Print: Section 1.3

What We Know About Users with Limited Literacy Skills

1.3 Using search

Using a website search function can be challenging for people with limited literacy skills. Typing in a search term requires (somewhat) accurate spelling—and some search engines help with spelling better than others. Reading and comparing search results to identify the best option is a cognitively challenging task.

As a result, compared with users with advanced literacy skills, users with limited literacy skills:

  • Spend more time on information search tasks3,10
  • Are more likely to give up if they can’t find information quickly10
  • Have a hard time thinking of search terms14
  • Tend to only click 1 or 2 links in the search result14
  • Add terms to refine a search instead of changing their search strategy15

The ways people with limited literacy skills tried to find information differ from user to user.10


In previous usability testing, the team observed 5 users while they searched for information in 5 completely different ways. Some used the left navigation menu, while others used the homepage buttons or the search bar.