WWW: Writing for the Wired World September 25, 2002 Darlene Fichter, President Northern Lights Internet Solutions Ltd. www.lights.com
Outline • Reading & Writing • Research • Do’s and Don’ts • Format, typography, style, ... • Document Conversion & Standards
Outline • Writing for:” • Search Engines • Error Messages • Usability Testing • Quick and easy techniques • Strategies to encourage good writing
Challenges • Focus on IT – the technology • Often key Intranet developers do not have writing experience • Programmer, Information architect, Content experts, Intranet manager, Designers • As a result: • Writing ignored • Time spent on top level pages only • Time spent on menus/graphics • Site vs. Page
The Reality • Micro-content is as important as the navigation, side menus, design
Focus of the Presentation: Research • Usability studies • Watch and observe 1000’s of users using the web and intranet
Reading & Writing • Goal is to communicate • Strategy • Key messages • Your audience There is nothing more important than the strategy phase. If you don’t spend time on it, it’s like being on a dark road without your headlights on. Drue Miller, Webmistress Vivid Studios
Intranet Audience • Focused on getting the job done • Diverse • Experience • Usage patterns • Nature of their work – Engineers, Financial analysts, Marketers
Novice / Occasional Users* • Intimidated by complex menus • Like unambiguous structure • Apples or Oranges • Easy access to overviews that illustrate how information is arranged, maps, FAQs • Glossary of technical terms, acronyms, abbreviations • Visual layouts & graphics that trigger their memory * Adapted from Patrick Lynch Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide. Yale University Press, 1999.
Expert/Frequent Users* • Depend on you for speed and accuracy • Impatient with low-density graphics that offer only a few choices • Prefer stripped down fast loading text menus • Specific goals • Appreciate detailed text menus, site structure outlines, comprehensive site indexes, well designed search engines • Accelerators – ways to bypass the fluff * Adapted from Patrick Lynch Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide. Yale University Press, 1999.
International Users • Don’t abbreviate dates 3/4/99 March 4 or April 3? • Avoid idiosyncratic professional jargon or obscure technical terms on your intro pages • Avoid situational metaphors
Contact information Internal news about the company Press coverage about the company Press coverage about a topic Company policies Information about competitors Maps Contact information for someone outside the company Latest analyst report Background on unfamiliar company Top 10 Things Employees Need to Know* *Alison Head. On-the-Job Research: How Usable Are Corporate Intranets?
How Users Read on Screens • How do people read on the screen? • Top to bottom • Left to right • Focus first on the micro-content • Scroll to the bottom • Only after failing - side menu - top menu
Reading • 25% slower on the screen
Research shows: DON’T READ • People who are looking for information don't read, they scan. • If they have to read instructions or help page, most people will not. • Readers understand more when reading less.
“Scanability” • Create page titles, headings and subheadings • Be consistent in how you design the headings • Use font and/or color to offset headings
Headings & Subheadings • Rule of Thumb • Emphasis – rule of thumb one at a time. Bold or size. • Eyes are tuned to small differences. • No need to SHOUT at users.
Punch Up the Power of Headlines • Make every heading word meaningful • Make sure the 1st headline or title on page summarizes the content • Separate sections with 2nd level headings • 3 levels on one page is about all the reader can grasp
Use Lists • Use lists or tables • Use bullets when sequence doesn’t matter and use numbers when it does • Lists speed up scanning but slow down reading • Use lists when you have key concepts, not full sentences
Which is easiest to read? Research says… Anatomy Biology Biotechnology Chemistry Microbiology Physics Zoology • Anatomy • Biology • Biotechnology • Chemistry • Microbiology • Physics • Zoology Anatomy Biology Biotechnology Chemistry Microbiology Physics Zoology
Tables • Can help organize content for easier viewing
Table: Example 1 Books 20th Century Journals Van Gogh Maps Modernism Impressionism
Table: Example 2 Art Format 20th Century Books Modernism Journals Impressionism Maps Van Gogh
Tables • Organize your content to be read in columns, not as rows • Categorical not alphabetical • Do not use table borders to delineate the content – use space and background color
Users Also Scan for Links • Make the links in your text meaningful • Make visited and unvisited links contrast with the base font color
Example of Scanning Employee Phone Number Search • Search by last name • Browse employees by office location • List all staff, click here
Hypertext: Classic Mistakes • Overused – everything is a link. • Used for key concepts instead of lists or headings based on the belief. • Often the link is referenced itself interrupting the reader’s thoughts. To start the tour, click here.
Use Links Wisely • Hypertext is powerful but can also be distracting • Links can help reduce clutter by moving information to separate Web pages • But when concentrating on content, people often ignore embedded links
Create Links That Don’t Need To Be Followed • Use long descriptive links, captions, or headings so users can eliminate choices • UIE’s research shows that links with 4 to 9 words are more effective
Reading Slower: Implications for Style • Be succinct • Pyramid style (newspaper) • Scanning – lists, lists and more lists • Looks a lot like PowerPoint
Be Succinct • Simplify for understanding • Use fewer words, smaller words, and simpler words • Place words into simple sentence structures • Examples: utilize=use construct=build
Rule of Thumb: 50% • ½ the word count of conventional writing
Invert the Pyramid • Newspaper style writing • State your conclusion first • Summarize most important items first • Then get to the details
One Idea Per Paragraph • Stanford/Poynter study showed that many web visitors will read only the first or second sentences of paragraph • Use a strong lead sentence that summarizes content • Aka blogs
Fragments or Sentences • Some debate • Poynter seems to imply sentences • Imperative style sentences starting with a verb can be very effective
Harness Verbs • Verbs get your visitors energized • Using active verbs also helps improve your credibility • Examples: • Download Marketing XYZ presentation. • Register for XYZ workshop.
Reading & Trust • Users are judgmental and strongly adverse to marketese, or “happy talk” • For your Intranet to be credible, you must be: • Current • Accurate • Objective
Things to Avoid • “Marketese” • Anything that sounds like “advertising” is a complete turn off … the best, the biggest …
Objective • Avoid superlatives and vague claims • Don't boast, exaggerate or self-congratulate • Avoid advertising talk such as "greatest thing since..." and "state-of-the-art..." • Present facts clearly and users will decide for themselves what is useful Adapted from: http://www.eldis.org/tales/writing/write.htm
Objective ≠ Boring • Rule of Thumb • Be fresh and engaging • Write as if you are talking to an “individual”
Be Concrete • Use concrete words: nouns and verbs • Avoid adjectives and adverbs
Accurate • Make sure your facts are correct and timely. Are your statistics from this year, this quarter? • Make sure your links work! If they don’t, it’s sure to annoy users. • Date your content.
Reading, Scanning & Typography • Our eyes look for patterns • Control the words, control the layout and the look • Make it very easy to see repeating patterns
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Typography* • Consider typography carefully when the page content is mainly text. The use of type will define the page. • Use margins to separate areas * This section is based Patrick Lynch Sarah Horton, Web Style Guide. Yale University Press, 1999 * SURL Laboratory studies, http://psychology.wichita.edu/surl
Clutter Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information. Edward Tufte, 1997 interview