button functioning, and don’t interrupt the visitor midstream with requests to download a file or messages about missing software (in this case, visitors who don’t have Adobe Reader).

Examples | Reading Rockets has an excellent website that doesn’t appear to use PDFs (at least we haven’t stumbled upon any). The pages load quickly and the content is easy to read online.

We have long provided PDFs online, so we’re a bit chagrined to read this finding about PDFs. Fortunately, most of our webpages are also available as straight HTML text online, with the option in the file of opening or downloading a PDF version of the content. We continue to offer PDF as an option to our visitors, because the contents are laid out, look nice (we think), and are suitable for easy sharing with others at conferences and meetings.

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Images Need to Deliver Content Messages or They’re Ignored

Eye-tracking studies have also shown how web visitors react to graphics such as photos or diagrams.

  • They pay close attention to images that deliver content messages, such as photos of a product or of a real person (as opposed to a stock photo of a model).  
  • They completely ignore “feel-good,” “fluff,” and non-information-carrying photos and graphics. (12)

Implications for Content Writers | While pleasing pictures can definitely spruce up our websites, they also take up valuable real-estate on the page. Use images to carry content or illustrate the points you’re making. Make sure you include <alt> tags describing the image well, so that visitors with screen readers can also benefit from the graphic.

Examples | The photo above of the F-shaped scanning pattern that web readers use is an example of a content-carrying image. Note that it has a caption. And we’ve certainly included an <alt> tag description for our visitors with screen readers.

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Visitors Like Standard Web Features

Web users rely on consistent and predictable placement of standard website features, such as the search box in the upper right hand corner. They also look for such features as “About Us” or “Contact Us,” which let them know who you are.  When they visit a link on your site, they want to see that the link then changes color (letting them know they’ve visited it). Other conventions that most visitors are used to, understand, and want to see:

  • your company’s logo in the upper left corner
  • no splash pages
  • a breadcrumb trail that shows them where they are in the site (and which allows them to get “home” with a click)
  • a site map

If these conventions are violated, hard to find, or hard to use, visitors are likely to leave the website and go elsewhere. (13)   As Jakob Nielsen says, these conventions ” increase users’ sense of mastery over the website, increase their ability to get things done, and increase their overall satisfaction with the experience.” (14)

Implications for Web Developers | Do follow the standard conventions of the current web. This helps visitors know where they are, how to move forward or back, and how to find certain kinds of information.

Examples | Look at your own website. Is there a search box where people can enter a term and run a search of your content? Is it located in the upper right-hand corner? How about the other elements mentioned above —- is there an About Us page? A page that tells folks how to contact you? Do your links change color for users once they visit that link?

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For More Detailed Info about How We Read on the Web

These findings only scratch the surface of Nielsen’s research. We highly recommend a lengthy visit to his website—with multiple returns for more information.

Of course, Jakob Nielsen isn’t the only one vigorously investigating web design and user behavior. There’s a fabulous amount of information on the web (naturally) and in print about this subject. Other sources of information include:

 Eye Tracking Update | Find the latest news from the eye-tracking world. Also find a range of products you can use to conduct your own eye-tracking studies.  http://eyetrackingupdate.com/

The Best of Eyetrack III: What We Saw When We Looked Through Their Eyes
http://www.math.unipd.it/~massimo/corsi/tecweb2/Eyetrack-III.pdf

Eyetrack III: What News Websites Look Like Through Readers’ Eyes
http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/24963/eyetrack-iii-what-news-websites-look-like-through-readers-eyes/

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Want to read another section of Writing for the Web?

Want to read another of the “chunks” in our Writing for the Web discussion? Use the links below to jump there quickly.

