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#FridayFact: F-Shaped Reading Pattern

#FridayFact: F-Shaped Reading Pattern published on 28 Comments on #FridayFact: F-Shaped Reading Pattern

Eye-tracking studies show that people read online documents in an F-shaped pattern, shown here:

Heatmaps Showing F-Shaped Reading Pattern, which is described in the following paragraph

They scan across the top of the page and then down the left side of the page until they find another significant word or phrase that catches their attention. At that point, they scan across the page a bit and then resume scanning down the page a bit. People rarely read everything on the page. They scan and decide in a matter of seconds what action to take next. They may never scroll down the page.

If you are writing documents that people will read online—whether email messages, attached files, or webpages—you need to use document design elements that will put your most important information in the path of the F-shape pattern.

As you consider this study, think about the design strategies that would help readers find the significant information in your messages, and share your ideas in the comments.

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Photo Credit: Jakob Nielsen’s F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content


 

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Mackenzie Knox
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Mackenzie Knox

The F-shaped reading pattern makes a lot of sense to me. I am aware that I am lazy sometimes and just scan the page to find the information I am seeking. Keeping this social pattern in mind will be important in any writing scenario because you want your reader to stay as engaged as possible. Making the information you are sharing as easily accessible as possible is going to benefit both you and your audience.

The Nielsen Norman Group article mentioned that the F-shaped reading pattern is also bad for users which is important to keep in mind as a reader. If you are conscious of your reading pattern, maybe evaluate whether you are maximizing the information presented in the article or work you are reading.

The Conversion XL article mentioned more than just the reading pattern. The point I found most relevant and closely associated with the reading pattern was position on the search results page. I know I am guilty of not reading past the first couple results so better utilizing your keywords is important to increase your position on the search results page.

Katie
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Katie

Hey Mackenzie, I totally agree with you on not looking at many of the search results past the first few. I think it’s also interesting to note that sometimes the text displayed next to the website name in a search result is the first few lines of the website while other times it is key phrases that mention what you searched for. Sometimes a search result will come up as one of the top results but if I cannot easily find the phrase that showed up, I will move on to the next result. Sometimes that’s laziness but these articles show that it’s also backed by research.

Casey
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Casey

“Include the most important points in the first two paragraphs on the page.”

I think this is the most important takeaway from the first link. Much of the content on the internet is overly verbose relative to what most of the people consuming it actually need out of it. I certainly appreciate “slow journalism” from time to time, but most of the time, I just want to quickly find the main point or argument of a piece and don’t care about all the fluff that’s necessary to pad it out into a professional-looking article or blog post.

I really appreciate it when people pull-quote the sentence or paragraph containing the main argument when sharing stuff on social media, so I don’t need to waste my time reading the whole link if the argument is uncompelling. I certainly try to do that when I share things.

Casey
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Casey

Oops, replied to the wrong person!

Casey
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Casey

I think the most interesting part of the search result behavior is that search engines have actually changed to accommodate it. Search engines used to try to basically return as many relevant results as possible, even marginally-relevant ones (low-precision and high-recall), but upon noticing that their users only ever looked at the first few results before trying a completely different query, they changed their retrieval algorithms to focus on increasing relevance of the first several results and stopped caring so much about returning all relevant results (high-precision and low-recall). Most interestingly, this algorithm change may actually be contributing to a feedback loop wherein the tendency to only look at the first couple results is reinforced!

Danielle Lehman
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Danielle Lehman

I found the information about the F-shaped reading pattern very interesting. I feel like without realizing I usually do this type of reading pattern when I am feeling a little lazy and the information in a reading might not interest me. I never really thought about it, but it is true that the top left corner is usually the most read one before people start to skim read. But, even though I knew this is how people tend to read, I never have designed the layout of my papers to have the most important parts in the left and preferable top of a paragraph.

In the article by Jakob Nielson it mentioned why people usually do an F-shapped pattern when reading. One of these reasons was that the paper might not have sections/ no formatting so it makes the reader just see a super long paragraph, which then makes them want to skim. Another reason is that the reader might not have an interest in the paper so they just skim it. Both of these reasons makes a lot of sense because I know that I have done an F-shaped pattern when I have been in similar situations.

