Beyond the Manual:
Writing for the Web
Ellen Buttolph
Rochester Chapter
It’s Not Just About the Manual
Using Plain Language
“What is plain language?
Information you can find, understand, and use.”
Center for Plain Language
ht...
Center for Plain Language
4© Ellen Buttolph
Why Use Plain Language?
When you write in plain language, you
create information that works well for
the people who use it...
The Plain Writing Act of 2010
The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires the federal
government to write all new publications,...
What is Plain Language?
Not just about the words.
7© Ellen Buttolph
Know Your Audience
• What are their needs?
• Why are they visiting your web site?
• How can you help them?
8© Ellen Buttol...
Use Personas
9© Ellen Buttolph
• Personas help you focus on
the users’ goals and needs.
• Make sure they match
users in th...
Use Personas
http://stcbok.editme.com/PersonaMarciaHouston
10© Ellen Buttolph
“Personas are fictional
characters created t...
Speak to Your Audience
“Good web writing is like a conversation.”
Ginny Redish
Letting Go of the Words
11© Ellen Buttolph
Write How You Speak
• Speak directly to your
readers
• Use pronouns like
you, us, we
• Don’t be afraid to use
contractions...
Start a Conversation
13© Ellen Buttolph
Implied Conversation
14© Ellen Buttolph
Use Active Voice
• Active voice makes it clear who is doing what.
• Passive voice uses a form of the verb “to be”
(am, are...
Using Voice and Tone
“Our voice makes us unique, and our tone
makes us sound like humans. “
Kate Kiefer Lee
“Tone and Voic...
Define Your Voice and Tone
• Create a list of 4 or 5 personality traits for your
audience.
• Write sample text
• Read what...
Voice
18© Ellen Buttolph
Tone
• Voice is consistent, while tone can change.
19© Ellen Buttolph
Formal and Informal
20© Ellen Buttolph
Formal Informal
No contractions (can not) Use contractions (can’t, won’t)
No impera...
Informal Tone
http://www.temple.edu/studentaffairs/housing/jump-page/parents-and-family/
21© Ellen Buttolph
Voice and Tone
MailChimp Style Guide: http://voiceandtone.com
22© Ellen Buttolph
User
Says
User
Emotion
Example
Response
W...
Main Point First
Focus on what’s important
23© Ellen Buttolph
Main Point First
People DO read online.
But they scan FIRST.
Then decide to read more.
24© Ellen Buttolph
Main Point First
Main Point
Supporting information
Less important
information
25© Ellen Buttolph
26© Ellen Buttolph
Layer Information
Layer Information
• Bite: a headline with a message
• Snack: a concise summary
• Meal: the entire document
“The Bite, The ...
Use Space Effectively
• Break information into small chunks
• Add white space
28© Ellen Buttolph
29© Ellen Buttolph
Use Lists
Make It Easy to Scan
• Busy readers don’t have time
to read it all
• The F pattern of web reading
• Image Nielsen Norman G...
31© Ellen Buttolph
Avoid the Wall of Words
Write Simply
“If you can’t explain
something simply,
you don’t understand
it well.”
- Albert Einstein
32© Ellen Buttolph
Keep It Concise
“Concise means minimal. Not short.”
Marcia Riefer Johnston
Author of Word Up!
http://www.slideshare.net/In...
Keep It Concise
• Write sentences that are between 10 to 20 words.
• Write paragraphs, that are less than 100 words.
34© E...
Avoid Wordy Text
35© Ellen Buttolph
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
FAQs updated January 18, 2013
150 words, 3 s...
Use Common Words
36© Ellen Buttolph
Don’t Write: Write:
Instruct Tell
Receive Get
Assist Help
Facilitate Help
Utilize Use
...
Cut Excess Words
37© Ellen Buttolph
Don’t Write: Write:
A number of Several
Is able to Can
Be responsible for Must
In orde...
Omit Words
“17. Omit needless words.”
William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
The Elements of Style
Steve Krug
Don’t Make Me Th...
• Put the action in verbs, not nouns
• Simple present is the strongest verb tense
• Don’t use hidden verbs
39© Ellen Butto...
Avoid Jargon
• Choose non-technical terms.
• Some jargon is good if you are writing for a specific
audience and it helps c...
Use Meaningful Headings
• Headings are like signposts. Write useful
headings.
Not Helpful Helpful
41© Ellen Buttolph
Let your users read your
content before sending
them to other pages.
42© Ellen Buttolph
Use Meaningful Links
Degree Seeking Students
You receive a TU Gmail account after you pay your tuition deposit or Graduate Matriculation Fee.