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References

1 |  Nielsen, J. (1997, October 1). How users read on the web. Available online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html

2 | Reichle, E.D., Rayner, K., & Pollatsek, A. (2004, March). The E-Z reader model of eye-movement control in reading: Comparisons to other models. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 26(4), 445 – 476. DOI:10.1017/S0140525X03000104

3 | Richardson, D.C., & Spivey, M.J. (2004). Eye tracking: Research areas and applications. In G. Wnek & G. Bowlin (Eds.), Encyclopedia of biomaterials and biomedical engineering (pp. 573–582). New York: Marcel Dekker.  Available online at:  http://www.eyethink.org/resources/lab_papers/Richardson2004_Eye_tracking_C.pdf

4 | Nielsen, J. (2006, April 17).  F-shaped pattern for reading web content. Available online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/reading_pattern.html

5 |  Nielsen, J. (2010, March 22). Scrolling and attention. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/scrolling-attention.html

6 |  Nielsen, J. (2010, April 6). Horizontal attention leans left. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/horizontal-attention.html

7 | Nielsen, J. (2008, May 6). How little do users read? Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/percent-text-read.html

8 | Ibid.

9 | Nielsen, J. (2005, March 15). Low-literacy users: Writing for a broad consumer audience. Online at:  http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20050314.html

10 |  Nielsen, J. (1997, October 1). How users read on the web. Available online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html

11 | Nielsen, J. (2011, March 14). Can hated design elements be made to work. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/hated-design.html

12 | Nielsen, J. (2010, November 1). Photos as web content. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/photo-content.html

13 | Nielsen, J. (2011). Top 10 mistakes in web design. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9605.html

14 | Nielsen, J.  (2004, September 13). The need for web design standards. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20040913.html

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Helping Readers Skim and Scan

August 2011
A legacy resource from NICHCY

Most people don’t read through the content we put on our websites. They skim and scan the pages, “taking in headings, the beginnings of paragraphs, and first words of sentences.” (1)  They’re looking for something that strikes their attention or matches the question or need they have.  If they find it, they dig in and read more carefully.

To help our web visitors find what they’re looking for, we can create webpages that are easy to scan. Here are 10 “how-to” tips.

  1. Include a table of contents
  2. State the most important information in the first two paragraphs
  3. Chunk content in short paragraphs
  4. Put only one main idea in a paragraph
  5. Bold headings and subheadings
  6. Front load headings with significant words
  7. Use bullets, numbered lists, and numerals
  8. Don’t center text on the page
  9. Make your links meaningful
  10. Test your site with a few users

 
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1 | Include a Table of Contents 

You can start webpages (especially longer ones) with a table of contents. This gives readers a quick snapshot of the content they’re going to find on that page.  The items in the table of contents should match the major headings or sections of the page and be linked to those sections, so that users can “rappel like rock climbers down the text.” (2)
 
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2 | State the Most Important Information in the First Two Paragraphs

We have to state the essential message of the page first, right off the bat. Immediately. In the first two paragraphs. Why? Because web visitors give 80% of their attention to what’s “above the fold” on the webpage. (3) “Above the fold” means the content they initially see when they land on the page (without scrolling).

Putting the most important information first means that web users will actually see it. Of course, doing so violates the rules of writing we learned in high school. We’re supposed to start with a nice intro, lay the foundation, give some background and context, and kind of ease into our topic.

But writing for the web is very different from writing for print. Giving a quick overview of the content in the first two paragraphs of a webpage “helps the reader get the point and purpose of a page instantly, letting the user make a quick judgement whether to read on for a bit more detail.” (4)

 
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3 | Chunk Content in Short Paragraphs

Short and concise paragraphs are easier to scan—and, importantly, they get twice as many eye fixations as long paragraphs. (5)  Web users also pay more attention to the first words in a sentence and to the first and last sentences in a paragraph. So put keywords or information-carrying words first, where they’ll catch the eye.

How short is short? Less than 100 words seems to be the conventional wisdom on how long web paragraphs should be. The content will drive how you chunk the information. Cut out what’s unnecessary to getting your point across. Start a new paragraph when you find yourself veering away from the one single point of the paragraph.(6)

Want more info on how to chunk? Try our companion page Chunking Your Content .

 
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4 | Put Only One Main Idea in a Paragraph

Rule of thumb from eye-tracking studies: Limit each paragraph to one main idea. Front load your message at the beginning of the paragraph, where it’s more likely to be seen. “While a meandering introductory clause may seem like a good idea to you, the reader might stop reading–before [getting] to the heart of your sentence.” (7)
 
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5 | Bold Headings and Subheadings

Headings and subheadings are one of the main ways that web readers skim the page for content of interest. This behavior turns each heading or subheading into “a kind of landmark.” (8)  Writing strong and clear headings and subheadings helps readers:

  • grasp the content at a glance,
  • skip what they’re not interested in, and
  • settle quickly on what they’re looking for (if it’s there).

