(Yes, even your audience)
I recently attended a conference where the Nielsen Norman Group unveiled its latest eyetracking research. After more than 20 years in the lab, watching people read and respond to text, they reported this finding:
“This is too easy to read.”
— Nobody ever
Literally, in decades of research, nobody has ever told them that, including highly educated domain experts.
Nobody wants it to be harder.
Good readability helps everyone
High readability helps everyone — from Harvard University professors to brain surgeons to rocket scientists. Or so says a Nielsen Norman study.
NNG researchers started with an off-the-shelf pharmaceutical ad. You know how hard those are to read, with all of the legalese, caveats and disclaimers. Then the researchers had two groups of people — highly literate folks and those with lower literacy — read the ads and answer some questions.
Highly literate group performs better
Unsurprisingly, in the first test, the highly literate group outperformed those with low literacy on all three measures of success:
1. Understanding. People with higher literacy understood the message better.
- The low-literacy group answered 46% of the questions right.
- The highly literate group answered 82% correctly.
2. Task time. People with higher literacy read the message faster.
- Those with low literacy took 22 minutes to read the ad.
- The highly literate group took only 14 minutes to read it.
3. Satisfaction. Nobody likes reading a pharmaceutical ad. But the low-literacy group enjoyed the experience even less than those with high literacy.
- Those with lower literacy scored their satisfaction 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 10.
- The highly literate group gave the experience a 3.7 out of 10.
Then the folks at the Nielsen Norman Group rewrote the ad. They used shorter sentences, shorter words and explanatory graphics to increase readability.
Highly literate perform even better
1. Understanding. Both groups understood the clearer message better:
- The low-literacy group answered nearly half again as many questions correctly — 68%, compared to 46%. That’s a 48% increase.
- The highly literate group understood the more readable ad 13% better, answering 93% of the questions correctly, compared to 82%.
Do you really want your highly educated readers to misunderstand 13% of your message?
2. Task time. Both groups read the more readable message faster:
- Those with low literacy took only 10 minutes to read the revised ad, down from 22 minutes for the more difficult one. That’s a 55% increase in reading speed.
- The highly literate group saved nine minutes on the revised ad, finishing it in five minutes, down from 14.
That’s 64% faster.
Give me my nine minutes back! Nobody wants to spend more time reading your message, especially not your super-busy highly literate readers.
3. Satisfaction. Even when it’s better written, nobody enjoys reading a pharmaceutical ad. But both groups preferred reading the revised message to the original:
- Those with lower literacy liked reading the revised ad 76% more, increasing their score from 2.5 to 4.4 on a scale of 1 to 10.
- The highly literate group liked reading the revised ad 30% more, boosting their satisfaction score from 3.7 to 4.8.
Remember, in all of the Nielsen Norman Group’s research, not one single person has ever wished that anything was harder to read. Repeat after me:
“My audience is not the exception.”
Nobody wants it to be harder.