Navigating health information in an online world

 Understanding the role of usability and technical content 

In today’s predominantly online society, we all have experienced a thought provoking question that needs to be answered right away. We tend to lean on our favorite search engine and endlessly search through pages of hyperlinks for the right answer to this question, by the most trusted source that we can find. In the case that this question concerns our health, we take even more time to sift through information until we find something that just has to be right.

What happens when we never find what we are looking for, but we also have no other way of finding peace of mind in our given circumstance? What are we to do when we get lost in the jazziness of a website and forget what we are even there for? That flustered feeling is all too common, as Johnson and Martin (2014) mention that upwards of 80% of U.S. adults search for health information on a regular basis to answer these questions. So, as the authors ask, does website navigation actually trump website dynamism?

The authors conducted in-depth interviews and usability testing to study the perceptions of website dynamism and usability in conjunction with the ability to properly navigate information. Website dynamism was defined by Johnson and Martin (2014) as “the force and energy aspect of credibility,” and this is especially important in the context of organizational and educational information and content. The more dynamic a website is perceived to be, the more skills are required to successfully navigate the content and use the information that users are there to search for. On the other hand, if a website is not dynamic enough, it could tarnish the branding image of the organization and not quite capture the attention that is desired. Dynamism must lead users through the navigation process, and the two should never be in competition with one another, otherwise the credibility and usability of the website will both suffer and no one wins. 

Heavy traffic for websites is beneficial for organizational branding but can be detrimental to users who cannot find the information that they are seeking. In particular, what the authors were attempting to uncover was the amount of distraction that interactivity can present to users who are not quite as skilled in technological capabilities as the individuals creating the content for the websites. The reach of the internet and technology is not to be ignored, because nearly a decade after the article has been published, the internet is arguably one of the largest and most popular ways to share information to mass audiences in a short amount of time. More users are interacting with online content than ever before, and this interaction could potentially be their only interaction with gaining new information regarding their health and well-being. 

Interactivity can come in the form of visual messaging, images, and outside information through linked content. Interactivity is referred to by the authors as the product of a two-way conversation between the content and the user. This conversation controls a user’s ability to utilize and interpret the information that is presented through the website. In the case that organizations have a heavier focus on the dynamism of their website content, the user may not ever have a chance to even participate in the conversation that is happening between the target audience and the medium. Digital literacy skills are required to some degree to search for health information online, however, the process should be made easier by the organizations who are creating the information in order to truly have a purpose for those who seek it. 

The authors concluded that navigation does overpower website dynamism when it comes down to users successfully finding useful information through website content. Navigation and dynamism working together helps build trust within an organization, and trust leads to credibility, which in turn leads to the proper spread of useful information to the intended recipients. Technical communicators and health communicators alike must be aware of the potential side effects of overly-stimulating website content and understand where to meet their audiences in the middle to effectively market their brand and take care of their consumers at the same time. 


When navigation trumps visual dynamism: Hospital website usability and credibility, by Melissa A. Johnson & Kelly Norris Martin

Viewpoint Written by Kimberly N Uzzel, Texas State University

Edited by Jeranda Dennis, Texas State University

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