To write strong, clear, information-carrying headings, consider these suggestions:

  • Make headers into questions that your web visitors often ask. Phrase the question as if they themselves were asking it (“Where can I have my child evaluated?”).  Then answer the question, using the word “you” (“If your child is in school, you would ask the school to evaluate your child”).
  • Write headers as action statements. Try to avoid starting headers with nouns, which are passive. Verbs are active and affirmative.  Be crisp and clear in your language. Here are some examples:
Have Your Child Evaluated for Disability
Find Help for Your Child with a Disability
Know Your Rights
Participate in Developing Your Child’s IEP
  • Make the headings stand out to the eye. Make them look different from the rest of the text by bolding them or putting them in a different color, font, or size.
  • Keep headings short. Readers on the web see the first two words of a sentence or phrase most clearly. (9) Consider starting with a keyword. For example:  Cost: Will I have to pay for these services?  (Psst: Also see #6 below.)

In sum, remember that web readers are usually looking for something, and “the more efficiently you tell them what it is you’ve got, the better your heading will work.” (10)

 
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6 | Front Load Headings with Significant Words

Start your headings with content-significant words. Users scan down the left margin (remember the F-shaped reading pattern?), and they tend to note the first two words in a sentence or heading. It only makes sense to put the most important words where they’re likely to see them.

An added bonus is that headings with keywords in them are easier for search engines to find and use. (11)

Examples? Sure. We draw these from a legacy NICHCY page called Evaluating Children for Disability. Here are the first 6 headers in that webpage. These also appear in the table of contents that heads the page, with links to carry visitors down to sections of interest.

  • Purposes of evaluation
  • IDEA’s definition of  “child with a disability”
  • Identifying children for evaluation
  • Giving parents notice
  • Parent consent
  • Timeframe for initial evaluation

 
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7 | Use Bullets, Numbered Lists, and Numerals

The value of bullets is that they break down walls of words and can be quickly scanned by web users. While most of us don’t want to read a page of nothing but bullets, when they’re used well, bullets can truly serve our users’ need for grabbing information on the go. (12)

Numbered lists accomplish the same goal. They are also easy on the eyes, and are great for providing instructions that involve going step by step through a task or process.

Here’s a surprise: Use numerals, instead of spelling out the number as a word (e.g., 7 as opposed to seven). Yes, we know that we’re supposed to write out the numbers 1-10, but that’s a rule from writing for print. Using the numeral on the web is recommended. (13)

Since web skimmers are on a mission and moving fast, numerals speed them along, take up less space in their field of vision, and hold the exact same meaning as the longer number word that fades into that wall of text.

 
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8 | Don’t Center Headings or Text on the Page

Centering text on the page is another artifact of writing for print that doesn’t work well on the web. Why? Because people scanning pay the most attention to content along the left margin. Only 30% of their attention goes to the right side of the page (14), so they are very likely to miss what’s in the middle.

In print, we use centered headings to show the hierarchy of ideas and content. Centered headings show a high level in the hierarchy. Because we sure don’t want our online readers to miss a key heading that shows them how the content is organized:

  • keep all headings and subheadings to the left margin; and
  • differentiate their relative levels of importance (and subordination) by using HTML codes that display the various levels in different sizes, colors, or fonts (that your web developer specifies in your site’s cascading style sheet).

 
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9 | Make Your Links  Meaningful

How you link text on your site is very important, if a bit surprising. Here’s a quick summary of what eye-tracking research has found about links and user attention:

  • User do pay attention to links. So make those links visible! Underline them. Make them different in color from the main text. Make their color change once they’ve been visited by the user.
  • Links aligned with the left margin get particular attention.
  • Links embedded in the body of the text get less attention.
  • Users want to be able to predict what kind of content they’ll find if they follow the link.

