Making It Clear
Using Plain Language to Communicate
Ellen Buttolph
STC Mid-Atlantic Conference
March 22, 2104
Follow me on...
Plain Language
“What is plain language?
Information you can find, understand, and use.”
Center for Plain Language
http://c...
Center for Plain Language
3© Ellen Buttolph
The Plain Writing Act of 2010
The Plain Writing Act of 2010 requires the federal
government to write all new publications,...
Why Use Plain Language?
Plain language can help your readers:
• Find information
• Understand what they read
• Save time
•...
What is Plain Language?
Not just about the words.
6© Ellen Buttolph
Know Your Audience
• Who are you writing for?
• What are their needs?
7© Ellen Buttolph
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...
Main Point First
Main Point
Supporting information
Less important
information
9© Ellen Buttolph
Main Point First
Focus on what’s important
10© Ellen Buttolph
Main Point First
People DO read online.
But they scan FIRST.
Then decide to read more.
11© Ellen Buttolph
12© Ellen Buttolph
Layer Information
• Help users get the right amount of
information that they need.
• Detailed information can appear on the same
page or on ...
Layer Information
• Bite: a headline with a message
• Snack: a concise summary
• Meal: the entire document
“The Bite, The ...
Writing as Conversation
“Good web writing is like a conversation.”
Ginny Redish
Letting Go of the Words
15© Ellen Buttolph
Direct Conversation
16© Ellen Buttolph
Build a Conversation
17© Ellen Buttolph
Write How You Speak
• Speak directly to your readers
• Use pronouns like you, us, we
• Use contractions
• Use active voice...
Use Active Voice
• Active voice makes it clear who is doing what.
• Passive voice uses a form of the verb “to be”
(am, are...
Voice and Tone
“Our voice makes us unique, and our tone
makes us sound like humans. “
Kate Kiefer Lee
“Tone and Voice: Sho...
Define Your Voice and Tone
• Create a list of 4 or 5 personality traits for your
audience.
• Write sample text
• Read what...
Informal Tone
http://www.temple.edu/studentaffairs/housing/jump-page/parents-and-family/
22© Ellen Buttolph
Voice and Tone
MailChimp Style Guide: http://voiceandtone.com
23© Ellen Buttolph
Voice and Tone
MailChimp Style Guide: http://voiceandtone.com
24© Ellen Buttolph
User
Says
User
Emotion
Example
Response
W...
Write Clearly
“If you can’t explain
something simply,
you don’t understand
it well.”
- Albert Einstein
25© Ellen Buttolph
Use Common Words
26© Ellen Buttolph
Don’t Write: Write:
Instruct Tell
Receive Get
Assist Help
Facilitate Help
Utilize Use
...
Cut Excess Words
27© Ellen Buttolph
Don’t Write: Write:
A number of Several
Is able to Can
Be responsible for Must
In orde...
Avoid Jargon
• Choose non-technical terms.
• Some jargon is good if you are writing for a specific
audience and it helps c...
• Put the action in verbs, not nouns
• Simple present is the strongest verb tense
• Don’t use hidden verbs
29© Ellen Butto...
Keep It Short
• Write short sentences ,10 to 20 words.
• Write short paragraphs, less than 100 words.
30© Ellen Buttolph
Organize Your Content
• Use space effectively
• Chunk content appropriately
• Write meaningful headings
• Use bullet and n...
32© Ellen Buttolph
Avoid the Wall of Words
33© Ellen Buttolph
Add White Space
Use Meaningful Headings
Not Helpful Helpful
34© Ellen Buttolph
35© Ellen Buttolph
Use Lists
Let your users read your
content before sending
them to other pages.
36© Ellen Buttolph
Use Meaningful Links
37© Ellen Buttolph
Don’t Overuse Embedded Links
Information Design
“Good writing combined with good
visual design can improve the
quality of the communications
people exp...
Information Design
Plain Language and
Information Design
STC Intercom
February 2014
Guest editor:
Karen Schriver, author o...
Use Visual Cues
• Colors
• Images
• Headings
40© 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...
Accessibility
“Plain language is all about
accessibility—making information
understandable for everyone.”
an Interview wit...
Review and Edit
“Examine every word you put on paper.
You'll find a surprising number that don't
serve any purpose.”
Willi...
Review and Edit
• Read your work out loud
• Read a section at a time
• Read each word
• Consider each word
44© Ellen Butto...
Review and Edit
• Eliminate passive voice
• Eliminate redundant words
• Transform groups of 3 to lists
• Cut
• Cut again
4...
Omit Words
“17. Omit needless words.”
William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
The Elements of Style
Steve Krug
Don’t Make Me Th...
Keep It Concise
“Concise means minimal. Not short.”
Marcia Riefer Johnston
Author of Word Up!
http://www.slideshare.net/In...
Why Use Plain Language?
When you write in plain language, you
create information that works well for
the people who use it...
Resources
• Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works, Janice (Ginny) Redish
• The Yahoo Style Guide, Chris ...
Thank You!
@ebuttolph
50© Ellen Buttolph
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Making It Clear: Using Plain Language to Communicate

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Technical writing is not just about writing documentation. Learn how you can use plain language to write effectively for the web.

