Janice (Ginny) Redish - Content as Conversation: Writing for the Web


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Content as Conversation: Writing for the Web, Janice (Ginny) Redish, PhD, President, Redish & Associates, Inc.

Every use of your website is a conversation started by your site visitor. This workshop will teach you how to make that conversation count. Learn about understanding your audience, how people look for and use information on the Web, and why plain talk matters as much – if not more – on websites than on paper.

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  • Clark, H., and Haviland S., 1975, Comprehension and the given-new contract. In R. Freedle (Ed.), Discourse production and comprehension , Erlbaum, 1-40.
  • Janice (Ginny) Redish - Content as Conversation: Writing for the Web

    1. 1. Content as Conversation: Writing for the Web Janice (Ginny) Redish, Ph.D. Redish & Associates, Inc. Bethesda, Maryland 301 − 229 − 3039 [email_address] www.redish.net @GinnyRedish
    2. 2. Topics for this morning <ul><li>Setting the context </li></ul><ul><li>Planning the conversation </li></ul><ul><li>Getting people to what they need </li></ul><ul><li>Writing the conversation </li></ul><ul><li>Assuring successful conversations </li></ul>
    3. 3. Setting the context © iStockphoto
    4. 4. <ul><li>You use web sites that others have developed. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>When did you last go to the web? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Why did you go to the web? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What were you trying to do or what were you looking for? </li></ul></ul>Share your story Flickr cc photo by theworldcafe Share your story with your neighbor.
    5. 5. What do people want from web sites? To satisfy their goals Content Information To do a task <ul><li>People just want to </li></ul><ul><li>answer their question </li></ul><ul><li>do a task </li></ul><ul><li>solve a problem </li></ul><ul><li>engage in a social conversation </li></ul>© iStockphoto
    6. 6. Navigation and search are critical
    7. 7. Good, clear design is critical
    8. 8. Technology that works is critical
    9. 9. But they all support the content
    10. 10. Every use of every web site is a conversation started by the site visitor How well does your site converse with your site visitors?
    11. 11. Planning the conversation © iStockphoto
    12. 12. Plan before you write Think first. Write second. Why? (your purposes) Who? (your site visitors) When, why, and how? (your site visitors' conversations)
    13. 13. Why? (Your purposes) <ul><li>Be measurable. </li></ul><ul><li>Be specific. </li></ul><ul><li>Focus on your site visitors. </li></ul>$
    14. 14. Be specific http://www.manageyourwriting.com/ Kenneth W. Davis
    15. 15. Focus on your site visitors <ul><li>to inform people about … </li></ul><ul><li>answer people's questions about … </li></ul><ul><li>to give instructions for the … form </li></ul><ul><li>our very busy, anxious, worried site visitors to give us the information we need correctly so we can serve them better </li></ul>We want
    16. 16. <ul><li>Name each major group of site visitors. </li></ul><ul><li>Add adjectives or phrases that describe them. </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>time constraints (busy? multi-tasking?) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>attitudes (stressed? frustrated?) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>subject matter knowledge </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>primary language </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>reading ability </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>computer and web experience </li></ul></ul></ul>Who? (Your site visitors) I wish they would remember how crazy my life is! I don't have time!
    17. 17. Create personas to write to <ul><li>Persona = </li></ul><ul><li>a fictional person who realistically represents a major group of site visitors </li></ul><ul><li>not a specific actual site visitor </li></ul><ul><li>a composite based on data about </li></ul><ul><ul><li>demographics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>goals and tasks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>contexts of use (environments) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>values </li></ul></ul>Art
    18. 18. <ul><li>Picture </li></ul><ul><li>Name </li></ul><ul><li>Personal information </li></ul><ul><li>Quote </li></ul><ul><li>Values </li></ul><ul><li>Typical tasks </li></ul><ul><li>Characteristics </li></ul>Persona of an older adult as a web user From AARP, Redish, 2007
    19. 19. When, why, and how? (your site visitor's conversation) <ul><li>Story, scenario, context, situation, conversation </li></ul><ul><li>Visualize the persona coming to your site. </li></ul>Flickr cc photo by Mr.Thomas © iStockphoto
    20. 20. Getting people to what they need © iStockphoto
    21. 21. What does a home page have to do?
    22. 22. http://www.tricare.mil/ Imagine the conversation as you design. American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) scores went up about 20 points.
    23. 23. Flickr cc photo by pedrosimeos7 What should I be aware of when I shop for insurance?
    24. 24. <ul><li>Secret of successful pathway pages: Writing for the &quot;scent of information&quot; </li></ul><ul><li>People don't want to read more than necessary while &quot;getting there. &quot; </li></ul>What must a pathway page do? X Long welcome statement  Just clear links in a usable format ! X Long mission statement
    25. 25. http://www.insurance.wa.gov
    26. 26. Writing the conversation Flickr cc photo by Polandeze
    27. 28. Don't hog the conversation. Take turns. Headings are the site visitor's turns in the conversation.
    28. 29. <ul><li>Headings help by </li></ul><ul><ul><li>breaking up the information </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>making the information manageable </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>creating visual separation on the web page </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>drawing the eyes </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>providing context so people can make sense of what follows </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Writing headings first helps authors </li></ul><ul><ul><li>analyze the information </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>organize for the reader </li></ul></ul>Include informative headings Key words in browser titles, page titles, and headings help SEO.
