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Understanding your users How people read online


People read differently online to how they read on paper. The device they use and the way they scan information on it will affect the way you write and structure your content.

F pattern

Online users scan for the information they need. They look across the top of the page and then down the left-hand side.

Once they have found information they are interested in, they read across. This pattern looks roughly like an “F”. With this in mind, you need to take a different approach to writing digital content than when writing for print.

Read more in the Nielsen Norman Groups article about the F-shaped pattern of reading (opens in a new tab) 

Mobile and tablet devices

Two-thirds of users on the ONS website are viewing the content on a mobile or tablet device. It is important to think about how content looks on these devices.

Research shows that 80% of users on a mobile or tablet do not scroll past the first quarter of a release. Make sure to frontload the main information of your release in the opening sections by using the inverted pyramid

Reading level

We should write in a way that is easy to understand for all users. Shorter sentences help make online reading easier. Sentences should ideally be no more than 25 words.

Read more about structuring paragraphs and sentences

The Flesch-Kincaid score (opens in a new tab)  grades your writing on readability. If the score is high, the sentence is more readable. To find this in Microsoft Word, follow these instructions:

  1. Select the Microsoft Office Button, and then select “Word Options”.
  2. Select “Proofing”.
  3. Make sure “Check grammar with spelling” is selected.
  4. Under “When correcting grammar in Word”, select the “Show readability statistics” check box.