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our blog contains a great many articles on user / usability testing, plain language, research with 'older' people' and different research methods.


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.




Lessons learned from testing written content with users

Over many years, I have tested written content on a diverse range of topics such as cycling safety, exchange-traded funds, denied insurance claims, superannuation fees and charges, and making a will. I have watched how people read letters, landing pages, statements and brochures and how they filled in forms. From this experience, I have learned how people actually read.

User testing shows when people skim read or stop reading

Content creators are often advised to write for skim readers who navigate via headings.  In my experience, this is only partly true. It depends on how familiar the content is to them - or rather how familiar it seems and what they presume they need to do after reading it.

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What do people want when they ask for sustainable products or investments? 

If you are a researcher, marketer, communications specialist or product developer you may be wondering how to make sense of what seem to be competing trends in sustainability.

Our research has shown that the first step is to realise that what people mean by sustainability is probably different from what you mean.

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What user testing teaches us about writing for readers under stress

I recently came across an article about long sentences in government advice about COVID 19.  The article was in The Conversation. The authors argued that 'Most government information on COVID-19 is too hard for the average Australian to understand.'  The authors correctly identified complex sentences like this: 

"Phase 3 will be subject to health advice, but will focus on continuing to build stronger links within the community and include further resumption of commercial and recreational activities."

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Three guests celebrate qualitative research with me*

I invited three guests to celebrate qualitative research with me:

  • Ben Nitshcke is the Strategy Director of NationCreative. He loves the messiness of qual, and so do I!
  • Oana Rengle celebrates how qualitative research helps us understand complexity
  • Hamsini Shivakumar values the holistic benefits of qualitative research.

 I hope you enjoy this compilation and find it useful.

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Bellbird comes out at least 4 times a year and covers topics such a user testing of content, language, discourse analysis, the over sixties / babyboomer markets, qualitative research methods, sensemaking, sensory qualitative research, semiotics, and much more!

Some of our posts have been read by over 10,000 people - one has been read by over 30,000 people

Click here for a sample edition about how to talk to older people about tech 





How has the COVID 19 pandemic affected the retirement plans and expectations of people over 55 in Australia. Our infographic shows you:

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Use qualitative research to solve the problems that puzzle you

This blog post shares with you a new way to think about qualitative research  It's about the ‘tend to agrees’?

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This is the first set of data from our survey of men and women 55 years and older to be released. The infographic shows tells us what people in this age group who are currently in the workforce think about retirement.

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