In the article by Peep Laja it mentions how most people might read/ view a website or article. This article is the one that mentions the top left corner gets the most views normally. I found it weird that they said paragraphs should be short and in one column because it is similar to the text messages that people receive. But this makes sense because people are so used to reading texts so if something is formatted like a text, people are more likely to read it. The final thing that I got out of this is that the first impression takes only a couple of seconds. If a person is not interested in the layout/ format of something, they most likely won’t read the article/ website.

Katya
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Katya

I had never thought about this before, but it makes sense simply because we read left to right. I wonder if there are opposite results for languages which are read from right to left (like Arabic) or languages which are read vertically (like traditional Chinese and Japanese).

For design strategies, I think using bold, left-aligned headings in the body of your text will help the reader identify where they want to focus as they’re skimming. I also think it might make sense to have your text on the left side of the page and your graphics on the right.

One thing I found kind of interesting/funny in the article by Peep Laja was that if you need to show pictures of a smartphone, show Apple products. I guess this emphasizes the importance of brand recognition maybe? But for some reason, if I hadn’t seen the data, I would have thought that people would look at something they’re unfamiliar with longer than something they’re familiar with.

Overall, today’s post and related articles show how interesting and revealing biometric studies can be

Mariel Jastrebsky
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Mariel Jastrebsky

Yeah I totally agree with what you’re saying about having headings. I think even nowadays when people read articles on their smart phones, they are scrolling and they decide pretty quickly if they want to continue reading, so I think it’s especially important to have multi-colored fonts/images to draw their attention. I also think it needs to be set up in an organized way because having too much color or too different of fonts can be overwhelming to the readers as well.

Casey
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Casey

There do in fact seem to be mirrored results for right-to-left languages, as the first article mentions “our recent round of eyetracking research also showed that in right-to-left languages such as Arabic, people read in a flipped F-shaped pattern (as we had predicted but had not seen prior to this research).” It would be interesting to see how these patterns differ in vertical text as you said, but also because those languages tend to have higher information density, but also lack certain emphasis tools such as italics. I suspect the effect might be even more pronounced in those cases.

Mark Marut
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Mark Marut

I never thought about the patterns I look at an article or book or website when I am skimming through it. Just being more conscientious when I was reading through the two articles on this post, amazed me at how easily the people who made the website, can influence thoughts by just putting information in specific locations. Not pertaining to these articles, but when there are webpages on some websites, the adds are typically on the left hand side/bottom. This may have a correlation because the web developers do not want the reader to be distracted by the ads, and the ad producers probably pay the same amount to have a certain number/size add on the web page. It could be a technique used by the web developers in order to still gain revenue from the ad companies.

Interestingly, in Japan the web pages are actually all written left to write, even though book, hard copy newspapers, are all written left to right. I think this form of F shape reading pattern is more pertinent to the younger generations, because it is so heavily reliant on online articles. When I read a textbook, if I have a hard copy it is much easier to follow along and understand, but when I try to read pdf versions of textbooks, I have a harder time to grasp concepts are usually have to re-read definitions and explanations 3-4 times. I think it would be an interesting study to see if reading hardcopys and online copies of the same article present the same reading patterns, or if there is one superior to the other.

Here is a link to a Japanese online news site, even if you can’t read it, you can still see the formatting in a traditional left to right style: https://www.nhk.or.jp/

Katherine Butler
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Katherine Butler

This theory makes a lot of sense to me because I know I am guilty of skimming web pages or posts at times when I am surfing the internet. I am sure that it might vary person to person, but generally, I can see how this F shaped pattern would work. I do find it important to keep this in mind when writing posts online. Actually, I do think I had some understanding that people tend to skim online because for the professional bios, I suggested that people might want to split up paragraphs with about 8+ sentences because of the likelihood that their audience might not fully read the paragraph in its entirety. Overall, I think the most important thing to take away from this post is to keep the important points at the top of the page (where you don’t have to scroll down)!

Youngsu Kim
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Youngsu Kim

I understand why people would read the documents in a F shaped pattern because I tend to do so. I just skim the document and try to find an interesting word out of it. Even though I found the word that made me read the sentence, it depends on how interesting the whole sentence was to make me read through the next whole sentence. Anyway, reading this article helped me realize other people also read in a F shaped pattern so that I’m going to consider it when I’m finishing up my professional bio statements.

