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How People Read Short Articles [Original Research]

When people read short articles and blog posts online, what percentage of the content gets actually read?  Do people read image captions? How many readers finish an entire article?


David Ogilvy famously wrote in his Confessions of an Advertising Man (1963) that “five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy’. Does this hold true today?

In 2008, a study found that users read only half the information on pages with 111 words or less.

In our study, we wanted to answer a few specific questions:

  1. How are short articles read?
  2. How much of the article gets read?
  3. Do people read image captions?
  4. Do older internet users read articles the same way younger users do?

Study Report

A short article on astronaut training was used for the research stimuli:

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 1.30.33 PM
We chose an interesting but brief National Geographic article

The article was short —approximately 300 words long— and included a title, featured image, side banner ad, and varying font sizes. Although the article had little content, it was three folds. We wanted to study how far participants read, and if there’s a drop in reading rates when one has to actively scroll.

Data Collection Methods and Operations:

The same article was shown to two groups: younger participants aged 18-30 and older participants aged 50-60.

All participants were prompted with this scenario:

You are interested in reading about astronaut space training. Please read the following web article about this subject.

They then had 30 seconds to read the article.


Usable eye-tracking data was collected for 62 participants in group 1 (ages 18-30).

Usable eye-tracking data was collected for 33 participants in group 2 (ages 50-60).

NOTE: This is a smaller sample size than we normally like to use (~50), but it took almost 3 weeks to get even this number of participants, the panels that we use don’t have many people in this age group.


Reading behaviors between the two age groups were quite similar.

To study what participants looked at, and for how long they looked at it, we created “areas of interest” —AOIs— on the article page:

AOIs were placed over the article main elements.

Using these AOIs we were able to quantify the following results:

97% of people read the title

Almost everyone read the title (but not 100% of people!), spending on avg 2.9 seconds on it (7 words).

The sub-title was seen by 98%, but people on average only spent 2.8 seconds on those 21 words, which means they were rather glancing at it than reading.

“Which elements of the page were looked at the most?”


“How much of the article was read?”


When we look at how many seconds people spent looking at the different content blocks and compare that to the word count, it’s obvious that people were rather skimming that reading it word by word.

“How many people read the image caption?”


“How many people paid attention to the ads?”



It’s possible that the participants adapted their behaviors since they knew they were being studied. Perhaps they read more of the article than they usually would, or oppositely, read the article more slowly anticipating survey questions that might follow.

There’s also the likelihood that some participants didn’t have enough time to read the entire article. Because the testing platform used allows a maximum of 30 seconds for a picture to be shown (the picture being the article in this case), there must have been at least a few people who simply didn’t have enough time to read the whole story.


What we already knew: people don’t read.

  • 97% read the article title.
  • 98% looked at the sub-title, but it was more of a glance than read.
  • 60% finished the article, but the time spent on content shows they were skimming rather than reading everything.
  • 91% read the image caption.
  • banner ad got less than 1.5 seconds of attention.

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