[A note of caution: Links give users the option to leave and go elsewhere. Too many links, especially those embedded in content, can sidetrack readers from getting your main point. (15)]

There’s a lot we can say about the art of crafting your links and the value of doing so. A bit too much, frankly, for the scope of this article. The most salient points we’ve read include the following:

  • Links that include content words give readers a sense of what they’ll gain or get by clicking on the link. Having the “information scent” helps them decide whether to follow the link or not (“am I going to find what I’m looking for there?). (16)
  • The first two words in the link are the most important for giving readers the information scent, especially if you use content words. (17)
  • Use action phrases for action links. Example: “Go to Accounts.” (18)
  • Be as clear as you can, even if it takes more room. Example:  Instead of a link that says “Resources”, include words in the link that tell what kind of resources the user will find—”Find Other Organizations” or “autism articles on the web” or “Our Tools, Products, and Webinars.”
What about the oft-seen “Click here” as a link? No. Make that a strong no. (19) Make link text descriptive. Example? Sure.
To see pictures of Skeletar, click here.
See pictures of Skeletar. (20)

 
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10 | Test Your Site with a Few Users

User testing can help us create pages that most of our users will find appealing and functional.  Jakob Nielsen, a well-known web usability researcher, offers several articles on his website about how to conduct your own user testing with as few as 5 users (although 15 users really get the job done!). (21) That subject is out of the scope of this article, but if it interests you, then click here. Only kidding!

Seriously, if you want to know more about how to conduct user testing on your site, try these two webpages for starters:

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Want to read another section of Writing for the Web?

Want to read another of the “chunks” in our Writing for the Web discussion? Use the links below to jump there quickly.

 
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References

1 | Hunt, B. (n.d.). Introduction to writing copy for the web. Online at: http://www.webdesignfromscratch.com/copywriting/writing-for-the-web/

2 | Kilian, C. (2007). Writing for the web 3.0.  Bellingham, WA: Self-Counsel Press. Quote from page 17.

3 | Nielsen, J. (2010, March 22). Scrolling and attention. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/scrolling-attention.html

4 | Hunt, B. (n.d.). Introduction to writing copy for the web. Online at: http://www.webdesignfromscratch.com/copywriting/writing-for-the-web/

5 | Kilian, C. (2007). Writing for the web 3.0.  Bellingham, WA: Self-Counsel Press.

6 | McAdams, M.J. (2005). Chunks: Writing for the web. Online at: http://www.macloo.com/webwriting/chunks.htm

7 | McAdams, M.J. (2006). Tips for writing for the web. Online at: http://www.macloo.com/webwriting/

8 | Kilian, C. (2007). Writing for the web 3.0.  Bellingham, WA: Self-Counsel Press.  Quote from page 32.

9 | Nielsen, J. (2009, April 6). First 2 words: A signal for the scanning eye. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/nanocontent.html

10 | McGovern, G. (2001). Web headings that work (Part 4 of the Web Style Content Guide). Available for purchase at: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/books/web-content-style-guide

11 | Nielsen, J. (2007, October 22). Passive voice is redeemed. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/passive-voice.html

12 | Redish, J. (2007). Letting go of the words: Writing web content that works. San Francisco, CA: Elsevier.

13 | Nielsen, J. (2007, April 16). Show numbers as numerals when writing for online readers. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/writing-numbers.html

14 | Nielsen, J.  (2010, April 6). Horizontal attention leans left. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/horizontal-attention.html

15 | Nielsen, J. (2009, April 6). First 2 words: A signal for the scanning eye. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/nanocontent.html

16 | Ibid.

17 | Ibid.

18 | Redish, J. (2007). Letting go of the words: Writing web content that works. San Francisco, CA: Elsevier.

19 | Ibid.

20 | Nielsen, J. (2005, October 3). Top ten web design mistakes of 2005.  Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/designmistakes.html

21 |  Spooner, C. (2009). 10 usability crimes you really shouldn’t commit.  Online at: http://line25.com/articles/10-usability-crimes-you-really-shouldnt-commit

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Putting Your Essential Message First

One finger held upAugust 2011
A legacy dissemination resource from NICHCY

 

Help web visitors get the point of each of your webpages fast: Load the opening paragraph with the essential message of the page.

