“Sometimes, users do read down an entire page. It does happen. Rarely.”
— Jakob Nielsen, usability expert

Clicking takes a counterpunch

Communicators slug it out for scrolling

FISTICUFFS In the fight between Scrollers and Clickers, who wins? Photo via Library of Congress

The latest brawl in Web design pits the Scrollers against the Clickers.

Clickers argue for:

  • More, shorter Web pages
  • Clicking to and between those pages vs. scrolling down longer ones
  • Putting the most important messages above the fold. (The fold: the bottom of the first screen of the Web page, wherever that may be depending on your screen size and resolution.)

Scrollers argue for:

  • Fewer, longer Web pages
  • Scrolling down those pages vs. clicking to new ones
  • Ignoring the fold

That’s because, Scrollers argue, Web visitors do scroll beyond the fold.

And they’re right: Visitors do scroll.

They just don’t scroll very much.

Let’s get ready to rumble.

Central to the Scrollers’ argument is ClickTale research that shows that 22% of people in one usability study scrolled to the bottom of the Web page. I don’t know about you, but placing a high-priority message in a location that 78% of visitors will never see strikes me as bad design.

Scrollers also quote “king of usability” Jakob Nielsen, who, in 1997, retracted his rule against scrolling. (Scrollers: He didn’t mandate scrolling! He just said it was OK not to avoid it at all costs.) Nielsen’s latest research shows that people spend only 20% of their attention below the fold.

Some of the Scrollers’ research actually deals with paging rather than chunking. Let’s not compare apples to pineapples to make this argument.

  • Paging is where you move from one page of a linear story to the next, as in this New York Times piece. Newspaper websites use paging to get Web visitors to look at more advertisements, not because it’s a best practice in Web usability.

PAGE TURNER Paging is where you arbitrarily break up a linear article to get eyeballs onto more advertisements.


  • Chunking is where you divide your information into context-independent, self-contained pages and link to each page. This lets readers choose which topics are most interesting to them.

CHUNK OF CHANGE Chunking is where you break copy into context-independent, self-contained Web pages and link to each page.


Finally, Scrollers argue that they personally prefer scrolling to clicking. Last time I checked, Scrollers, personal preference was not a data point.

Split decision

As for me, I’m a Clicker and a Scroller. As I look at 25 years of usability research, here’s where I come down on these issues:

  • Page length. This one goes to the Clickers: More, shorter Web pages make it easier for Web visitors to understand, remember and read our messages. In fact, shorter pieces perform better offline as well as on and have done so for decades.
  • Clicking vs. scrolling. To the Clickers: Chunking copy into pages that are context-independent, self-contained, regardless of length, is the best practice. To the Scrollers: But for gosh sakes, don’t chop linear pieces to pieces just to be breaking them up!
  • The fold. To the Clickers: Messages that appear above the fold are more likely — by a multiple — to get visitor attention than messages placed below the fold. To the Scrollers: That said, this is not an argument for cramming everything above the fold.

The latter point, I think, is what has fueled this fistfight from the start. The Scrolling movement seems to be a reaction to management pushing Scrollers to cram everything above the fold.


That’s not just bad website design. Them’s fighting words

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“A writer who knows the big parts can name them for the reader, using such markers as subheadings and chapter titles, the reader who sees the big parts is more likely to remember the whole story.”
— Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar, The Poynter Institute

Say something!

Avoid label subheads

Scanners should be able to learn your key ideas by reading your subheads. So avoid label subheads.

OFF THE MARK Don’t just label the parts of your story. Write subheads that communicate key ideas to flippers and skimmers. Photo by Mrs. Magic

Label subheads are those that classify the topic but don’t say anything about it.

So don’t just label a section of your copy with the topic — “Mortgage services,” for instance. Tell the reader something: What about mortgage services?

Don’t write ‘read below’ subheads.

If your subheads say “Problem,” “Solution” and “Result,” for instance, you’re telling readers, “read below to find out what the problem, solution and results are.”

That’s not scanning, that’s reading! Instead of trying to force readers to scan, write robust subheads that define the problem, solution and results.

Write telling subheads.

Instead of writing label subheads, write subheads that help scanners get the gist of the story.

That’s what the Niemen Journalism Lab did in its “highlight reel” of 2012 International Symposium on Online Journalism speakers.

Notice how these subheads not only identify the speakers but also summarize their messages.

Welsh: Let’s get to work

The Los Angeles Times’ Ben Welsh will make you love robots. He’ll also effectively shut down anyone who’s still arguing that computer-assisted reporting is somehow inherently bad for the industry. He’s genuinely passionate, and that’s just fun to watch.

Boyer: News is a craft, not purely an art

Brian Boyer, who this summer joined NPR’s news apps team, wants you to think about news function. “Data visualizations are not on their own useful,” Boyer says. “If we only make art, we are doing our audience a disservice.”