    29. 30. <ul><li>Questions </li></ul><ul><li>Statements (key messages) </li></ul><ul><li>Action phrases </li></ul><ul><li>Nouns and noun phrases work as category names </li></ul><ul><ul><li>but not well for headings </li></ul></ul>What types of headings work well? Does my child need a Social Security number? Apply now Renewing your insurance Minimum Wage, News x Introduction x Dependent Eligibility Verification The age for getting your Social Security payments is going up
    30. 31. How do people use web pages? Nielsen and Pernice, 2010 <ul><li>Skim and scan </li></ul><ul><li>Read only what they need, when and where they think they are getting value </li></ul><ul><li>Grab information to meet their goal </li></ul>
    31. 32. Start with the key message Typical document (narrative style) topic, history, background, rationale narrative of what you did main point as conclusion Better workplace document (style for busy people; inverted pyramid) key message first answers to questions people would have (even if you don't write question headings)
    32. 34. Layer. Think &quot;bite, snack, meal&quot; Concept from Leslie O'Flahavan www.ewriteonline.com Even the whole meal should be easy to digest . www.cdc.gov Snack: the main fruit Bite: the kernel Meal: the whole thing - meat and potatoes
    33. 35. Start with the key message at every level <ul><li>Where is the key message in this sentence? </li></ul>Because of the frequency of the disease, ability to identify high-risk groups, demonstrated slow growth of primary lesions, better survival of patients with early-stage lesions, and relative simplicity and accuracy of screening tests, screening for colon cancer should be a part of routine care for all adults aged 50 years or older, especially for those with first-degree relatives with colorectal cancer.
    34. 36. Write as you would speak ✔ ✗
    35. 37. Write to your readers The student must register and the fee payment process must be started before the first day of classes or the student will be purged from classes. You must register and arrange to pay for your classes before the first day of class. If you don't, we will drop you from the classes. 1 2 3
    36. 38. <ul><li>How would you say this information in a conversation? </li></ul>Approved fumigation with methyl bromide at normal atmospheric pressure, in accordance with the following procedure, upon arrival at the port of entry, is hereby prescribed as a condition of importation for shipments of yams from foreign countries.
    37. 39. Did you say something like this? If you are importing yams, [someone] must fumigate them when they arrive at the port of entry. To fumigate yams, [someone] must use this procedure: Hear the conversation as you write context = given, known then new
    38. 40. <ul><li>What's wrong with this sentence? </li></ul>Interested persons, on or before October 15, 2011, may submit to the Hearing Clerk, 1000 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20000, written comments regarding this proposal .
    39. 41. <ul><li>Is this better? </li></ul><ul><li>Why? </li></ul><ul><li>Can you hear </li></ul><ul><li>the conversation </li></ul><ul><li>going on here? </li></ul><ul><li>Walk in your reader's </li></ul><ul><li>shoes. </li></ul><ul><li>Go through your </li></ul><ul><li>writing with a persona </li></ul><ul><li>and that persona's </li></ul><ul><li>scenario. </li></ul>
    40. 42. Keep it short <ul><li>Your seventh-grade English teacher never wrote for the web. </li></ul><ul><li>People scan. A one-sentence paragraph is fine. </li></ul><ul><li>Think information, not paragraph. </li></ul><ul><ul><li>fragments pictures </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>lists links </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>tables </li></ul></ul>
    41. 43. Respect your readers' time Use short, plain English words <ul><li>We all read simple, common words faster than long, uncommon words. </li></ul><ul><li>People inside an organization overestimate the vocabulary knowledge of people outside the organization by about 30 percent. </li></ul>&quot;dumbing down&quot; ✗ ✔ respecting your busy readers' time
    42. 44. Helping low-literacy users helps everyone Summers, K. and Summers, M., 2005, Reading and Navigational Strategies of Web Users with Lower Literacy Skills, ASSIST 2005, available from http://iat.ubalt.edu/summers/
    43. 45. Finding the simple word your pet peeve of a big word and a shorter, simpler equivalent retain ___________ Instead of Try this ascertain ___________ commence ___________ inquire ___________ Instead of Try this terminate ___________ utilize ___________ Instead of Try this at this point in time ___________ during the course of this year ___________
    44. 46. Use other plain language guidelines <ul><li>Write in the active voice (most of the time) </li></ul><ul><li>Turn nouns that hide verbs into strong verbs. (retention  keep; requirement  you must) </li></ul><ul><li>Use bulleted lists for items. </li></ul><ul><li>Use numbered lists for instructions. </li></ul><ul><li>Use tables when the answer to the question is &quot;it depends.&quot; </li></ul>
    45. 47. Assuring successful conversations © iStockphoto
    46. 48. Read before you send or post <ul><li>Read what you wrote. </li></ul><ul><li>Put your draft in a drawer for a few days. </li></ul><ul><li>Take it out and read it again. </li></ul><ul><li>Read it out loud. </li></ul><ul><li>Ask someone else to read it out loud. </li></ul><ul><li>Share with colleagues. </li></ul><ul><li>Help each other. </li></ul>ego
    47. 49. Do not rely on readability formulas <ul><li>Plain language is much more than short sentences and short words. </li></ul><ul><li>Formulas do not consider </li></ul><ul><ul><li>information design </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>headings </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>cultural appropriateness </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>context </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>grammar </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A web page with lists and fragments − good writing − may score poorly. </li></ul>I wave my hand. I waive my rights.
    48. 50. Do usability testing! Usability testing = Watch and listen as relevant people (one at a time) use the site to do realistic tasks . www.usability.gov This is really confusing. What am I supposed to do? Flickr cc photo by Moonpir
    49. 51. Evaluate through your personas and their conversations <ul><li>Walk your personas through their conversations. </li></ul><ul><li>See the site through their eyes with their words. </li></ul>
    50. 52. Ginny Redish [email_address] 301 229 3039 Thank you