Matt
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Matt

That’s interesting and I never really considered what pattern reading webpages would take on other than that obviously the top is more likely to be read that the bottom of the page. I think that keeping this in mind, putting the most important pieces of information at the top of a paragraph is the most important, so that the skimmer takes away the most important or the most impressive piece of information. This also means that one shouldn’t spend too much time at the start of a paragraph introducing the material in the paragraph if there’s a transition and instead get right to the point so that the reader will take in the most relevant information and not just a transition.

Zac Smith
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Zac Smith

I found this article to be very interesting. It makes sense that people will tend to read only what catches there eye. I am very guilty I reading articles like this, I rarely read an entire article unless its short. I feel like the longer the article is the more likely its just going to be skimmed over. This article is very helpful, I feel like it doesn’t just apply to writing and reading online articles, I feel like i could be applied to just writing and reading in general.

Carolina Martyn
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Carolina Martyn

I thought the more interesting article was “10 Useful Findings About How People View Websites.” I felt that it used similar studies to provide the information in a more interesting and engaging way. “F-shaped Pattern of Reading on the Web” reached a similar conclusion, but I felt like it should have been broken up by more sections and pictures. It’s very easy to get distracted, and the list format of “10 Useful Findings” made it easier to find the exact place you left off.

Bryan Ngo
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Bryan Ngo

In the first article, the author said that the F-shaped pattern is misunderstood and lists other patterns that people read in. He says that the F-shaped pattern is the default method that people use to take on big chunks of text; yet, the overall design/presentation of the information is what truly influences the way people read (which I agree with), resulting if various other reading patterns: E-shaped, layered-cake, spotted, committed.
When I scan through an article a second time, I may find something that I did not see before. This is probably because I skimmed through the article looking for words that I thought were important to me – yes, I skim through the left side and proceed to read further right if important, which results in an F-like-shaped pattern. Things that draw my attention to the right side are pictures, bold/key words, or just a general interest to read more of what is written. Like textbooks, bold words are a great way to bring attention to important information. Additionally, headers let a person know that the preceding section is about something that the reader is looking for, so they will most likely read the whole block of text after. Pictures help bring attention to specific areas of the page and help guide the reader’s eyes to important text.

Aaron Olinger
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Aaron Olinger

Completely agree with this article and the 2 other links. I can personally say that I have done the F-shaped reading pattern before when reading through an essay or resume. I liked how the link shared other common reading patterns as well and what to do about them. A book I once read about how to efficiently skim through essays and resumes said skim the first couple sentences and the last sentences of each paragraph or section to get a pretty good summary of each part.

Ben Joel
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Ben Joel

I find the phenomenon of F-shaped reading to be very interesting. It’s not surprising at all that people don’t generally read an entire web page, I know I don’t, but I never knew there was a default pattern that people tend to scan. Next time I’m reading articles on the web I’ll have to make a note of how I scanned the page. The first attached article talks about how the F-shaped pattern is not the only scanning pattern, and I have a feeling I do more than one that was on the list. The explanation of why people scan in the F pattern gave me some good information to apply to my professional bio to not have it fall in the trap. If I were to ever make my own web page, I would utilize headings, bold words, descriptive links, etc. to keep readers’ attention.

Kristina Super
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Kristina Super

I had never really considered this concept until after reading up on this #FridayFact information. However, after reading the description, I can say that I am guilty of this practice. I am a very fast reader to begin with, but when I know that I am also put on a time crunch or I have multiple different sections to read, I will do a quick skim over the material in the form of an F-shape as described above. I find the technique to be advantageous when I am overloaded with other things to do. When the reading material is long, the F-shape reading pattern helps to keep the reader engaged. I hope to eventually become a pro at writing in this format so that in my future profession, I will be able to keep my readers interested in anything important that I hope to communicate to them.

Zack Silverman
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Zack Silverman

I never thought about vision patterns when it comes to reading documents like this, but the F shape makes sense and seems realistic to me. It is very useful information, as I know I am guilty of the F skimming, and I can think about what causes me to read across a line. One I know off the top of my head is that I am much more likely to read a line if it is separate from other text, not in some big block of text. In the future, when writing emails, I can think about buzzwords that cause me to want to read a line and include them in my emails on lines that I feel need to be read.