Brown: Don’t fight the audience

University of Memphis journalism assistant professor Carrie Brown-Smith tracked the use of #Memstorm on Twitter during severe weather in her region. She examined the use of hashtags in centralizing real-time news. She also explored what kinds of information was shared, and how journalists’ coverage of the storm fit in. One key lesson for newsrooms: If your audience starts doing something cool, join in.

Doria: Make something beautiful

The iPad is special. That’s why Pedro Doria, digital platforms editor for Brazilian newspaper O Globo, wanted to give readers an iPad app that was specially made for the device. Doria felt that the paper’s basic mobile app wasn’t making full use of the platform. (Read our article about the app.)

Gingras: There’s too much news

Anyone else feel like Google’s Richard Gingras is everywhere these days? It’s likely you’re familiar with his views by now. Bottom line, Gingras says, “we have to rethink it all.” To him, print is nothing more than a “derivative mechanism” and the big problem in news is that “there’s too much of it.”

Whurley: You already have the answers

“I don’t do slides, ever,” said Whurley, general manager of Chaotic Moon Labs. So instead, he opted to crowdsource his slides — asking journalists to shout out questions that he addressed later in the presentation.

Write telling subheads.

When you find yourself writing label subheads, ask yourself: “Whurley what?” Or “What about Whurley?”

The answer to that question is likely to be your subhead.

Rev Up Readership

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“There is always something more interesting on Twitter than whatever you happen to be working on.”
— David Carr, media columnist for The New York Times, in “Why Twitter Will Endure”

Why be interesting on Twitter?

Entertaining content is the No. 1 thing people share

Want to write tweets that get retweeted?

ADULT ENTERTAINMENT What do people share? Tweets that are funny or interesting or both.

Make them interesting or funny or both. Those are two of the top three reasons people share content, according to Chadwick Martin Bailey:

  1. Because I find it interesting/entertaining: 72%
  2. To get a laugh: 58%
  3. Because I think it will be helpful to recipients: 58%

Tweet like WADOT.

The Washington State Department of Transportation feed brings a sense of humor to public service announcements and other official communications. Sample tweets.

  • “@blowdart Doh! We’ll do better next time. We feel the same way about ‘daylight-saving time’ – hyphenated, no S.”
  • “PSA O’day: It’s not the luck of the Irish that’ll get you home safely; it’s a cabby or DD. Don’t drink and drive. #stpattysday
  • “Thunder, lightning, hail & rain, oh my. http://twitpic.com/49trz5 Be sure to leave extra space btwn you and the cars in front.”
  • “Expecting busy weekend for @wsferries. Pack patience if ferry trip planned for this wknd. Ferry alerts: http://bit.ly/9EfdcV
  • “Slightly giddy watching tug pull the 1st pontoon, then reminded there are 76 more to go: http://bit.ly/S7COZL #followthetug
  • “There’s a breakdown worth gawking at… a couple of gorgeous classics on SB I-405 exit to SE 8th. http://yfrog.com/ocxk8ktj”

How can you write interesting, entertaining, funny tweets that get your important information read?

Reach readers online.

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“I never met-a-phor I didn’t like.”
— Richard Lederer, best-selling author of The Word Circus

Play the metaphor game

Practice creative analogies like Hemingway

In A Writer’s Coach, Jack Hart shares this story:

“In A Moveable Feast Hemingway recalls the days when he and Fitzgerald careered through the Spanish countryside in an open car, playing the metaphor game. One would point to an object as it came into view. The other would generate a figure of speech involving it. If he succeeded immediately, the other took his turn. If he failed, he took a drink from a jug of wine and tried again.”

Practice makes perfect. How could you play at making metaphors to polish your skills at writing analogy?

Make Your Copy More Creative.

Want to communicate better with creative copy?


PARTY LIKE PAPA Make a metaphor or take a drink. Photo via Codex 99

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“Anyone who considers him/herself a writer can benefit from a session with Ann Wylie. I’m better at my job simply from being present.”
— Karen Cashin, senior communications coordinator, Health Alliance Plan

Book Ann now and save

Lock in this year’s fees for next year’s programs

Because of increasing demand for my programs, I’ll be adjusting the fees for my writing workshops on Nov. 15. Now, for two weeks only, you can lock in 2012 fees for 2013 programs.

To get this year’s fees for next year’s programs, you must complete booking (that is, get a signed contract and deposit to me) by Dec. 31. To book a program, contact me directly.

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“A light went on for me. I understand now why I’ve not been more effective.”
— Leah Mow, associate director of Alumni Relations, Eastern Washington University

Ann’s touring schedule

Polish your skills at one of these events

Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.

COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE Catch Ann at one of her upcoming workshops.

But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:

Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.

Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.

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Where in the world is Ann?

Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program

Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.

Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:

  • Austin, Texas: Nov. 8-9
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Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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