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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.

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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  • 1. Beyond the Manual: Writing for the Web Ellen Buttolph Rochester Chapter
  • 2. It’s Not Just About the Manual
  • 3. Using Plain Language “What is plain language? Information you can find, understand, and use.” Center for Plain Language 3© Ellen Buttolph
  • 4. Center for Plain Language 4© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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 5© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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. What is Plain Language? Not just about the words. 7© Ellen Buttolph
  • 8. Know Your Audience • What are their needs? • Why are they visiting your web site? • How can you help them? 8© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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. Use Personas 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.”
  • 11. Speak to Your Audience “Good web writing is like a conversation.” Ginny Redish Letting Go of the Words 11© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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. Start a Conversation 13© Ellen Buttolph
  • 14. Implied Conversation 14© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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. 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. 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. Voice 18© Ellen Buttolph
  • 19. Tone • Voice is consistent, while tone can change. 19© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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. Informal Tone 21© Ellen Buttolph
  • 22. Voice and Tone MailChimp Style Guide: 22© Ellen Buttolph User Says User Emotion Example Response Writing Tips
  • 23. Main Point First Focus on what’s important 23© Ellen Buttolph
  • 24. Main Point First People DO read online. But they scan FIRST. Then decide to read more. 24© Ellen Buttolph
  • 25. Main Point First Main Point Supporting information Less important information 25© Ellen Buttolph
  • 26. 26© Ellen Buttolph Layer Information
  • 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 27© Ellen Buttolph Bite, Snack, Meal
  • 28. Use Space Effectively • Break information into small chunks • Add white space 28© Ellen Buttolph
  • 29. 29© Ellen Buttolph Use Lists
  • 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, pattern-reading-web-content 30© Ellen Buttolph
  • 31. 31© Ellen Buttolph Avoid the Wall of Words
  • 32. Write Simply “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.” - Albert Einstein 32© Ellen Buttolph
  • 33. Keep It Concise “Concise means minimal. Not short.” Marcia Riefer Johnston Author of Word Up! 33© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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. Avoid Wordy Text 35© Ellen Buttolph U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services FAQs updated January 18, 2013 150 words, 3 sentences: 35/81/35 0aRCRD&vgnextchannel=3a4dbc4b04499310VgnVCM100000082ca60aRCRD
  • 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. 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. 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. • 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. 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. Use Meaningful Headings • Headings are like signposts. Write useful headings. Not Helpful Helpful 41© Ellen Buttolph
  • 42. Let your users read your content before sending them to other pages. 42© Ellen Buttolph Use Meaningful Links
  • 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 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 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. 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 44© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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. 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. Use Visual Cues • Colors • Images • Headings 47© Ellen Buttolph • Fonts • Graphs • Tables
  • 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. 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
  • 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. Review Your Content • Read your work out loud. • Read a section at a time. • Read each word. • Consider each word. 51© Ellen Buttolph
  • 52. Cut and Organize • Eliminate passive voice • Eliminate redundant words • Transform groups of 3 to lists • Cut • Cut again 52© Ellen Buttolph
  • 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. 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 • • • Plain Language Association International, • Content Strategy for Mobile, Karen McGrane •, MailChimp Style Guide 54© Ellen Buttolph
  • 55. Thank You! @ebuttolph 55© Ellen Buttolph