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Reading on the Web

How do you read? When you read a book, you read every line. Is that what you do when you read on the web? You may be inclined to say yes, but if you really pay attention to how you’re reading, you may realize you’re skimming more than you know.

Most web users are the same in that they skim the page to find content relevant to their interests and needs, then focus on that particular section of text. But the way you scan the page depends on what you’re trying to understand from the page and how the information is presented.

Patterns: Not just for quilters


In this pattern, users fixate on lines and words near the top and on the left-hand side of a page. They’ll read the page title (and possibly the first few lines), skip to another line or section below, then scan the first words along the rest of the page.

Prime Example: You click on a news article and are presented with a wall of text. No subheads, no bullets, nothing that says, “Hey, this is important!” Because you don’t know if the content is actually relevant to your interests, you scan through to see if anything sticks out at you – but you’re not taking your time to read every word. You’re focusing on areas that typically contain essential information.

Layer Cake

Layer Cake readers methodically scan the headings and any text which has been called out along the majority of a page. For these users, it’s important to ensure the headings and pull-out quotes are relevant to the content and their needs.

Prime Example: You finally found a highly-rated lasagna recipe. While you appreciate that this lasagna means a lot to the chef who is sharing it, you don’t care that they made it for their first date with their now-wife or how their love is like a lasagna (it can be messy at times, but it’s totally worth it). You keep scrolling until you see the header for ingredients.


The rarest of the rare, the commitment pattern is truly reading, not just scanning. This really only happens when the user is aware they need to know the information, either because they’ll be tested on it or they’re trying to follow instructions.

Prime Example: You ordered the wrong thing from an international shop, and their return instructions are very specific because of customs. You want to make sure you know which type of envelope to use, what information to include with your return, and what you need to write on the outside so it gets to the correct department.

Why do reading patterns matter?

Users make quick judgments about content on a page before deciding to read it. Better structures and content formatting can help the reader absorb the information you’re presenting to them, meaning they’ll stay on the page longer, gain positive sentiments towards your content, and turn to you the next time they have a relevant question.

By placing headings or other markers along a page, we can help users deliberately skip sections that are irrelevant to them, help them find the information they need, and encourage them to engage with your content.