Writing on the Web should be approached differently from writing for print, even when giving the same information. There are two main reasons for this:
- Users have to read from a computer screen, which is more difficult than reading print.
- Users are likely to be wanting information very quickly; they will be less patient.
Reading from screen
It is currently more difficult to read from a computer screen than from paper.
- Computer screens have a resolution of approximately 96 pixels per inch, whereas books are printed with around 2400 dots per inch and even laser-printed documents have 600 dpi or better. This means that text on a computer screen is less well-defined and not as accurately spaced.
- Computer screens do not have as much contrast between the text and the background colour as paper. Again, this makes it more difficult to distinguish words.
- The glare from screens may irritate eyes. Other common problems are flickering, fuzziness, reflections, interaction with fluorescent lighting, etc. Paper suffers from none of these problems.
These disadvantages combine to make reading text from a screen more difficult. Users will read more slowly and most will find the process less pleasant.
(You might personally think that these disadvantages don't affect you. Personally, I certainly read more text from the screen than from paper, and don't notice my difficulty reading it. However, if an experiment were conducted, it would almost certainly show that I read on-screen text more slowly.)
Although new display technology might reduce these problems, most people will be using standard cathode-ray or (at best) LCD displays for at least the next two or three years.
On the Web, users are more likely to be impatient than when reading print material.
- They are more likely to be searching for a particular piece of information.
- They may not know whether your site has the information they seek; they will want to find out as soon as possible so that they can go elsewhere if need be.
- They may be looking for a single piece of information, uninterested in anything else your page might contain.
- In some countries users may be paying per-minute for Internet service, which naturally adds a certain tension.