Writing for the Web Mike Hopkins and Chris Madison
Agenda • Reading on the Web • Writing Web Content • Tips • Resources • Note: Writing for the web is about so much more than the written word
How do Users Read on the Web? • “They don't” • Jakob Nielson, Alertbox for October 1, 1997 • (data validated again in 2006) • Most web readers scan pages • Pick out relevant words and sentences • 79% always scan a new page • 16% or less read every word
How Do Users Read on the Web? • Web a visual medium • Construct meaning from • headings, • sub-headings • links and bold or emphasized text • Print longer text to read offline
Users’ State of Mind • User driven medium and users want to feel they are active on the web at all times and get tasks done quickly. • Users are in an engaged and action-oriented state of mind. • Constantly deciding whether to jump to anther part of the page, site, web, etc. • 3-10 seconds to get their attention and keep it before they hit the back button or another link (perhaps much less) • The back button is the most frequently used browser command. • Web medium and net culture encourages behavior with hyperlinks, etc.
Users Read Text Before Images • People tend to read text (3/4 of the time) before they look at any images – exact opposite of what they do on paper. • Think of how you scan a newspaper – we tend to read the headlines and pictures first. • Go to briefs and captions first, then scan pictures. • Stanford and Poynter Institute study on reading online newspapers. http://www.poynterextra.org/et/i.htm
Preparing to Write Know your audience Know your audience Know your audience
Know Your Audience • You are not your audience • Take yourself out of the design process • Who are your audiences? • Write for the 80% • Write for primary and secondary audiences (if significant) • Do not write for the exception • Don’t even consider writing until you know who you are writing for and how to engage them
Basic Demographics • Age and gender of target audience? • Educational level? • Spending habits?? • Occupation and hobbies? • Geographical location? • Are they expert (professionals) or novice? (consumers) with your subject area? • Why are they coming to your site? • What do they want to do/find? • What is their reading level? • Level of comfort with browser, web, etc.?
User Research • Demographics are just “the facts” not the meat • What is your user’s worldview? • We employ many research methodologies; qualitative user research, task analysis, etc. • For this class if you can, interview someone else about your subject are; How do they think about the subject of your site in their daily lives? What perceptions or misconceptions do they have? What information interests them? What questions do they want to know about the subject? What tasks might they want to do? What features might they want?
Writing Style: Inverted Pyramid Header Blurb Background info, supporting details, links, call to action
Islands of Content • Each page is an “island of content” • User can land on it from anywhere • Writing for 3D hyperspace • What is this page about? • Who is it for? • Expert, novice, type of user • Where is this page in relationship to the rest of the site? • What can they do? • What do you want them to do?
How to Write for the Web • “How to Write for the Web” • By John Morkes and Jakob Nielsen • Results show most usable writing style is: • Concise • Scannable • Objective
Writing for Scanning: Use Hierarchies • HTML naturally designed for hierarchy and users create meaning from the hierarchy • Page title • Topic title or heading • Sub-topic or sub-heading • Topic Sentences: Some viewers read ONLY the first sentence in a chunk. • Bold words (italic is not easy to read on the web and should generally be avoided) • Links (see below for developing a linking style) • Other forms of emphasized text (with visual treatment, etc.)
Structure Content: Concise Information Chunks • What is a chunk? Any idea that needs to be accessed individually. • One idea per chunk. • Not more than 100 words. • Every word within a chunk is visible on the screen at one time. • Organize chunks into CLEAR hierarchies • A well constructed chunk provides the reader with all of the information they need to know as well as links to related or supporting pages. • Readers may or may not have read the page before the one they are on and may not read the following page.
