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Making It Clear: Using Plain Language to Communicate
 

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.

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 Making It Clear: Using Plain Language to Communicate Presentation Transcript

    • Making It Clear Using Plain Language to Communicate Ellen Buttolph STC Mid-Atlantic Conference March 22, 2104 Follow me on Twitter: @ebuttolph © Ellen Buttolph
    • Plain Language “What is plain language? Information you can find, understand, and use.” Center for Plain Language http://centerforplainlanguage.org/ 2© Ellen Buttolph
    • 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, 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
    • 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
    • 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 Group, http://www.nngroup.com/articles/f-shaped- pattern-reading-web-content 8© Ellen Buttolph
    • 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 different pages. 13© Ellen Buttolph Layer Information
    • 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
    • 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 • Be aware of voice and tone • Be positive 18© 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, 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.
    • 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
    • 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.
    • 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 Writing Tips
    • 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 Subsequent Next Approximately About
    • 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
    • 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
    • • 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
    • 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 number Lists • Place links effectively 31© Ellen Buttolph
    • 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 experience.” Karen Schriver 38© Ellen Buttolph
    • Information Design Plain Language and Information Design STC Intercom February 2014 Guest editor: Karen Schriver, author of Dynamics in Document Design 39© Ellen Buttolph
    • 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 brain.” Deborah Bosley, “From Chaos to Clarity: Overcoming Negative Emotional Responses to Financial Information”, STC Intercom, February 2014 41© Ellen Buttolph
    • 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
    • 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
    • Review and Edit • Read your work out loud • Read a section at a time • Read each word • Consider each word 44© Ellen Buttolph
    • Review and Edit • Eliminate passive voice • Eliminate redundant words • Transform groups of 3 to lists • Cut • Cut again 45© Ellen Buttolph
    • 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
    • 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
    • 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
    • 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
    • Thank You! @ebuttolph 50© Ellen Buttolph