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Why You Can Never Make Your Writing Too Simple or Too Clear

A problem shared by 48% of the U.S. population

Writing copy that folks with literacy problems can understand may double your results online and off.

Don't know if your prospects have this problem? Unless you target very sophisticated users, chances are some do. Around 47% of the U.S. population has a low level of literacy.

Lifted satisfaction for all buyers, not only slow readers

Making improvements to help less literate people doesn't hurt response rates among more literate folks, our research showed.

In fact, it helped.

Rewriting copy on a Web site, for example, lifted the success rate of lower-literacy users (LLUs) from 46% to 82%. And it halved the time needed to complete tasks.

The same improvements occurred with high-literacy users (HLUs). Their success rate also rose, from 68% to 93%, and task time dropped from 14.2 minutes to 5.1. And satisfaction rose for both groups: from 3.5 to 4.4 out of 5 for LLUs and from 3.7 to 4.8 for HLUs.

Here's how to take advantage of this study, says marketing expert Jakob Nielsen.

Simplify communication that's targeted at a broader audience. You probably don't want to remove technical or highly-detailed information. But you may want to apply these rules to your home page, your brochure or the intranet – any place that's read by the general public or employees.

Don't bury the lead. Unlike buyers with high levels of literacy who skim text, slow readers "plow" through copy, reading every word. So make sure you put the most important information at the top of the page and in subheads, and avoid text that moves or changes. That'll help foreigners and the elderly, too. Info: Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox, 3/14/05, www.useit.com

Reprinted with permission from
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