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Some Facts About Reading. Americans’ average reading level: 8th-9th grade. 1 in 5 people read at 5th grade or below. Almost 2 in 5 older (65+) Americans and inner city minorities read at 5th grade level or below. Roughly 1/2 of students learn to read with relative ease.

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Some Facts About Reading

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some facts about reading
Some Facts About Reading
  • Americans’ average reading level: 8th-9th grade.
  • 1 in 5 people read at 5th grade or below.
  • Almost 2 in 5 older (65+) Americans and inner city minorities read at 5th grade level or below.
  • Roughly 1/2 of students learn to read with relative ease.
  • As many as 1 in 5 students will manifest a significant reading disability.
  • Today, 10 million students are classified as poor readers.
  • 88% of students who are poor readers at the end of 1st grade will display similar difficulties at the end of 4th grade.


still more facts about reading
Still more facts about reading.
  • In 1998, only 41% of 12th graders read at a proficient or advanced level. (Proficient is defined as mastery of challenging subject matter for grade level.)
  • The rest read at a basic level or below. (Basic is defined as partial mastery of skills at grade level.)
  • The percentage of children who read well has not improved substantially in more than 25 years.


one last fact about reading
One last fact about reading
  • Most people read at about a 65% comprehension level.
          • Source:
so what s the point
So what’s the point?
  • Many people do not read willingly or well, so it’s important to make the task of reading as easy as possible.
the web further complicates reading
The Web further complicates reading.
  • Factors such as font size and screen resolution slow reading by about 25%.
  • Poor design decisions, such as background images or font color can make reading on the Web more fatiguing.
  • Features such as unnecessary animations can interfere with reading.
the first law of writing for the web
The First Law of Writing for the Web

If you don’t write for the reader,

the reader won’t read.

the second law of writing for the web
The Second Law of Writing for the Web

Text and graphics must work together so that the reader’s task is simplified.

why do people go to the web
Why do people go to the Web?

Overwhelmingly, people go to the Web

“to find useful information

as quickly as possible.”


how people read on the web
How people read on the Web
  • They don’t actually read, they scan (glance from point to point, often quickly searching for a particular item). Only 16% read word by word; 79% scan.
  • Readability studies have shown that a sample Web site scored 47%higher in measured usability when it was scannable.
the difference between reading and scanning

Progression is word by word across the page and down.

Meaning is gathered from the syntax (the way words are put together to form phrases or clauses) and the ongoing process of reading each word.

Key information is not visually called out.


Progression is rapid and not in order around the page as user looks for specific facts or key words and phrases.

Meaning clusters around key words and phrases as the user finds them. There may not be an ongoing process of good meaning-making.

Key information is visually called out.

The difference between reading and scanning
Readable text. With the exception of the paragraph breaks, nothing appears in the text that is likely to distract the eye from its left-to-right, top-to-bottom progress.
  • If you wanted to make this text scannable, how would you do it?
Scannable text.

Oversized headings alert the reader to the topic of each paragraph.


Scannable text.

Colored headings and bullets distract the eye from its left-to-right, top-to-bottom progress and visually organize the material.

Numbers: imply hierarchy.

Bullets: No order of

importance implied.


Scannable text.

The newspaper page structure is an excellent aid to scanning.

scanning scannable text calls attention to key information through the use of
Text “chunking”


Bold text

Bulleted/numbered lists


Large type

Highlighted text


Topic Sentences

Tables of Contents

ScanningScannable text calls attention to key information through the use of:
when highlighting keep in mind
When highlighting, keep in mind…
  • Don’t over highlight--it loses its effectiveness.
  • Don’t highlight overly long phrases. A scanning eye can only pick up 2-3 words at a glance.
with lists keep in mind
With lists, keep in mind…
  • Lists slow down the scanning eye and draw attention to important points.
  • Numbering a list suggests order of importance.
  • Limit the number of items in a list to no more than 9. Readers can hold 5-9 items in their minds at one time.
  • Don’t require users to click through level after level of lists. Below the 2nd level, information should be available.
  • Alphabetizing a list helps a reader find the topic more easily.
with headlines keep in mind
With headlines, keep in mind…
  • Headlines should be straightforward, not cryptic, funny, or cute.
  • Headlines that summarize the copy significantly help readers scan.
exercise one
Exercise One

Edit the sample of “readable” text to make it more scannable.

what else do readers want
What else do readers want?
  • Concise copy. Users don’t like long, scrolling pages; they prefer short, to-the-point text. Less copy means less information to process, easing their cognitive load.
          • Source:
what does concise mean
What does concise mean?
  • Free from elaboration and superfluous detail.
  • “Concise” is relative to audience; however, keep in mind that Web users dislike scrolling on initial pages in a site. They expect denser information deeper in the site’s structure.

