How Users Read Web Pages (Or Don’t)

By Chiara Grassilli
In Web Translation
Feb 25th, 2013

How users read web pagesHow To Write And Translate For The Web


Most translators work in localization. This is the translation and adaptation of a website for a different country.

If you work in this field it’s important to know how users read on the web, in order to write something that will be actually read.

In 1997 the usability expert Jakob Nielsen wrote an article called “How Users Read on the Web” which I highly recommend if you’re writing or translating for the web.

Nielsen conducted research on ocular movements, specifically looking at how people read web pages. In this way he obtained a precise picture of what and how people read on the web. According to Nielsen, they don’t read.

This is maybe surprising but it’s a fact: “People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences”.

To write on the web he suggests thus to use:

  •     highlighted keywords (using hypertext links, typeface and colour variations)
  •     meaningful sub-headings
  •     bullet lists
  •     one idea per paragraph (users will skip over any additional ideas if they are not caught by the first few words in the paragraph)
  •     the inverted pyramid style, which means putting the conclusion at the beginning
  •     half the word count (or less) than conventional writing

Every website has a different purpose, so if you’re translating a blog post your language can be more descriptive because the target reader is expecting to read an article.

On the other hand, when translating an e-commerce website, for example, you shouldn’t add any word unless it’s essential.

If you work as translator it’s not your duty to restructure the whole website content.

But if you’re aware of these simple rules you could potentially create a much better piece of work than other translators.

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About "" Has 117 Posts

Since an early age I have been passionate about languages. I hold a Master's degree in Translation and Interpreting, and I have worked as a freelance translator for several years. I specialize in Marketing, Digital Marketing, Web and Social Media. I love blogging and I also run the blog

2 Responses to “How Users Read Web Pages (Or Don’t)”

  1. […] 10 seconds. Thus, if you want to grab their interest, you better do it quickly. (see the article “How people read web pages”) When you reduce the length of the article, you are eliminating what’s redundant, […]