People read public / official documents differently from the way they read other material

The psychology of reading public and official documents

Public and official documents are any kind of content or copy that is for public use - such as a website - or  mass-distributed by an organisation - such as email or letter with announcements about new fees and charges.  This is a public document.

People read public / official documents differently from the way they read other material

When people pick up a novel or a card from a friend for example they are already motivated to start reading and keep reading.

In contrast, readers of public / official documents are not intrinsically motivated to start or keep reading.

It's the writers job to make the reader want to read

Reading is a voluntary activity that people can start if they want to. They can also stop reading any time - even mid sentence. Why would someone stop reading? 

  1. Readers of public / official documents or copy first use the subject line or title to figure out if the content is relevant to them. If it doesn't seem to be, they stop reading. For content like this, most readers have a  'task motivation mindset'. The reader thinks, I'll read this to find out what I need to do. 
  2. Then they skim over the surface to figure out which bits of the content are going to be relevant - they assume that they won't read all of it

  3. They stop reading when the effort involved exceeds the reward. The 'effort' here is the subjective experience of ease with which people process information. It is called 'processing fluency'. It can be measured by how the reader feels. If the copy is dense or full of jargon, the effort will exceed the reward.

The power of testing

Testing of UX writing, also called usability testing, or testing of written content shows you well you have motivated your reader to read.

If you want to know more, please visit our User Testing for written content page where I explain the benefits of independent user testing, explain more about our user testing for content model, and give you more details abut how our testing works, or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.




Tags: User testing, Jargon