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The Effect of Heading Frequency on Comprehension of Online Information: A Study of Two Populations

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Demand for online health information is climbing with no end in sight; thus, it is crucial that online information be comprehensible to readers. This article reports on two studies (with samples drawn from two different populations) that investigated the effect of heading frequency on comprehension. Participants read an online text about either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis in one of four versions: a version with headings about every 100 words, 200 words, or 300 words; or a version with no headings. Participants then took a comprehension test concerning the content of the Web pages. The two samples differed in terms of their perceptions about the texts, comprehension, and beliefs of knowledge gained. While the results are complex, the medium-frequency headings condition led to higher comprehension for one sample and beliefs about more new knowledge gained for the other sample. This study raises interesting issues about the relationship between actual comprehension and beliefs about comprehension, and supports the call to empirically study in online environments what we know about comprehension in print-based environments.
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Document Type: Journal Article

Publication date: 01 November 2004

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  • Technical Communication, the Society's journal, publishes articles about the practical application of technical communication theory and serves as a common arena for discussion by practitioners. Technical Communication includes both quantitative and qualitative research while showcasing the work of some of the field's most noteworthy writers. Among its most popular features are the helpful book reviews. Technical Communication is published quarterly and is free with membership.
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