Be Concise and Objective • Remove extra “marketing” words when not needed, avoid hyperbole • Promotional text adds to cognitive load as users have to evaluate truth • Cut text by 50% from a (non-web) written version • 1 page on the web = 1/2 page of print
Be Concise and ObjectiveAND Personal! • The web is a personal medium. You are talking directly to your users on a one-to-one basis. Engage them! • Capitalize on their action oriented engaged state of mind • Use action oriented voice, imperative statements such as Order Now! Start Here! • Nike Home
Write for Scanning: Bulleted Lists • Bullets • Bulleted lists are easy for users to scan • Most effective list is 3 – 5 items • If list is to long loses effectiveness • Break into logical subgroups or combine elements in the list
Write for Scanning: Tables • Tables can help organize information • Especially good when users need to compare options or understand sequential order • Examples: Program Summaries • Compare All Programs
Optimization • Optimize every part of the page • Headers and sub-heads • Catchy names don’t give users the information they need • Summaries and other micro content • Site Point Guidelines • Tibco Example (move and relink)
Embedded Linking • Links can mislead! • Users scan links to determine content • Link carefully • Don’t link users OUT of your content before you want them to leave the page or your site • Users tend to click on the first link they see • Don’t link just because you can • Typical example: • SU school pages often mention Stanford Universityin first paragraph and link to SU Home. User clicks out of the site and never returns.
Embedded Linking Style • Lower usability • This embedded link is surrounded by text. • Embedded link is followed by text. • Higher usability • Example: • This is not an embedded link • The additional descriptive text appears as a separate line
Get Important Content “Above the Fold” • Users are now more comfortable with scrolling • When in a hurry they don’t always do so – miss content • Very audience dependent • Online shoppers may not scroll • Prospective students are highly motivated and are more likely to scroll • Even experienced users often miss important information if it is not “above the fold" or amount of content that displays in their monitor • EXAMPLE of solution
Writing for Printing • All content is not appropriate for web writing style • If it is a document you intend the user to print and read: • Provide a brief summary of the document so that user knows whether the document is relevant to them. • Sub-divide the info, add TOC, subheadings, links, anchors, • Assume the user will print the entire document to read it. Make SURE the entire document prints with one print command – never break up text that needs to be printed in one document – process, job aids, research papers, etc. • Use Cascading Style Sheets to control print (removes navigation and extra graphics)
Writing to be found – Search Engines • Various types of search engines • Crawlers • Human Power Directories • Hybrid of both (getting more common) • Test content periodically with various search engines - make sure the results are what you want • Check Search Engine Watch regularly for updates • Best info now requires membership
Writing to be Found – Search Engines • A few tips from Search Engine Watch • Search engines will also check to see if the search keywords appear near the top of a web page, such as in the headline or in the first few paragraphs of text. They assume that any page relevant to the topic will mention those words right from the beginning. • Frequency is the other major factor in how search engines determine relevancy. A search engine will analyze how often keywords appear in relation to other words in a web page. Those with a higher frequency are often deemed more relevant than other web pages. • Go explore more! Search Engine Placement Tips and other articles
Writing to be Found - Accessibility • There is no usability without accessibility • Basic guidelines for accessibility can be found at: • 508 Checklist www.webaim.org/standards/508/checklist?templatetype=3 • WC3 Consortium http://www.w3.org/WAI/ • Mike quick recap here
Writing for the World • “Start with Plain English” • Use short sentences • Use simple, common, concrete words • Use “you” (second person) • Use the active voice mostly • Use positive language • Put the main idea first • Be stricter than usual about sentence length • 20 word maximum • P. 47 & 50 Web Word Wizardry
Adapting for World Wide English • Try to avoid slang, hidden metaphors, and idiomatic expressions • Just around the corner • The tip of the iceberg • In the ballpark • P. 50 Web Word Wizardry • Be specific with dates • Example: 3 February 2006 • US: 2/3/06 • Others: 3/2/06 • Others: 06/2/3 • Etc. • On a form, give them the date format such as mm/dd/yyyy • P. 56 Web Word Wizardry (adapted)
Adapting for World Wide English • Avoid phrasal verbs (two or more words) • Instead of pick up , write collect • Instead of pick up on, write notice or observe • Instead of pick out, write choose or select, etc. • Use simple tenses • Beware of short common words with many meanings • Double-check the clarity of, it, they, this, these, that and those • P. 52 Web Word Wizardry
Jargon Free Zone • Avoid domain jargon • Avoid abbreviations unless they are universally recognized (USA ok) • Write for the un-indoctrinated
TIPS A few tips on writing your content
Home Page Content • First time visitor needs to immediately know what your site will do for them • Home page is an ad for the rest of the site – • Must sell users to continue their exploration and return again and again if that’s appropriate • Include: • What is this site about and who is it for • Why should I be here? • What is the benefit of continuing to explore the site • What are my options, what is the site hierarchy? • Timely content and teases for the rest of the site • Search, short-cuts, registration, etc. • Where do I start?
