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On-line news readers read more words per story than print readers

I’m not sure how I missed these results before.
A major eye-tracking study has found that readers of online news actually read more words in those stories that catch their eye than do their print counterparts.
I’ll try and dig up a link to that study, but in the meantime, here’s an interview with Pegie Stark Adam, co-director of Eye-Track 2007. Got it. Clicking here will give you a .pdf of the Poynter.org’s report.
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Stark Adam says this study (conducted July – Nov 2006 with 600 people reading 4 US newspapers and 2 US online newspaper websites) was a repeat of a landmark 1991 study and even though their sample size was almost seven times larger and the first report was pre-internet, the study simply re-inforced the major findings of the first one.
The 1991 Eye-Track study shocked the newspaper world when researchers reported that readers were seeing only about 25% of the words on the page, and were stopping to read even fewer than that. Whether it is because designers and editors took those lessons to heart, or because readers have changed, the words read number has changed this time around. These days readers see – and mostly read – close to 50% of the words on the page, but  online readers, when they finally do settle on a story read more of the text than their print-reading colleagues.
Asked about the key online findings Stark Adam said:

For online, readers go to navigation devices first and they read a lot
of the text they select to read. They don’t focus on the home page as
much as I think editors feel they do.
My advice: Get louder out
on the homepage and create a hierarchy of headlines, photos and stories
so the eyes can focus on those of most importance. Currently, most news
websites display same-size, same-weight elements on the homepage making it difficult to know what is most important.

Hmm. I can think of more than a few news websites that need to take this message to heart.
Bill Dunphy
(photo courtesy Edmonton photographer Rylan’s Flickr photostream)

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