The web is action-packed, and people are in a hurry. Eye-tracking studies have shown that users pay the most attention to the content they see first—which would be our opening paragraphs.

 

Use the Inverted Pyramid Approach

This style of “essential message first” is called the inverted pyramid.  The approach comes from journalism, where you lead strong with the five Ws in the first paragraph (who? what? when? where? why?). (1) This flips the content upside down from an academic writing style. Remember all those writing lessons from grammar school to college?  Forget them when you’re writing for the web!

Here’s a graphic depiction of the inverted pyramid that shows what content goes into each section. (2)

The inverted pyramid of writing: main point at top, supporting info in the middle, background and history last.

The inverted pyramid approach to writing fits the way people read on the web.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lead | The top part of the pyramid is called the lead (another newsroom term). It’s the most important point of your webpage. If visitors take away only 1 point from your page, what point do you want that to be? That’s your lead.

Good leads:

  • are 1-2 sentences long
  • use short sentences (30-35 words max)
  • include information-carrying keywords
  • help readers see whether the webpage has info relevant to their need or concern (3)

The Body | The center slice of the pyramid is the body. What you say here supports your lead and presents information in descending order of importance. (4)

Write the body of your webpage using the principles discussed in this series of articles on Writing for the Web. Specifically:

  • Divide the content into distinct sections (especially if there’s a lot of info to communicate)
  • Use headings (in bold) to mark the sections
  • Use headings rich with content words
  • Keep individual paragraphs short
  • Front-load important information at the start of sentences and paragraphs
  • Make it easy for visitors to scan the content
  • Give bulleted lists
  • Include a table of contents, so visitors can jump to content of interest
  • Delete words and sentences that aren’t necessary to making your point

The Ending | The end of your webpage is where background information, history, and the least important information goes, what would be “nice” for readers to know. We can count ourselves lucky if web visitors read that far.  But many will, as Jakob Nielsen notes:

People will look very far down a page if (a) the layout encourages scanning, and (b) the initially viewable information makes them believe that it will be worth their time to scroll. (5)

Nielsen also suggests:

Finally, while placing the most important stuff on top, don’t forget to put a nice morsel at the very bottom. (6)

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Suggestions for Long Pages

Sometimes it’s not possible—or desirable—to be brief.  In the TA&D network, we have important information to share. Many people need the details of our content, including clear explanations of processes, legal requirements, and next steps. And, as Nielsen observes, when people really need a solution to a problem or concern, they will read comprehensive coverage of the topic. (7) For many of our visitors, then, long pages make sense.

Nielsen suggests a solution that works well for both types of web users: those who want short, succinct webpages and those who need the full details.

  • Start with overviews and short pages, and then
  • Link to long pages or white papers with indepth coverage. (8)

It’s still important to make long pages as scannable as possible and to break up those scary walls of words. To do so:

  • Use headings to divide the content up into short, easy-to-read paragraphs or sections
  • Allow white space on the page
  • Narrow the focus of the content or split the content into stand-alone pages
  • Cut text every way you can

Shoot for half the word count you’d use for a document in print. (9)

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Want to read another section of Writing for the Web?

Want to read another of the “chunks” in our Writing for the Web discussion? Use the links below to jump there quickly.


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References

1 | Michael. (2007). The inverted pyramid. Online at: http://www.dailywritingtips.com/the-inverted-pyramid/

2 | Howard, M. (2009, July 20 ). Inverted pyramid: Writing detail pages/information pages. Online at the S8080 website: http://www.s8080blog.com/tag/inverted-pyramid/

3 | Stovall, J.G. (n.d.).  Inverted pyramid checklist. Online at the JPROF website: http://www.jprof.com/writing/invertedpyramidchecklist.html

4 | SNN Newsroom. (). The inverted pyramid. Online at: http://www.snn-rdr.ca/snn/nr_reporterstoolbox/invertedpyramid.html

5 | Nielsen, J. (2010, March 22). Scrolling and attention. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/scrolling-attention.html

6 | Ibid.

