Idea in short

Keeping the F-Pattern concept in mind when CV and Cover letter writing will help you see from an HR perspective how a potential employer will read your experience. The F-Pattern suggests that visually, content at the top and left side of the resume will most likely be read first (as suggested by the “F”), especially in a first-round review in which your CV may only get a few seconds of a recruiter's time.

The F-Pattern describes the most common user eye-scanning patterns when it comes to blocks of content. F for fast. That’s how users, including recruiters, read text-heavy content. In a few seconds, their eyes move at amazing speeds across your application documents.

Empirical studies

The pattern was popularized by NNGroup eyetracking study which recorded more than 200 users looked at thousands of web pages and found that users’ primary reading behaviour was fairly consistent. This reading pattern looked somewhat like an F and has the following components:

  1. First, users read in a horizontal movement. Usually, this is across the upper part of the content area. This element forms the F’s top bar.
  2. Next, they scan a vertical line down the left side of the screen. Typically, users are looking for points of interest in the paragraph’s initial sentences. When they find something interesting they read across in a second horizontal movement. Typically, this activity covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This second element forms the F’s lower bar.
  3. Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement.

Our eyes are trained to start at the top-left corner, scan horizontally, then drop down to the next line and do the same until we find something of interest. Obviously, users’ scan patterns are not always comprised of exactly three parts. When readers find something they like, they begin reading normally, forming horizontal lines.

Why should I use it?

F-shaped pattern will help you create a design with good visual hierarchya design that recruiters can easily scan. F-shaped layout feels comfortable for the most western readers, because they have been reading top to bottom, left to right for their entire lives. The F-pattern is the go-to layout for text-heavy artifacts, such as cover letters and CVs. If there is a lot of text content, users will respond better with the layout that designed according to their natural scanning format.

How to use F-Shape pattern

Prioritize your content

Before arranging the elements on your application documents, prioritise the most and least important ones. Once you know what you want your recruiters to see, you can simply place them in the pattern’s ‘hot spots’ for the right interactions.

Set initial expectations

The first two paragraphs are the most important. Place the most important content near to the top of the document as possible. This should quickly communicate the purpose. The user will usually read horizontally across the header.

Design for scanning, not reading

When applying the F-pattern, think scanners. Correspondingly, place content these scanners would most likely be interested in along the F:

  • Start new paragraphs with enticing keywords
  • People will first look at the most dominant element (the element or area with the greatest visual weight) on the page. Thus, give more visual weight to things that matter: use typography to indicate the importance of text (e.g. try highlighting keywords and / or colours within text)
  • Cover only one idea per paragraph, and use bullets as much as possible
  • Place the most important content at the left and right sides, where the user begins and ends their horizontal scanning. This momentary pause as they drop down gives them a little extra time to consider.

Summary

F-shapen pattern simply follows the common trends of the human eye so that you can optimize the structure of your layout. But you don’t need to follow it rigidly — it’s a guideline, not a template. Using this pattern as a guide when arranging your CV and Cover Letter holistically as well as when formatting each individual section can help you make strategic choices about what to emphasise and where to place it.