The Elegant Precision of
Targeted, Actionable Language

Lauren Therese-Grace Colton

@LaurenTGC
Information Architect & Ed...
Project Management: do the makers understand
the business rules and project constraints?
Search Engine Optimization: can p...
Elegance

1.  Engagement with ethnic rivalries and
religious beliefs.
2.  Fair, transparent economic
development.

http://...
Plain language
Communication your audience can understand
the first time they read or hear it.
Plain language is defined b...
Plain language
“Write with a specific person in mind…I
pretend I’m talking to my sisters…though
highly intelligent, they a...
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 

Speak to your audience
Avoid jargon
Give common words common meanings
Know which grammar rules...
Speak to your audience
• 
• 
• 
• 

Who is this conversation with?
What is the context?
What are your goals? Their goals?
...
Speak to your audience
The Parking Lot Test:
Visualize 3 users, not 100. Imagine stopping
them on the way to their car wit...
Speak to your audience
Who is this conversation with, and what is
the context? There is no “correct English,”
just differe...
Avoid jargon
Are these your words, or the words of
your audience?
•  Unnecessarily-technical terms
•  Legalese
•  Marketin...
Avoid jargon
The Mom Test:
1.  List your assumptions on what these users
care about.
2.  Write your copy based on those
as...
Avoid jargon
Cloze Deletion Test:
1. 
2. 
3. 
4. 

Find a sample text of 125 to 150 words.
Replace every fifth word with a...
Avoid jargon
Cloze Deletion Test:
Want ___ experts on your bookshelf? ___ Works
is sharing our ___ apps tips and tricks __...
Avoid jargon
If you need to point to a glossary or a technical
manual, your users are losing both interest and
meaning.

R...
Common words, common meanings
If you must define terms, give them their
commonly-accepted meaning.
Check out the competiti...
Common words, common meanings
Follow the Storytellers:
1.  Start a story with general language.
2.  Ask if user if this ha...
Common words, common meanings
Common words, common meanings
You can avoid jargon and still be using
different or unclear terms.

Check out the competiti...
Know which grammar rules matter
Grammar is for the sake of clarity. Words should
flow as naturally as spoken language, wit...
Know which grammar rules matter

Fact: Starting sentences with “and” and “but”
is just fine.
Know which grammar rules matter

Fact: “If” is conditional, “whether” is not
conditional.
Know which grammar rules matter

Fact: “That” is essential to the sentence,
“which” is not essential.
Know which grammar rules matter

Fact: Sometimes, dropping the oxford comma
changes everything.
Know which grammar rules matter
Fact: You can end on a preposition. (“Where are
you from?” is grammatically valid.)
Know which grammar rules matter
Fact: You can get it right, and still get it wrong.
Know which grammar rules matter
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula
0.39 (total words/total sentences) + 11.8
(total syllab...
Know which grammar rules matter
Learn common grammar myths, versus when
clarity is at stake.

Read more

Grammar Girl's Qu...
Be precise
•  Most-important message go at the top.
•  Try writing out main points as sentences,
brainstorm, then cut in h...
Be precise
The Great Read-Along:
1.  Ask users to read copy out loud.
2.  Note where they stumble.
3.  Ask them to summari...
Be precise
Maintain more-direct content by finding and
removing useless words.

On Writing Well, William Zinsser
	
  
Gath...
Promote descriptions, demote exceptions
Verb > Adjective > Noun > Exception
Clean the silver car, unless you enjoy the
sme...
Promote descriptions, demote exceptions
Day-After Recall
1.  Show a passage of text.
- Can be an informal email.
2.  Next ...
Promote descriptions, demote exceptions
Be crisp and memorable by restructuring your
sentences.

Word Up, Marcia Riefer Jo...
Avoid hidden verbs
Don’t turn verbs into nouns.
Red flags: “to be” (such as am, is, was). As in,
“I was wanting…” destroys...
Avoid hidden verbs
The Passive Zombie Test:
She was caught [by zombies].
They caught [by zombies] her.
Avoid hidden verbs
Stop hiding your intended meaning behind
passive copy.

Word Up, Marcia Riefer Johnston
	
  
Gather you...
Be actionable
Know the primary call to action for each
screen, and use a verb for that action.
•  Web: within 400px
•  Mob...
Be actionable
Analyze User Benefits
1.  What is the specific action users are
about to take?
- Lead with a familiar verb.
...
Be actionable
Pay attention to the verbs, especially in your
primary call to action.

