Use noun and noun phrase headings sparingly

I see a lot of nouns as headings. They work sometimes; but more often than not, they don't work because site visitors don't know the nouns, don't connect to the nouns, don't give the nouns the same meaning the web writer did. Nouns as headings often don't help either the writer or the site visitor understand the flow of the writing - why one section logically comes before or after another section.

Nouns label things; they aren't conversational. Unlike questions, statements, and action phrases, which provide context and some explanation, a noun has to carry all the meaning of the heading in a single word.

Occasionally, labels are all you need on a web page. For example, Figure 10-11 shows an eye-tracking picture of one person looking for tax forms

Figure 10-11 An eye-tracking gaze plot showing the path a single user took on this page from the U. S. Internal Revenue Service's web site. The page has noun headings used as topic labels. They worked in this case because the user was seeking the same words that the site uses. (Eye-tracking by Jacob Nielsen and Kara Pernice Coyne, Nielsen Norman Group. Used with permission. For more information about the study this picture comes from, see www.useit.com/eyetracking.)

©The page layout helped. Notice how the eye gazes go down the page quickly and only go to the right when the user finds the needed section.

©In this case, the noun headings worked. The user needed only labels - as long as the labels in the site's content matched the words the user was looking for.

Figure 10-11 An eye-tracking gaze plot showing the path a single user took on this page from the U. S. Internal Revenue Service's web site. The page has noun headings used as topic labels. They worked in this case because the user was seeking the same words that the site uses. (Eye-tracking by Jacob Nielsen and Kara Pernice Coyne, Nielsen Norman Group. Used with permission. For more information about the study this picture comes from, see www.useit.com/eyetracking.)

and information about reporting charitable contributions. In this case, the nouns in alphabetical order worked for this web user.

Figure 10-12 is another example where labels work. It's a page from the intranet of Salesforce.com, listing the various programs that employees may use to contribute to their community. This works because the writer and other employees use the same labels for these programs. And that is much more likely inside a company than between a company and its external web visitors.

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I Wednesday, September 7, 2005

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HOME I EMPLOYEE DIRECTORY | DOCUMENTfcEPOSi

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©The noun heading is okay here if employees go to the intranet to look for Employee Programs.

* Information Systems

* Marketing

* Product Management

* QA/Raleasa Engineering

* Sales

/^S The specific program names ' w) work as headings if employees know them by

- Employee Program»

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• Employees dorwting funds to quafifiad SOI (c)(3) non-pro It organizations «re e4g>bte It employee, per fiscal yew (Oct 1 - Sep 30) unw low fund it depleted Oct your requests in aarV to take lui advantage ol tin

• Apply through the Donor Advttad Find (see below)

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these names.

- Stock Donations;

• The Foundation welcomes

• An independent valuation wl be salesfofce.com end other stock m support ot ov innovative equty model performed for saieeforcecom stock tor those interested in donating satesforce.o

Note how clear this page is f ^J with headings, bulleted lists, and space between the sections.

• Al stock gilts are tax deductible - please consul the Foundation and you tax accountant lor specific dataia.

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• People that participate in a Saturday event ere eftgUe for taking a 1H day otf any Friday wlhin the month ot the event wih approval.

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Figure 10-12 Nouns are labels. If people coming to the site use those labels, the nouns may be useful headings. (From the Salesforce.com intranet. Used with permission. Thanks to Catherine Courage and her colleagues.)

Much more often, however, nouns as labels aren't enough to meet the needs of busy people skimming and scanning for information.

Also, with nouns as headings, getting the information into logical order may be difficult. Figure 10-13 is the Tracking Your Order page from llbean.com. Notice how the noun headings don't help you understand what is in the paragraphs. Notice how much is stuffed under one heading that should really be in separate sections. Notice how the last paragraph belongs with information much higher on the page.

L.LBean

The page title is a good "-ing" heading. That matches out about.

^ what people come to find

| UCKAKInCNIS

But the headings are mostly | nouns: Order Confirmation (two nouns); Order History , ^p^, (two nouns).

none & uuiooor Living Gift Certificates

"Tracking Numbers" looks | like an action phrase - just like the page title - but it is not.

Employment Company Information HELP DESK Shopping Information My Account Shipping & Delivery

The information under "Shared Email Accounts" should probably be near the top of the page.

International Recall Notices NEED HELP?

Shopping Bag

Explore the Outdoors Customer Service

Lag. In

Help Desk

Tracking Your Order

-Order Confirmation

If you provided your email address when placing your order, we'll send you an order confirmation by email within two hours, This confirmation will give you the order number and indicate the total value of the merchandise. You can get more information on orders and back orders by going to Order Track ino/Hi story. We also send a shipping notification email when your order ships (although there are a few exceptions in cases where your item ships from an off-site distribution center). For most orders, the shipping notification will include information on how to track your shipment

Tracking Numbers

If you provided your email address when placing your order, we'll send you an email with the shipper's tracking number(s) for your shipments). We usually provide this information within two days of you placing your order. If you deleted or never received this email, please contact us and we'll be glad to provide you with the shipper's tracking information. Visit Order Tracking/History to check the status of your shipments),

Order History

Your order history enables you to review the L.Ldean Web site and phone purchases you've made over the past year. Use this helpful feature to reference items you may want to order again. In order to view your order history online, we invite you to Create an .Account. Your complete order history will be available immediately after you've made your first llbean.com purchase.

Changes to Your Order and Backorders

We're sorry, orders cannot be changed once they've been submitted. We process orders very quickly, and once an order begins the fulfillment process we're unable to modify it. We apologire for any inconvenience, and we hope that in the majority of cases our faster processing times work to your advantage. Please contact us to make a change to your beckorder,

Shared Email Accounts

The shipping confirmation email will contain information about the individual items in your order. Although the email begins with a notice that it might contain gift information, you still might want to alert the gift recipient not to open email from L.L.Bean. We don't want to spoil a surprise!

My Account

800-441-5713

Figure 10-13 Nouns as headings can confuse people. Also, nouns as headings are harder to get into the right order than are questions, statements, or action phrases. www.llbean.com

Figure 10-14 is a possible revision of Figure 10-13. Notice how much more informative the action headings are. Notice how thinking of individual actions means breaking up the text into smaller pieces. Notice how the order of the pieces becomes more logical when we think about these as actions.

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  • KIRSTI
    How to use nouns for heading?
    7 years ago

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