I...
Plain Language and Accessibility
“Plain language is all about
accessibility—making information
understandable for everyone...
Consider Visual Design
“Good writing combined with good
visual design can improve the quality of
the communications people...
Information Design
STC Intercom, February 2014
“Plain Language and
Information Design”
Guest editor:
• Karen Schriver
Auth...
Use Visual Cues
• Colors
• Images
• Headings
47© Ellen Buttolph
• Fonts
• Graphs
• Tables
Be Aware of Emotions
“People read not primarily with their
intellect or logical brain, but far more
with their emotional b...
Writing for Mobile
49© Ellen Buttolph
“See, there’s no such thing as “How to write for
mobile.” There’s just good writing....
Writing for a Small Screen
• Chunk your content
• Use a small screen template
– For an example, see “Word Up! By Marcia Ri...
Review Your Content
• Read your work out loud.
• Read a section at a time.
• Read each word.
• Consider each word.
51© Ell...
Cut and Organize
• Eliminate passive voice
• Eliminate redundant words
• Transform groups of 3 to lists
• Cut
• Cut again
...
Review and Edit
“Examine every word you put on paper.
You'll find a surprising number that don't
serve any purpose.”
Willi...
Resources
• Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, Janice (Ginny)
Redish
• The Yahoo Style Guide, Chris ...
Thank You!
@ebuttolph
55© Ellen Buttolph
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Beyond the Manual: Writing for the Web - STC Spectrum14

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Technical writing is not just about writing documentation. Learn how you can use the basic writing skills you already have to write effectively for the web.

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Beyond the Manual: Writing for the Web - STC Spectrum14

  1. 1. Beyond the Manual: Writing for the Web Ellen Buttolph Rochester Chapter
  2. 2. It’s Not Just About the Manual
  3. 3. Using Plain Language “What is plain language? Information you can find, understand, and use.” Center for Plain Language http://centerforplainlanguage.org/ 3© Ellen Buttolph
  4. 4. Center for Plain Language 4© Ellen Buttolph
  5. 5. Why Use Plain Language? When you write in plain language, you create information that works well for the people who use it, whether online or in print. Center for Plain Language http://centerforplainlanguage.org/ 5© Ellen Buttolph
  6. 6. The Plain Writing Act of 2010 The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires the federal government to write all new publications, forms, and publicly distributed documents in a “clear, concise, well-organized” manner that follows the best practices of plain language writing. Signed into law by President Obama on October 13, 2010. 6© Ellen Buttolph
  7. 7. What is Plain Language? Not just about the words. 7© Ellen Buttolph
  8. 8. Know Your Audience • What are their needs? • Why are they visiting your web site? • How can you help them? 8© Ellen Buttolph
  9. 9. Use Personas 9© Ellen Buttolph • Personas help you focus on the users’ goals and needs. • Make sure they match users in the real world • Create scenarios for your web site • Ask yourself: "Would Mary use this?” or “Would John do that?”
  10. 10. Use Personas http://stcbok.editme.com/PersonaMarciaHouston 10© Ellen Buttolph “Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behavior set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way.” Wikipedia.com
  11. 11. Speak to Your Audience “Good web writing is like a conversation.” Ginny Redish Letting Go of the Words 11© Ellen Buttolph
  12. 12. Write How You Speak • Speak directly to your readers • Use pronouns like you, us, we • Don’t be afraid to use contractions • Be positive 12© Ellen Buttolph
  13. 13. Start a Conversation 13© Ellen Buttolph
  14. 14. Implied Conversation 14© Ellen Buttolph
  15. 15. Use Active Voice • Active voice makes it clear who is doing what. • Passive voice uses a form of the verb “to be” (am, are, is, was, were, be, been) with the past participle of the main verb. 15© Ellen Buttolph Active Voice Passive Voice Submit your claim within 30 days. Your claim should be submitted within 30 days. Complete and submit your tax return by April 15. Tax returns must be completed and submitted by April 15.
  16. 16. Using Voice and Tone “Our voice makes us unique, and our tone makes us sound like humans. “ Kate Kiefer Lee “Tone and Voice: Showing Your Users That You Care” UX Magazine • Voice is your brand – it expresses your website’s personality. • Tone is a subset of voice, and is based on your audience or situation. 16© Ellen Buttolph
  17. 17. Define Your Voice and Tone • Create a list of 4 or 5 personality traits for your audience. • Write sample text • Read what you write out loud. Does it sound like you are writing for users, or at them? 17© Ellen Buttolph We are: We are not: Writing Tips Sample Text Helpful Bossy Be conversational. Be practical and specific. We’ll send you an email to remind you to change your password.
