Writing for digital products: Springer Nature

Part 5 of 13 in the series Some of my skills.

We should only use difficult words, because librarians are experts.

Low effort words

One of my sayings is that “no-one ever reads anything on the web”. I’ve paraphrased that from Jakob Nielsen, who already in 1997 wrote:

“People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.”

This means that the words in our tools for librarians are of no value, and essential, at the same time.

A goal of my work is that librarians should use as little effort as possible when they use our tools.

I am therefore faced with quite a quandary since one of the things I do is to choose most of the words that librarians see in the Librarian Portal: The tools need words for librarians to be able to use them, but the words need to be scannable with very low effort. How might I choose low effort words? Design methods to the rescue: As a designer I include those who I serve in the creation of the solution.

Usage data downloads

COUNTER usage data is used to understand how patrons (students, researchers, colleagues) use licensed content on publisher platforms like SpringerLink and nature.com.

Usage analysis librarians need to choose which set of data to download based on their current analysis needs. We have a form in the Librarian Portal to get for example “the number of PDF downloads, by journal, that my patrons did on SpringerLink last month”.

Which options the form contain is decided by the COUNTER 5 code of practice. But how those options are shown on the page – and the words to use – is not specified.


So, I reached out to six usage analysis librarians. We spoke about different types of words we might use. One choice was to use words based on the types of analysis’ the librarian does with the data. An other option was to help librarians learn to use the COUNTER data by clearly explaining what each option means. A third was to just use the words that are used in the code of practice.

The result was very clear: We should always use exactly the words that are used in the code of practice. We should not dumb down the interface, and we should not try to predict how librarians will use the data. Just use the COUNTER words. That will be most scannable and thus lowest effort.

Therefore, the form in the Librarian Portal use words like “standard view”, “reporting period”, and “master report”. Hard core, expert words. That’s awesome for our usage analysis librarians. ‘Cause they’re experts.

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