7 | Nielsen, J. (2007, November 12).  Long vs. short articles as content strategy. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/content-strategy.html

8 | Nielsen, J. (1997, October 1). How users read on the web. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html

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Chunking Your Content

Photo of colorful blocks.

August 2011
A legacy dissemination resource from NICHCY

 

Chunking your web content into small paragraphs helps your web visitors scan for the information they’re looking for. Well-written paragraphs on the web:

  • have only 1 main point
  • start with that main point
  • are less than 100 words long

Why Small Chunks of Info Suit Web Readers

Web visitors don’t really read much of what’s on a webpage—not much more than 20% on average (1). They also skip straight over large blocks of text unless the first two words grab their attention. (2)  They do read:

  • the first sentence or two on the page,
  • headings and subheadings marked in bolded or differently colored text,
  • captions on images, and
  • the first and second words in a short paragraph.

That’s daunting news, isn’t it?  In the TA&D network, we want our content to be read, understood, and put to use in the field. So we have every reason to present our content in ways that increase their chances of being read!

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10 Suggestions for Chunking Your Content

Breaking up content into readable, scannable pieces is actually a fairly straightforward task.  Start with these 10 strategies.

1 | Create Sections Topped by Headings
Break your content out into sections that address one or two main points each. Mark each section with a bolded heading that puts keywords first and succinctly describes the message or content of the section.

2 | Put One Main Idea Per Paragraph
Limit each paragraph to 1 main point. The lead sentence in the paragraph should state that point. This helps make your message clear, helps readers scan for info, and keeps the paragraph short. If you start wandering into a different point, start a new paragraph.

3 | Short Paragraphs Rule!
Limit your paragraphs to no more than 3 or 4 short sentences. Readers pay the most attention to the first and last sentences in a paragraph. What’s in between is likely to be skipped. (3)

4 | Short Sentences Rule, Too!
Shorter sentences are easier to read and understand. If your sentences are averaging 15 or more words, try to break them into two simpler sentences. (4)

5 | Try the One-Sentence Paragraph
It’s okay to have only 1 sentence in a paragraph.

6 | Read the Content Aloud
Let the nature of your content suggest how it might best be subdivided and organized. (5) Sometimes it helps to read the content aloud, to hear how the ideas flow and where natural breaking points occur or the topic shifts, suggesting it’s time for a new paragraph or section.

7 | Present Content as Bullet Points
Bullets are very easy to scan. When you can break up a wall of text into bullet points, readers can skim quickly and still get the point. That’s even easier if each bullet contains just a few words.  Webwriters and researchers advise: No more than 7 bullet points in a list.  Any more and readers may lose the connection between the items. (6)

8 | Use Numbered Lists, Too
When giving instructions, numbered lists are the way to go, walking the reader through the steps to be followed in order. Numbered lists also work for content that you’d like visitors to read in a certain order. (7)

9 | Add Links to Content Chunks
When your webpage is suddenly getting longer than expected, include “Back to top” links between chunks of content. This works especially well if you’ve included a table of contents at the top, which lets readers jump to content of interest.

Another type of link you can add at the end of content chunks is “Read more.” If users want to learn more about the topic, they can—on a separate page where you can elaborate in greater depth and detail.  These webpages on Writing for the Web are designed in this way. (8)

10 | Break Longer Documents into Separate Pages
Longer documents may need to be broken into several interlinked pages, each with its own purpose or message. Taken together, the webpages tell the full story, but readers can pick and choose which pages are relevant to their needs or concerns. Offer the complete document as a PDF file for download and printing.

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Want to read another section of Writing for the Web?

Want to read another of the “chunks” in our Writing for the Web discussion? Use the links below to jump there quickly.


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References

1 | Nielsen, J. (2008, May 6). How little do users read? Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/percent-text-read.html

2 | Nielsen, J. (2009, April 6). First 2 words: A signal for the scanning eye. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/nanocontent.html

3 | Kilian, C. (2007). Writing for the web 3.0. Bellingham, WA: Self-Counsel Press.

