Don’t make me think

Here I was, worrying that I’d started this blog and would have nothing to blog about.

It seems not, as this wonderful news headline aimed at University staff members illustrates:

“Students leaving this summer”

The author may have meant a statement: “Students are/will be leaving this summer”. Now, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not really news is it? I mean, not for a University.

The only other viable interpretation is to assume that this is a headline defining the story by target audience. So it could be read “[information for] students leaving this summer”. Problem – this is on the Staff homepage.

Best read the story then.

It turns out that the story is aimed at staff, staff who might get asked by students who are leaving this summer what happens to their email account. It directs staff to another story entitled “Leaving the University this summer?” This story is published on a student homepage and as such will be read in context.

A couple of things strike me.

  1. Marking this story as ‘news’ is potentially misleading, ‘announcements’ might work better.
  2. The headline is never going to attract the staff who need to read it.

At least giving an idea about the content of the message in the headline would be helpful to users of the site:

“Final-year student computer access information”,

or “What happens to student computer access when they leave?”

I’m not saying it’s easy…

I also wonder whether this story has been added because it might possibly be relevant to a member of staff – rather than it being raised as an issue. I would expect that most students with this question would know to go to computer services for the answer.

The headline makes the users of the page (the staff) work far too hard in understanding what the content behind it is.

This breaks a fundamental rule of web writing: ‘Don’t make me think’.

Making your users think about or question the terms used, the navigation and where a link will take them are all bad practice. Be as clear as you can.

(See: ‘Don’t make me Think’ by Steve Krug)


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