Q: Which is better – long scrolling pages, or short pages that don’t scroll?

We hear this question often. There is no hard and fast rule, but there are a few considerations when deciding on the right answer for your website or web application. Ask yourself the following questions to help decide which approach to use.

Is the content a form for users to fill out, or information for users to read?

If the content is primarily for users to read, such as a scholarly article, longer pages may be better, since users will expect that they’re going to take time to process the information anyway. This doesn’t mean you should have a 20-page document on a single page, but it’s generally OK to have longer pages the deeper someone goes into a site. For long content meant to be read online, provide a summary and/or list of contents at the top, and break the content into logical chunks with section headers so users can scan the sections more easily. Also, documents that are likely to be printed should have a printable view that follows visual design guidelines for printed documents.

If the content is a long form, you have more questions to ask yourself.

Is the form something that users are likely to fill out in one relatively short sitting, or is it something users will likely go partway through, save, and come back to?

In cases where users are likely to be interrupted or take more than one session to fill out the data, it may be better to break the information into shorter chunks across several pages. Save the information so that users can come directly back to where they left off.

Are the users filling out the form frequently as a core part of their job, are they filling it out infrequently, or only once?

Some applications or websites are used primarily by people who are data entry clerks, filling out the same forms over and over again. For these users, efficiency is very important. Often, their performance reviews are based in part on how quickly they can fill out Form X, or how many Form X’s they fill out in a given period. Generally, longer pages are more efficient for these users, since over time they enter data by tabbing through fields, and they tend to use the mouse less frequently than some other user populations.

For forms in which the user population will be infrequent or single-use users, it’s often better to break out the information across several pages, rather than in one long scrolling page, but again, this depends on the specific situation and the type of information users are being asked to provide.

In all instances, one of the most common mistakes we see is a long page without enough visual indication that the page is scrollable. Be careful to design a long page so that it is obvious that more information exists “below the fold.” View how the page looks in different monitor resolutions and with different browsers to help avoid this problem.

Lastly, if you’re still not sure which approach to take, test more than one approach with your users and let them decide.

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