4 | Mayor’s Office of Adult Education. ().  Easy-to-read NYC: Guidelines for clear and effective communication. New York: Author. Online at:  http://home2.nyc.gov/html/oath/pdf/Easy-to-Read%20NYC.pdf

5 | Lynch, P.J., & Horton, S. (2008). Organizing your information (Chapter 3). Web style guide (3rd ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University. Online at: http://webstyleguide.com/wsg3/3-information-architecture/2-organizing-information.html

6 | French, L. (n.d.). How to write for the web. Online at the True Web Design website: http://www.lancefrench.com/Web_Design/file/write-for-the-web.php

7 | Price, J., and Price, L. (). 2d. Turn any list into a bulleted or numbered list. Online at the Web Writing That Works! website:  http://www.webwritingthatworks.com/DGuideScan2d.htm

8 | Anthony. (2011, June 12). Content chunking: Designing clear, memorable web pages. Online at the UX Movement website: http://uxmovement.com/content/content-chunking-designing-clear-memorable-web-pages/

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Crafting Headings and Subheadings

POW!August 2011

According to the Web Style Content Guide (1):

On the Web, you live or die by your headings
A good one makes it easier for readers to find your article, and much more likely that they will read what you have written. A  bad heading ensures that few, if any, readers will find your text at all, and that those who do will be unlikely to read further.” (2)

O–kay. Sounds important, even critical. Let’s get down to it, then:

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Elements of a Good Heading

Good headings help search engines find your webpages, and they help readers scan webpages efficiently for content of interest. Among other things, good headings (and subheadings):

  • divide your content into different sections
  • include keywords that your visitors use
  • start with the keywords of visitors
  • are concise, yet give a clear preview of the content to follow
  • may be written as questions that your visitors typically ask
  • are distinct from the other text on the page (either by color or by size)
  • are formatted using HTML heading tags (<H1>, <h4>, etc.)

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Tips for Writing Good Headings, with Examples

Let’s take a closer look at each of the bullets in the list above.

Divide your content with headings
Headings (and subheadings) are a great way to divide up your content and make it easy to scan at a glance. Headings also signal to readers how information on the page is organized—what’s subordinate to what. So be consistent with the color and size of headings at different levels of importance. (3)

How you divide up the actual content is discussed in the separate webpage Chunking Your Content.

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Include keywords in your headings
Keywords are an important part of how readers scan webpages for info of interest to them. (4) They’re looking for a word or phrase that tips them off that the page holds content that’s relevant to them. If they see a keyword in a heading or subheading, they know just where to go on the page and start reading in earnest.

Use the keywords that your readers use rather than generic headings such as “Introduction” or “Overview.”  For example, NICHCY uses the heading “Is There Help Available?” in many of our disability fact sheets, because “help” is what so many of our visitors are looking for, especially those new to the disability experience.

Example
From CADRE, the Center for Appropriate Dispute Resolution in Special Education

CADRE’s Resolution Meetings: A Guide for Parents
Rather than use headings such as “Benefits”, “Concerns”, and “Frequently Asked Questions” in this brochure, CADRE uses “Benefits of Participating in a Resolution Meeting”, “Concerns about the Resolution Meeting”, and “Frequently Asked Questions about Resolution Meetings.”

The inclusion of the words “resolution meeting” in each heading makes it very easy for search engines such as Google to find and share the brochure. In fact, enter the term “resolution meeting” in the Google search engine. CADRE’s brochure comes up in positions 1, 2, and 3. Score!

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Start headings with keywords
Even better than infusing your headings and subheadings with keywords used by your readers is STARTing the heading/subheading with a keyword. Web readers tend to skim the first two words of headings, sentences, and paragraphs along the left margin, so they’re more likely to register (and stop at) a keyword placed there. (5)  So it’s a good strategy to front load those keywords!

Example
From the Effective Practices in Early Intervention page.
Good headings include: Organizations with Serious Expertise | Addressing Behavior Challenges in Young Children |  Assistive Technology for the Little Ones

A heading we need to re-write: Let the Child Play (to Learn)!
Too cutesy, not informative enough. And definitely not front loaded with significant words!

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Be concise but give a clear preview of the content to follow 
The prevailing web wisdom holds that headings should be short and strongly descriptive of the content to follow—between 4 to 8 words. (6)  Short, descriptive headings give web visitors a good idea of what content is going to come under that heading. If that’s not the content they’re looking for, they can skip over the section without wasting any time or clicks. On the other hand, the content may be just what they’re looking for, and the heading has helped them find it quickly.