  18. 18. Voice 18© Ellen Buttolph
  19. 19. Tone • Voice is consistent, while tone can change. 19© Ellen Buttolph
  20. 20. Formal and Informal 20© Ellen Buttolph Formal Informal No contractions (can not) Use contractions (can’t, won’t) No imperatives (You must submit the form.) Imperatives are short and clear (Submit the form) No abbreviations Common abbreviations Impersonal - use third person (one, he) Personal - speak to the reader (you, I) Write long sentences that contain full arguments Write short sentences (10-20 words) Use scholarly, complex words Use short, simple words Passive voice allows you to keep the sentence impersonal Use active voice
  21. 21. Informal Tone http://www.temple.edu/studentaffairs/housing/jump-page/parents-and-family/ 21© Ellen Buttolph
  22. 22. Voice and Tone MailChimp Style Guide: http://voiceandtone.com 22© Ellen Buttolph User Says User Emotion Example Response Writing Tips
  23. 23. Main Point First Focus on what’s important 23© Ellen Buttolph
  24. 24. Main Point First People DO read online. But they scan FIRST. Then decide to read more. 24© Ellen Buttolph
  25. 25. Main Point First Main Point Supporting information Less important information 25© Ellen Buttolph
  26. 26. 26© Ellen Buttolph Layer Information
  27. 27. Layer Information • Bite: a headline with a message • Snack: a concise summary • Meal: the entire document “The Bite, The Snack, And The Meal: How To Feed Content-Hungry Site Visitors ” – Leslie O’Flahavan, E-WRITE http://ewriteonline.com/articles/2011/11/bite-snack-and-meal-how-to-feed-content-hungry-site-visitors/ 27© Ellen Buttolph Bite, Snack, Meal
  28. 28. Use Space Effectively • Break information into small chunks • Add white space 28© Ellen Buttolph
  29. 29. 29© Ellen Buttolph Use Lists
  30. 30. Make It Easy to Scan • Busy readers don’t have time to read it all • The F pattern of web reading • Image Nielsen Norman Group, http://www.nngroup.com/articles/f-shaped- pattern-reading-web-content 30© Ellen Buttolph
  31. 31. 31© Ellen Buttolph Avoid the Wall of Words
  32. 32. Write Simply “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.” - Albert Einstein 32© Ellen Buttolph
  33. 33. Keep It Concise “Concise means minimal. Not short.” Marcia Riefer Johnston Author of Word Up! http://www.slideshare.net/IntelligentContent/write-tighter-rieferjohnston 33© Ellen Buttolph
  34. 34. Keep It Concise • Write sentences that are between 10 to 20 words. • Write paragraphs, that are less than 100 words. 34© Ellen Buttolph
  35. 35. Avoid Wordy Text 35© Ellen Buttolph U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services FAQs updated January 18, 2013 150 words, 3 sentences: 35/81/35 http://www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.eb1d4c2a3e5b9ac89243c6a7543f6d1a/?vgnextoid=3a4dbc4b04499310VgnVCM100000082ca6 0aRCRD&vgnextchannel=3a4dbc4b04499310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD
  36. 36. Use Common Words 36© Ellen Buttolph Don’t Write: Write: Instruct Tell Receive Get Assist Help Facilitate Help Utilize Use Subsequent Next Approximately About
  37. 37. Cut Excess Words 37© Ellen Buttolph Don’t Write: Write: A number of Several Is able to Can Be responsible for Must In order to To On a monthly basis Monthly At this point in time Now Subsequent Next Approximately About
  38. 38. Omit Words “17. Omit needless words.” William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White The Elements of Style Steve Krug Don’t Make Me Think 38© Ellen Buttolph
  39. 39. • Put the action in verbs, not nouns • Simple present is the strongest verb tense • Don’t use hidden verbs 39© Ellen Buttolph Use Strong Verbs Strong Verb Hidden Verb Apply Make an application Decide Make a decision Analyze Perform an analysis Reduce Make a reduction Approve Give approval Purchase Make a purchase
  40. 40. Avoid Jargon • Choose non-technical terms. • Some jargon is good if you are writing for a specific audience and it helps communication. • Only use acronyms and abbreviations if they are well understood, such as USA. 40© Ellen Buttolph Jargon Acronyms Best in class CMS Henceforth COB Leverage synergies NGO
  41. 41. Use Meaningful Headings • Headings are like signposts. Write useful headings. Not Helpful Helpful 41© Ellen Buttolph
  42. 42. Let your users read your content before sending them to other pages. 42© Ellen Buttolph Use Meaningful Links