Write to Brand • Everything about a site is the brand • Site architecture, information architecture, visual design, and every word you write • What is the brand? How do you want it be experienced? • “Experience is the brand” . . . Clement Mok • See Resources section below • Write to gain the trust and credibility • Web democratizes – you need to stand out as reliable, up-to-date • Disclose who is behind the site, where you are located, etc.
Address Specific Audience • Voice and emphasis can differ from section to section or user segment to user segment if appropriate • Examples: • Prospective students versus parents • Expert versus novice users • Luxury purchase versus basic necessity • In general a conversational tone is preferred by web users (goes back to personal nature f the web)
Response Cues • Web is an interactive medium - What do you want the user to do? • Don’t strand them at the bottom of the page – direct them • Every page can have a call to action. • Call to action • Fill out a form • Proceed to deeper information • Email • Sign-up • Invite them to act in their own interest to get them to respond • Tell them the benefits of their action.
Response Cues: Example • “Just fill-out this form to make sure you get regular updates on the latest research in biotechnology – and you may win a free seminar of your choice! ”
Establish a Style Guide • Develop a style guide for your site: • Establish a glossary for you/your writers that shoes how to address abbreviations, acronyms, capitalization, gender, italics, numbers, quotes, product names, proper names and trademarks • Provide standards for bibliographies, references, unusual punctuation • More p. 136 The Web Writers Guide
Establish a Style Guide • Include commonly missed web terms such as: • Logon – noun Log on – verb • (sign-on better end-user term) • World Wide Web – formal name • WWW – formal abbreviation • web – web pages, website • Minimize Hyphenation • Use online not on-line • Email versus e-mail – your choice but pick a standard. Some editors still prefer E-mail to make meaning clearer. • More at: http://www.webreference.com/content/writing/overcome.html
Content Development/Mgt.Plan • For large professional sites we develop a content development/management plan which includes the whole world of information design as well as process and technology • Tool include: page templates, content templates • Methods for presenting quantitative information, etc. • As well as technical strategies like content management systems, etc. • Just be aware that all this exists when you venture out into the world
Question Everything • Question every idea and word you want to put on the site – everything you write is for a user – think and then think again about why you want to include each piece of content. • What is the benefit of every word to your audiences?
Test Meaning!What Meaning Did You Create? • Web is a visual medium • Test the meaning you have created • Ask someone else to tell you what the page is about WITHOUT reading the text – just the headings, subheads, links, etc. • Rules of thumb: reduce your text by 50% from print • Red Cross Authorized Provider
Netography • Jakob Nielsen’s useit.com • http://www.useit.com/ • (search on writing for the web) • Quality Web Content • http://www.webpagecontent.com/ • (by author of Web Word Wizardry)
Netography (and writing resources) • Microcontent: How to Write Headlines, Page Titles, and Subject Lines http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980906.html • Writing Headlines • P.124 Nielsen, Designing Web Usability (book) • Writing Hypertext Copy • http://kbs.cs.tu-berline.de/~jutta/ht/writing/text.html
Netography • Elements of Style, by William Strunk, Jr. • Newsgroup on English language use • http://alt-usage-english.org/fast_faq.shtml • Writing Web for the Web; Quick and Easy Tips for Non-writers • http://www.webreference.com/content/writing/ • A List Apart: Articles: 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web • Many many more – look up Writing for the Web
Bibliography(linked to Amazon) • The Web Writer's Guideby Darlene Maciuba-Koppel • Hot Textby Jonathan Price (Author), Lisa Price (Author) • Writing for the Web (Writers' Edition)by Crawford Kilian • The Web Content Style Guideby Gerry McGovern (Author), et al • Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity by Jakob Nielsen • Prioritizing Web UsabilitybyJakob Nielsen, Hoa Loranger