Jakob Nielsen discusses the art of giving readers a good preview of content in a handful of well-chosen words. In his article World’s Best Headlines: BBC News, he’s talking about headlines (not headings throughout a webpage), but his admiration for BBC’s conciseness and precision is evident.  The average BBC headline used 5 words and 34 characters, yet “the amount of meaning they squeezed into this brief space is incredible.” (7) The headlines alone gave readers enough information to decide immediately whether the full article would be of interest.

Examples
2 headlines from the BBC News, courtesy of Jakob Nielsen:
Iran accuses journalist of spying  |  Villagers hurt in West Bank clash

Examples
From Reading Rockets’s Top 10 Things You Should Know About Reading
Headings in the article include: Too many American children don’t read well | Learning to read is complex | Kids who struggle usually have problems sounding out words

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Pose questions
Questions can make good headings, especially when they mirror the questions your users ask.

Example
In our Placement, Short-and-Sweet webpage, the first 3 questions (as headings) are:
What does IDEA require? | Who makes the placement decision? | On what is the decision based?

You can also pose the questions in the user’s voice, and answer in your own voice, making the content into a back-and-forth conversation. (8)

Example
Who decides if my child is eligible for special education?

Your child’s eligibility is decided by a team of people that includes you, the parents. The team also includes….

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Make headings look different from the other text
Does this suggestion even need to be given?!  Probably not.

But there’s more to this story than stating the obvious. As you’ll see in the next point…

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Format headings with HTML heading tags
HTML is one of the languages that web developers use to create and render the pages of a website. Heading tags in HTML are interpreted by the website’s style sheet in a consistent way (size, color, font) depending on their level (H1, h4, H3, and so on).

Web writers use the different levels of the heading tag to show the hierarchy or organization of the content. We do this in print, too. How the heading appears to readers (e.g., its color, its size, its position on the page) signals which ideas are overarching and which are related but subordinate. (9)

Why are we going into all this detail? Because:

  • Search engines use the <H> tags in HTML to categorize the importance of information on a webpage
  • Screen readers can use the <H> tags to jump through a webpage’s sections  
  • Web visitors scan headings to see what content they’ll find in a particular section or subsection of the page
All this is to say: Follow web conventions to help readers find the information they’re looking for in your content. When posting on the web, code your headings with an appropriate level of the <H>  tag. This is different from merely bolding the text, especially for search engines and screen readers. For example, the red headings on this page are coded with an <H4> tag.If you’re not sure how to code headings on your website, check with your web developer or the online forum for your web content management system (CMS).

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References

1 | McGovern, G., Norton, R., & O’Dowd, C. (2001). Web style content guide: The essential guide for online writers, editors, and managers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Financial Times Prentice Hall. Sections of the guide are available online at:  http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/web_content_style_guide.htm

2 | McGovern, G., Norton, R., & O’Dowd, C.  (2001). Web headings that work. Web Style Content Guide (Part 4). Available for purchase at: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/books/web-content-style-guide

3 | Krug, S. (2006). Don’t make me think: A common sense approach to web usability (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

4 | Nielsen, J. (1997, October 1). How users read on the web. Online at:  http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9710a.html

5 | McAlpine, R. (n.d.). Eyes top left: Lessons from Eyetrack III. Online at the Quality Web Content website:  http://www.webpagecontent.com/arc_archive/176/5/

6 | Redshaw, K. (2003). Using headings in web writing. Online at the KerryR.net Content Matters website: http://www.kerryr.net/webwriting/techniques_headings.htm

7 | Nielsen, J. (2009, April 27). World’s best headlines: BBC News. Online at: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/headlines-bbc.html

8 | Redish, J. (2007). Letting go of the words: Writing web content that works. San Francisco, CA: Elsevier.

9 | U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2006). Headings, titles, and labels. Research-based web design & usability guidelines (pp. 76-84). Washington, DC: Author. Online at: http://www.usability.gov/pdfs/chapter9.pdf

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