In our interviews and usability tests with domain experts, we learned thatscientists and researchers have different expectations for contentas compared to a general audience.
To create compelling digital content for a specialized, highly educated audience, we can take inspiration from the writing form they often spend the most time with — traditional scientific papers. However, when presenting scientific content online for such audiences, simply providing the PDF of an existing scientific article isn’t good enough. Adapt research findings for online reading by keeping what works well in scientific papers, and improving on what doesn’t.
We conducted usability testing with scientists, researchers, and experts such as clinicians and engineers who use research findings in their work. We found that the following writing techniques work well with these audiences:
- Shorten titles as much as possible.
- Use subsections with clear headings to create structure.
- Include charts and figures.
- Don’t overdo the visual design.
Accurate, Succinct Titles
Resist the urge to write flashy or hyped-up titles and links. Researchers are attracted to material that offers new or contradictory findings that they’re unfamiliar with, but if the actual findings don’t back up the title’s claims, you’ll lose credibility.
Scientists want facts, not loose interpretations or extrapolations. Accurately and specifically describe what the research really says.
Abbreviating titles can be tricky, and it can feel like you’re oversimplifying complex content. Try to focus on themaintakeaway or on the point of the study that would bring researchers to this page and set their expectations appropriately. In particular, make sure that the title will make sense when read in isolation on a search-engine results page (SERP) without the supporting context provided when the full page is seen on your website.
Researchers read even complex academic material (in print or on the web)incompletely and nonlinearly— at least initially.
Domain experts reported preferring to first scan scientific papers, to get a high-level overview of the content and decide if they need to read it in detail.
One of the researchers who participated in our study explained his scanning process:
“The way scientists read articles, is they read the abstract, look through the figures, read the conclusion and the introduction, and then decide if they’ll read the middle. Almost nobody starts by reading the whole article. […] Why should I read all of something that I’m not terribly interested in?” – Research oceanographer
Scientific papers follow a very specific structure, and each section is labeled with a subheading. While the exact structure depends on the field of study, most such articles will have an abstract and a bibliography. For example, a typical scientific paper in psychology will include:
Clearly labeled, predictable subsections like abstracts and conclusions are helpful because they allow researchers to engage in efficient nonlinear reading. While you don’t necessarily need to follow the exact subsection structure when presenting scientific content online, do在内容中使用副标题create chunks和支持scanning preferences.
Abstracts Are Just Fancy Summaries
Together with the title, the abstract is the most important piece of content in scientific papers for researchers. It acts to clarify the themes addressed in the title, which can’t always accommodate the full complexity of the content in just a few words. The abstract is also the author’s chance to hook readers and convince them the article content is worth the effort of a linear, detailed read.
Abstracts are to scientific papers what summaries are to online articles. All long-form web content can benefit froma succinct summary at the top of the page.Give your readers a quick and easy overview of the main topics, and help them decide whether or not to dive deeper.
When adapting a traditional scientific paper or journal article for online reading, you’ll be able to use the paper’s abstract as a summary. You’ll likely need to edit for concision, however: an abstract can be up to 300 words, but a summary should only be 1–3 sentences.
One of the researchers who participated in our study explained that when she was reading research studies on specific diseases, she’d often skip over the introduction.
“I won’t usually read the entire article. I’ll usually read the abstract, and if it seems like I want to go more in depth… I’ll typically skip the introduction, depending on what it is. If it’s just talking about what the disease is, current treatment, the statistics and all that, I’ll skip it. I don’t need that information. If it’s comparing certain treatments or preventative methods or procedures or whatever, I might read and see what the comparisons are, if I don’t know it.” – Clinical research coordinator
This researcher’s description of her information-seeking strategies again highlights the value of chunked content with clear subheadings that help users easily decide which pieces of content are relevant to them.
但是还有另一个想要教给我们的东西example. The introduction tends to offer less “meat” — less new, valuable information. That’s why researchers look to the introduction only after they’ve scanned the abstract and the other sections, if they choose to read it at all. Like other web users, scientists just want to get to the point when they read online. They’re not interested in fluffy content if it doesn’t provide valuable information.
考虑四种帮助读者的策略avoid the fluff:
- Cut out introductory or background content altogether.
- 用描述性副标题清楚地标明like介绍or背景, so uninterested readers can opt out.
- Use the inverted pyramid writing structure.Place the most important information at the top of the article, and then add extra details further down the page. This approach is efficient because it gives readers what they want up front. (If we were to revise the structure of the traditional scientific paper to fit this approach, we might end up with the introduction at the end, next to the list of references.)
- Layer your content.Link to background or introductory information on another page, so the information is available for people who need it, but does not slow down those who don’t need it.
Unlike general web users, researchers can handle advanced data-visualization techniques, and can interpret things like correlations and error bars. Allow users to click on the charts and figures to see them full screen. Consider placing any large or unwieldy data tables on a separate page linked from the main text.
There’s a “Scientific” Look
You don’t need to style your website like an academic journal — actually, please don’t do that.
Overall, the structure and level of detail provided in traditional academic writing works well for researchers when presenting scientific content online. The wordiness and fluff, however, does not work well. When adapting scientific papers for online reading, keep your content organized, scannable, and succinct.