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Making It Clear: Using Plain Language to Communicate

  1. 1. Making It Clear Using Plain Language to Communicate Ellen Buttolph STC Mid-Atlantic Conference March 22, 2104 Follow me on Twitter: @ebuttolph © Ellen Buttolph
  2. 2. Plain Language “What is plain language? Information you can find, understand, and use.” Center for Plain Language http://centerforplainlanguage.org/ 2© Ellen Buttolph
  3. 3. Center for Plain Language 3© Ellen Buttolph
  4. 4. 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. 4© Ellen Buttolph
  5. 5. Why Use Plain Language? Plain language can help your readers: • Find information • Understand what they read • Save time • Save money • Reach a goal • Avoid confusion 5© Ellen Buttolph
  6. 6. What is Plain Language? Not just about the words. 6© Ellen Buttolph
  7. 7. Know Your Audience • Who are you writing for? • What are their needs? 7© Ellen Buttolph
  8. 8. 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 8© Ellen Buttolph
  9. 9. Main Point First Main Point Supporting information Less important information 9© Ellen Buttolph
  10. 10. Main Point First Focus on what’s important 10© Ellen Buttolph
  11. 11. Main Point First People DO read online. But they scan FIRST. Then decide to read more. 11© Ellen Buttolph
  12. 12. 12© Ellen Buttolph Layer Information
  13. 13. • Help users get the right amount of information that they need. • Detailed information can appear on the same page or on different pages. 13© Ellen Buttolph Layer Information
  14. 14. 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/ 14© Ellen Buttolph Bite, Snack, Meal
  15. 15. Writing as Conversation “Good web writing is like a conversation.” Ginny Redish Letting Go of the Words 15© Ellen Buttolph
  16. 16. Direct Conversation 16© Ellen Buttolph
  17. 17. Build a Conversation 17© Ellen Buttolph
  18. 18. Write How You Speak • Speak directly to your readers • Use pronouns like you, us, we • Use contractions • Use active voice • Be aware of voice and tone • Be positive 18© Ellen Buttolph
  19. 19. 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. 19© Ellen Buttolph Active Voice Passive Voice You must change your password after 180 days. Passwords must be changed after 180 days. Students can purchase recycled computers. Recycled computers are sold by the university.
  20. 20. 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 expresses your site’s personality. • Tone reflects the feelings or mood of the voice. • Voice is consistent, while tone can change. 20© Ellen Buttolph
  21. 21. 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? 21© Ellen Buttolph We are: We are not: Writing Tips Sample Text Helpful Bossy Be conversational. Be practical and specific. You must change your password every six months. We’ll send you an e-mail to make sure you don’t forget.
  22. 22. Informal Tone http://www.temple.edu/studentaffairs/housing/jump-page/parents-and-family/ 22© Ellen Buttolph
  23. 23. Voice and Tone MailChimp Style Guide: http://voiceandtone.com 23© Ellen Buttolph
  24. 24. Voice and Tone MailChimp Style Guide: http://voiceandtone.com 24© Ellen Buttolph User Says User Emotion Example Response Writing Tips
  25. 25. Write Clearly “If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t understand it well.” - Albert Einstein 25© Ellen Buttolph
  26. 26. Use Common Words 26© Ellen Buttolph Don’t Write: Write: Instruct Tell Receive Get Assist Help Facilitate Help Utilize Use Subsequent Next Approximately About
  27. 27. Cut Excess Words 27© 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
  28. 28. 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. 28© Ellen Buttolph Jargon Acronyms best practices CMS henceforth COB synergy RAM
  29. 29. • Put the action in verbs, not nouns • Simple present is the strongest verb tense • Don’t use hidden verbs 29© 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
  30. 30. Keep It Short • Write short sentences ,10 to 20 words. • Write short paragraphs, less than 100 words. 30© Ellen Buttolph
  31. 31. Organize Your Content • Use space effectively • Chunk content appropriately • Write meaningful headings • Use bullet and number Lists • Place links effectively 31© Ellen Buttolph
  32. 32. 32© Ellen Buttolph Avoid the Wall of Words
  33. 33. 33© Ellen Buttolph Add White Space
  34. 34. Use Meaningful Headings Not Helpful Helpful 34© Ellen Buttolph
  35. 35. 35© Ellen Buttolph Use Lists
  36. 36. Let your users read your content before sending them to other pages. 36© Ellen Buttolph Use Meaningful Links
  37. 37. 37© Ellen Buttolph Don’t Overuse Embedded Links
  38. 38. Information Design “Good writing combined with good visual design can improve the quality of the communications people experience.” Karen Schriver 38© Ellen Buttolph
  39. 39. Information Design Plain Language and Information Design STC Intercom February 2014 Guest editor: Karen Schriver, author of Dynamics in Document Design 39© Ellen Buttolph
  40. 40. Use Visual Cues • Colors • Images • Headings 40© Ellen Buttolph • Fonts • Graphs • Tables
  41. 41. 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 41© Ellen Buttolph
  42. 42. 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/ 42© Ellen Buttolph
  43. 43. 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 43© Ellen Buttolph
  44. 44. Review and Edit • Read your work out loud • Read a section at a time • Read each word • Consider each word 44© Ellen Buttolph
  45. 45. Review and Edit • Eliminate passive voice • Eliminate redundant words • Transform groups of 3 to lists • Cut • Cut again 45© Ellen Buttolph
  46. 46. Omit Words “17. Omit needless words.” William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White The Elements of Style Steve Krug Don’t Make Me Think 46© Ellen Buttolph
  47. 47. Keep It Concise “Concise means minimal. Not short.” Marcia Riefer Johnston Author of Word Up! http://www.slideshare.net/IntelligentContent/write-tighter-rieferjohnston 47© Ellen Buttolph
  48. 48. 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/ 48© Ellen Buttolph
  49. 49. 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 • Plain Language Association International • PlainLanguage.gov • VoiceandTone.com, MailChimp Style Guide 49© Ellen Buttolph
  50. 50. Thank You! @ebuttolph 50© Ellen Buttolph

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