Don’t irritate your readers

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Don’t irritate
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Some mistakes drive away your readers. Avoiding them can save you trouble.

OUR READERS hate waiting. A large illustration on your home page may dazzle and inspire. Does it take four minutes to download on a slow day? When it finally appears, many people will have gone elsewhere. Don’t waste their time.

Your readers don’t like wandering from one page to another to find what they’re looking for. Try not to bury information more than two layers away from your home page.

Don’t vex and annoy
You take a lot of trouble setting up your Website. Arrange your message the way people want to read it.

And use captions, for heaven's sake. Decades of market research prove that far more people read picture captions than the main text. If possible, write the most important points of your message right into your captions. (I confess that this illustration is just an excuse for a caption.)

If you're going to show a picture, put it close to the top. At least a part of it should be visible when the page appears.

EOPLE ALSO hate to scroll. After a few screenfuls, a lot of them give up. More of them will keep reading, however, if the same subject is continued on another page. If you've got plenty to say, put it on separate pages. Sideways scrolling annoys your readers even more. Your page should fit a small monitor, 640 pixels wide.

Give them what they want
Most people get their reading habits from newspapers and magazines. They want short paragraphs, short lines and short sentences. (Having something to say makes a difference as well. And lively writing helps.)

Will formulas restrict you? They're only as dull as you make them. And they work. If you want your message heard, take them into account.

OU’VE GOT many choices. How do you want to arrange your subheads? On this page, they sit on the paragraph that follows. A blank line separates them from the text above. Some people like to center them, and that’s fine. You may prefer two blank lines above yours, for instance, and one below. Go right ahead.

The end of the world
I remember sitting through meetings on the future of typography. That was long ago. In those days, computer typesetting meant controlling a photosetter, or even a caster, with a long strip of perforated paper.

Twelve per cent more people read text with gaps between paragraphs.

HE SPEAKERS pointed out self-evident truths. Predictions were made. Most were nonsense, but that’s the nature of predictions. (Nobody ever suggested that we’d stretch a newspaper column to the right length by increasing the linespace. That’s what we do today, and it can look pretty good.)

Then reality came along. With a personal computer, anybody could be a typographer. Printers and typesetters announced the end of the world as they knew it. For once they were right. Not all the old-timers followed rules and observed tradition. But the newcomers didn’t even know they existed.

Traditions in the making
The Web doesn’t yet have many customs of its own in the arrangement of text. One of the few it’s got is a manner of separating paragraphs by a a blank line. Books and newspapers usually do this with an indented line. Extra space between paragraphs, though not a full line, has long been known to increase readership of press advertisements by an average of 12%. This can help you.

And an illustration ABOVE the headline can give you ten per cent more readers.

OULD YOU LIKE another ten per cent? Web pages usually have the headline at the top. Illustrations go below it. This is a pity. Advertisements with the illustration above the headline are read by 10% more people than advertisements with the headline at the top. A well-chosen picture makes your readers want to know more.

No hurry
At the moment, the Web hardly allows you better typography than a typewriter. Few refinements are possible. No doubt this will change.

When it does, don’t rush into anything. Use the tools that everybody has. Meanwhile, use lower case for your headlines. And don’t end them with a period. Think of your readers. Keep them happy.