Mariel Jastrebsky
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Mariel Jastrebsky

I hadn’t thought of this F pattern while reading something online, but now I see and understand how people do that. A lot of times people are looking to just skim through the reading. A lot of times they will stop at the header and look at any graphics, but they won’t read in depth if the first couple lines they see are not intriguing words. The article also mentioned how there are other styles of reading and I completely agree with those, and I think that having the most important information in the first two paragraphs is important, but also not necessary. I think if a reader gets past the first paragraph and decides to dedicate themselves to reading an article, then they will read almost all of it, so more important information can also be placed on the bottom of the page. I am more willing to read something if there are graphics in it, if the page is broken up by different fonts and having bold headings because I am attracted to the look of it, and then the content of it. That’s why I think if businesses want their articles to be read, then they need to look into how people read articles and how their messages will be perceived visually.

Zachary Cohen
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Zachary Cohen

I found these articles to be very insightful. I had never really thought about the way people read things, but the F-pattern of reading makes a lot of sense. Because people read in this style, I think that bulleted lists are the best way to get information across to people. Even if they only read the first 2 or 3 words of each bullet, it would still probably be enough to get the main points across. Interestingly, I didn’t really find these articles to be organized with the F-pattern in mind; there were a lot of large blocks of text rather than left-justified key words.

Cassie Bienert
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Cassie Bienert

As with the strong email advice, It makes a difference what device you are reading content on. The use of mobile devices vs computes will change the formatting of a website or email. Thus, it makes it hard to adopt the F shaped writing pattern (I do complete agree with it as I have been reading a lot of scientific articles recently and I tend to scan quickly through them). Considering this, I think the use of headings, content breaks, font changes, lists, etc. is more important that the physical location of words. Even when you rotate your cell phone screen for easier reading, the layout changes – it would be hard to control where your important words fall.

You also might consider making a “mobile version” of your webpage. I am not sure if this is something commonly done but it would help you adjust your writing to optimized the layout on any reading device.

Kimberly
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Kimberly

I had never really thought about how I read a document, but after reading this and thinking about reading through websites, technical manuals, textbooks, and various construction documents I realized that this is exactly how I examine a document. I look for headings and specific words and rarely ever read anything word for word. As with Thursday’s infographic about document design, I believe that this information will be helpful in my Senior Capstone design class this semester. The final product is a document that will contain between 100-125 of information in response to a design proposal. With this in mind, by placing key words in this F-shaped pattern it will draw attention to those important elements of our final proposal and design as our professors are reading and grading our submission.

Faizal Zulkifli
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Faizal Zulkifli

I did not realise this fact before but knowing it now really helped me in shaping the way I write my emails or assignments in the future. The thing that I think can help in adapting to this type of reading pattern is setting the paragraphs and alignments right. In other words, we always have to make sure there is not too much lines in a single paragraph because long paragraphs would surely distract the reader skimming it and end up skipping the whole paragraph.

Justin Du
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Justin Du

This study is applicable to everything that you write in day to day situations. Whether its a blog post on reddit or a professional email, people seem to have the attention spans of fish in today’s world. This includes myself as after reading the article I realized how often I do this. I think this proves how important it is to draw in readers early to keep them interested in what you want to say and prove your point once you have them drawn in once they are invested in what you’ve written. I think this study can also see some parallels with videos as well. I think people often watch the very beginning of videos and skip to milestones to see if the video is worth-while before watching the entire 20 minute video they may not be intereted in.

Daniel Ott
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Daniel Ott

I feel that this study is 100 percent accurate. I know I do this sort of reading all the time, especially when I am in a rush to find information or am just being lazy. I often skim headings and the first word of line to see if I can find context clues to help find what I am really looking for. I also feel like the faster someone is reading something, the more likely they are to read in this F-shaped pattern. Additionally, I feel like people who read like this often have to go back and re-read the writing because they accidentally skipped over important information.
There are a few ways to help force the reader to avoid reading only in this F-shaped pattern. One that came to mind is to include headers. This will give the overall idea of what information is located in this section of the writing. The next way is to create lists with bullet points. This can help reduce the fluff people often include in writing and condense the information for the reader. Finally, I would try and avoid large paragraphs. I feel like this often scares readers away from reading the entirety of the paragraph. It would be better to split it up into multiple smaller paragraphs.

Moqi Zhang
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Moqi Zhang

In my opinion, it is funny but true that I pay more attention to the first paragraph, but for the rest of article, I will read so quickly until I found a funny topic or significant things.
I think I need divided article into several parts, and use the subtitle to tell the reader the topic of next paragraph. Meanwhile, it is helpful that we write a summary of the paragraph in the first sentence, and summary of the whole article in the first paragraph.

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