  43. 43. Degree Seeking Students You receive a TU Gmail account after you pay your tuition deposit or Graduate Matriculation Fee. Instructions for activating your account at https://accounts.temple.edu are e-mailed to the e-mail address you indicated on your application to Temple. Note that you will need your nine-digit TUid to complete the process. Non-Matriculated Students After you have met with an advisor and registered for classes, your AccessNet account information and instructions for activating the account will be mailed to your home. If you did not receive this information, visit the Help Desk or other CS location for assistance. Employees Temple University offers two types of e-mail accounts for employees: TU Gmail and Microsoft Exchange. The type of e-mail is based on departmental preference, however, both types of accounts receive an @temple.edu e-mail address. As an employee, you are eligible for e-mail one business day after you have been entered into the HR payroll system. By default, you will receive a TU Gmail account when your AccessNet account is created. If your hiring manager determines that you need a Microsoft Exchange account, he/she must submit a request to TUhelp that includes your AccessNet username. Computer Services will then create the Exchange account. Note: Before submitting a request for a Microsoft Exchange account, the hiring manager must verify that you have activated your AccessNet account on the Account Management website. 43© Ellen Buttolph Don’t Overuse Embedded Links
  44. 44. Plain Language and Accessibility “Plain language is all about accessibility—making information understandable for everyone.” an Interview with Ginny Redish A Web for Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery http://rosenfeldmedia.com/blogs/a-web-for-everyone/universal-plain-language-an-interview-with-ginny-redish/ 44© Ellen Buttolph
  45. 45. Consider Visual Design “Good writing combined with good visual design can improve the quality of the communications people experience.” Karen Schriver STC Intercom, “Plain Language and Information Design”, February 2014 45© Ellen Buttolph
  46. 46. Information Design STC Intercom, February 2014 “Plain Language and Information Design” Guest editor: • Karen Schriver Authors: • Susan Kleimann, Barbara Kingsley, Kristin Kleimann • Kathryn Summers, Michael Summers, Amy Pointer • Deborah S. Bosley • Robert Linsky, Sheryl Kay • Josiah Fisk 46© Ellen Buttolph
  47. 47. Use Visual Cues • Colors • Images • Headings 47© Ellen Buttolph • Fonts • Graphs • Tables
  48. 48. Be Aware of Emotions “People read not primarily with their intellect or logical brain, but far more with their emotional brain.” Deborah Bosley, “From Chaos to Clarity: Overcoming Negative Emotional Responses to Financial Information”, STC Intercom, February 2014 48© Ellen Buttolph
  49. 49. Writing for Mobile 49© Ellen Buttolph “See, there’s no such thing as “How to write for mobile.” There’s just good writing. And the same principles that these articles are telling you about tips to write for mobile, those are the exact same tips we gave to people to tell them how to write for the web, and they are the exact same tips that we have been telling people for decades about how to write good, professional communication. “ Karen McGrane The Mobile Content Mandate http://karenmcgrane.com/category/mobile/
  50. 50. Writing for a Small Screen • Chunk your content • Use a small screen template – For an example, see “Word Up! By Marcia Riefer Johnston • Responsive design means you don’t know the size of the screen! © Ellen Buttolph 50
  51. 51. Review Your Content • Read your work out loud. • Read a section at a time. • Read each word. • Consider each word. 51© Ellen Buttolph
  52. 52. Cut and Organize • Eliminate passive voice • Eliminate redundant words • Transform groups of 3 to lists • Cut • Cut again 52© Ellen Buttolph
  53. 53. Review and Edit “Examine every word you put on paper. You'll find a surprising number that don't serve any purpose.” William Zinsser On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction 53© Ellen Buttolph
  54. 54. Resources • Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, Janice (Ginny) Redish • The Yahoo Style Guide, Chris Barr and the Senior Editors of Yahoo • Word Up!, Marcia Riefer Johnston • A Web for Everyone, Sarah Horton and Whitney Quesenbery • STC Intercom, “Plain Language and Information Design”, February 2014 • CenterforPlainLanguage.org • PlainLanguage.gov • Plain Language Association International, plainlanguagenetwork.net • Content Strategy for Mobile, Karen McGrane • VoiceandTone.com, MailChimp Style Guide 54© Ellen Buttolph
  55. 55. Thank You! @ebuttolph 55© Ellen Buttolph
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