Failure of Leadership

Certain principles and freedoms are guaranteed by our Constitution. Yet, without enforcement, the Constitution is just a piece of paper. Where does one turn if national leaders fail to uphold these fundamental rights?

President Roosevelt ignored reports from Naval Intelligence, the FBI and other official sources that there was no need for either mass removal or incarceration of people of Japanese ancestry. According to then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, " ... the decision to evacuate was ... based primarily on public and political pressures rather than factual data."[1] Perhaps Roosevelt was influenced by anti-Japanese sentiments or misled by key advisors. Perhaps it was because there was no strong opposition to the incarceration on the West Coast. In any case, President Roosevelt encountered little resistance when he chose to violate the civil rights of a small, easily identifiable and politically powerless minority group rather than go against the rising tide of hostility. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Roosevelt's decision. In sharp contrast to the mainland, the military leadership in Hawaii discouraged public hysteria and there was no mass incarceration on the islands.

1943 U.S. War Relocation Authority newsreel titled: "Japanese Relocation."

  • Users will read longer copy; however, they want to make the choice to do so. You can help them choose to read by using anchor pages. On a page containing a lot of copy, put a list of linked headings at the top of the page that will jump the reader to places lower on the page. This allows the reader to scan the list to see if the page contains relevant material they want to read.
Inverted pyramidBegin with the conclusion, follow with supporting information, end with detailed background.
  • Headline states the conclusion
  • Sub-head provides supporting info
  • Summary of story adds more detail
can copy be too brief
Can copy be too brief?
  • You still need to satisfy a reader’s informational needs and give what you promised.
  • Concise does not always require cutting. Use short paragraphs (7 lines or less), narrower columns (no more than 5 inches), and line lengths of 15 words or less. Frequent subheads help also.
exercise two
Exercise Two

Rewrite the copy to make it more concise.

readers also want objectivity
Readers also want objectivity.
  • Users don’t like anything that seems like marketing fluff or overly hyped language.

If text seems too over-the-top, readers will begin to call its validity into question. This creates a distraction that increases their cognitive load.

how to add objectivity
How to add objectivity.
  • Include links to other sites that contain supporting information.
  • Create a page design that reflects the content and is sophisticated without being slick.
  • Avoid using too many adjectives and adverbs to describe ideas. They make sentences too wordy and feel more like a sell job than serious information.
  • Exclude mission statements, slogans and other jargon laden language.
exercise three
Exercise Three

Rewrite the copy to make it more objective.

conversational copy
Conversational copy
  • Readers want conversational or informal copy. They can read it faster, thereby reducing their cognitive load.
  • Sounds like normal speech patterns--not too elementary, not too rhetorical. Read your copy out loud to test its naturalness.
exercise four
Exercise Four

Rewrite the copy to make it more conversational.

people want to know where they are and where they can go
People want to know where they are and where they can go.

Copy can aid navigation.

  • Embedded links (links that occur in the midst of a block of text) should be the primary links you want readers to see. They will use them as a guide for scanning, so only the most important should be embedded--the rest can go to a list at the end of the copy.
readers want context
Readers want context
  • Users can enter a site at any page, so each page should stand alone, without reference to a previous page.
  • Readers from anywhere in the world can access your site. Don’t assume they know things that you may think are obvious--like the fact that Olympia is in Washington, etc. Explain or provide links to background information you think they may need.
  • Caption photos and illustrations.
  • Avoid jargon unless you can be sure your audience is fluent in it.
  • Use humor judiciously--it’s very subjective.
  • Users should be able to immediately see how the page relates to a query if they came there through a search engine. Highlight key words, start the page with a summary, and use other techniques to aid scanning.
last words
Last words…
  • Combining words and images doubles the chance people will understand your message.
  • Presenting the same information in a variety of ways will increase the number of people you will reach.
  • People will try to fit the information you present into existing mental structures, so relate ideas and information to what people may already be familiar with. Make a personal connection to your audience.