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.
  • 提供简洁的总结。
  • 删除或分层介绍性内容。
  • 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.

如果你把一篇科学论文改编成在线报告,你很可能不得不缩短标题。(正如tumblr账户中记录的那样,学术论文的标题可以是冗长的,也可以是夸大的lolmythesis.)

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.

带有副标题的部分支持非线性阅读模式

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.

(We know general users apply a类似的内容-consumption strategy当他们在线浏览时。没有人愿意浪费时间和精力去读一些与自己无关的东西——这是人生的基本信条information foraging.)

“其实是能源问题。我喜欢花尽可能少的钱,特别是当事情对我来说是补充知识的时候

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:

  1. Abstract
  2. 介绍
  3. Methods
  4. Results
  5. Discussion
  6. Conclusion
  7. 引用文献
《地球物理研究快报》关于在线图书馆.wiley.com
onlinelibrary.wiley.com: This scientific paper published online has some of the traditional sections (abstract, introduction, conclusion) listed in the table of contents in the right sidebar.

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

在传统的科技论文中,摘要用一个段落概括了内容的要点。这通常包括研究的目的和如何进行,以及主要发现和简要解释。

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.

关于科学日报网
sciencedaily.com: This article’s title(Ocean Acidification Helps Some Shell Formation)interested a researcher oceanographer enough to convince him to click to it from a landing page. Once on the article page, he immediately focused on the Summary section. “This is a summary, similar to an abstract […] OK, that’s definitely got me interested, it says, ‘This is a completely new insight.’” Scrolling down the page, he said, “This article, it’s not terribly long, I’d probably read this since they did a good job of summarizing it.”

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.

跳过介绍

在传统科学论文的结构中,导言通常采用比其他部分更多的叙事风格。引言的目的是确定主题,讨论研究的目的,并建立工作的背景。它通常包括对正在研究的主题的当前知识状态的分析。

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.

包括图表和数字

除了最简单的图表外,一般的网络用户通常很难理解任何图表。相比之下,研究人员不仅对复杂的图表感到满意,而且更愿意看到它们。当研究人员扫描一段内容以决定是否要更仔细地阅读时,他们通常会注意数字。在图表中呈现复杂的信息可以帮助科学家理解文章中描述的发现。

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.

A detailed graph on sciencedaily.com
An environmental scientist appreciated this graph on sciencedaily.com: “One thing that’s nice here is that they actually have a graph. You can see what’s going on over time. They have error bars… If they just had the text, it’d be hard for me. […] To me this is very interesting. And clicking on the figure blows it up! […] This is the way I like to see information.”

There’s a “Scientific” Look

看一篇科学论文。大多数都很朴素。甚至无聊。文字墙,小高亮,新罗马时代,白色背景上的黑色文字。

You don’t need to style your website like an academic journal — actually, please don’t do that.

但要注意,在确定内容是针对他们还是针对普通观众时,专家们会关注他们访问的网站的视觉设计。如果视觉设计看起来过于光鲜亮丽或浮华,可能会让它们失去吸引力。

Polished visual design of NOAA.gov
The trendy visual design of NOAA.gov caused an environmental scientist to feel that this site was designed for the general public, not researchers: “This one looked a little more… general public-y. It has this nice big picture that fills the whole screen, I’ve noticed that recently with websites. It looks nice, it looks great. But that tells me someone’s putting a lot of effort into making it look great.”
简单的视觉设计气候.gov
未经修饰的视觉设计和数据丰富的图形气候.gov引起了研究人员的共鸣。与上面提到的同一位科学家说:“这是人们在展示数据时所做的典型事情。[…]我在看真实的东西。不是艺术家对真实事物的概念。这看起来像是一个极客科学家做的。不管他有什么工具,他都没有把它送到美术系。它看起来像真实的数据,而不是被篡改的。”

Conclusion

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.