N.Y. Times mines its data to identify words that readers find abstruse

Zachary M. Seward in Nieman Journalism Lab:

ScreenHunter_02 Jun. 12 14.40 If The New York Times ever strikes you as an abstruse glut of antediluvian perorations, if the newspaper’s profligacy of neologisms and shibboleths ever set off apoplectic paroxysms in you, if it all seems a bit recondite, here’s a reason to be sanguine:The Times has great data on the words that send readers in search of a dictionary.

As you may know, highlighting a word or passage on the Times website calls up a question mark that users can click for a definition and other reference material. (Though the feature was recently improved, it remains a mild annoyance for myself andmanyotherswho nervously click and highlight text on webpages.) Anyway, it turns out the Times tracks usage of that feature, and yesterday, deputy news editorPhilip Corbett, who oversees the Timesstyle manual, offered reporters a fascinating glimpse into the 50 most frequently looked-up words on nytimes.com in 2009. We obtained the memo and accompanying chart, which offer a nice lesson in how news sites can improve their journalism by studying user behavior.

More here.