Buttons & Click-Worthy Calls to
Acti...
Use visual aides
Simplify complex data. Show structure,
highlight key facts, and compare options.
• 
• 
• 
• 

Bulleted li...
Use visual aides: General

• 
• 
• 
• 

Left-aligned text over justified text.
Use parentheses, em dashes, and ellipses.
U...
Use visual aides: Headings
• 
• 
• 
• 

Not just navigation.
Stop the reader in their tracks.
Limit punctuation (and look ...
Use visual aides: Bulleted Lists
• 
• 
• 
• 

Five or fewer points.
The first is most important.
Grammatically-parallel it...
Use visual aides
First-Click Test	
  
Use visual aides
The format shapes user perceptions; take
advantage of lists, headings, punctuation,
and design.
Formattin...
Project Management: Give common words
common meanings.
Search Engine Optimization: Avoid jargon,
promote descriptions and ...
Cage Fighting Babies*
A Mobile App Case Study

*I do not endorse the actual fighting of
babies, in cages or otherwise.
Entering a contract to develop the Cage
Fighting Babies application.
Know which grammar rules matter

We will create web, Android,
iPhone and iPad application
interfaces.
We will create web, ...
Collaborating with stakeholders.
Be precise

After reviewing the feedback, a
meeting should be scheduled.
After reviewing your feedback, we
will schedule a...
Creating the design concept.
Avoid jargon

We’ll use a CMS to interface with the
iOS and Android mobile application.
We’ll use a Content Management
Sys...
Writing button text.
Be actionable

Click here to battle!

Battle!
Explaining the rewards program.
Really, be precise.

If you want extra strength in today’s
battles, the best way to do that is to
check in today, on Fours...
Creating error text.
Avoid hidden verbs

To enter a battle, you must
complete the registration form.
Register to battle.
Surveying users on their experience.
Promote descriptors, demote exceptions

Did you press the button that is red to
battle, before creating your profile?
Befo...
Users are searching the app store.
Common words, common meanings

Create character profiles and battle
with bando boxers, buckaroos, and
Martians.
Create cha...
Go forth!
1.  It’s about consistency, not
“correctness” (see who versus whom).
2.  Keep testing.
3.  If you wrote a senten...
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 
• 

Speak to your audience
Avoid jargon
Give common words common meanings
Know which grammar rules...
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ConveyUX Elegant Precision

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ConveyUX Elegant Precision

  1. 1. The Elegant Precision of Targeted, Actionable Language Lauren Therese-Grace Colton @LaurenTGC Information Architect & Editor Gravity Works Design & Development
  2. 2. Project Management: do the makers understand the business rules and project constraints? Search Engine Optimization: can people find you? Information Architecture: can people find what they need? Content Strategy: what conversation are you having with current and potential clients? Usability: can people meet their goals efficiently, effectively, and with satisfaction?
  3. 3. Elegance 1.  Engagement with ethnic rivalries and religious beliefs. 2.  Fair, transparent economic development. http://www.ted.com/talks/eric_berlow_how_complexity_leads_to_simplicity.html
  4. 4. Plain language Communication your audience can understand the first time they read or hear it. Plain language is defined by results: it is easy to read, understand, and use.
  5. 5. Plain language “Write with a specific person in mind…I pretend I’m talking to my sisters…though highly intelligent, they are not experts in accounting or finance. They will understand plain English, but jargon may puzzle them. My goal is simply to give them the information I would wish them to supply me if our positions were reversed.” –Warren Buffet
  6. 6. •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  Speak to your audience Avoid jargon Give common words common meanings Know which grammar rules matter Be precise Promote descriptions, demote exceptions Don’t hide your verbs Be actionable Use visual aides
  7. 7. Speak to your audience •  •  •  •  Who is this conversation with? What is the context? What are your goals? Their goals? Will goals be met with these words? Let the recipient shape the dialogue.
  8. 8. Speak to your audience The Parking Lot Test: Visualize 3 users, not 100. Imagine stopping them on the way to their car with your message. Did you win them over, or dilute your message?
  9. 9. Speak to your audience Who is this conversation with, and what is the context? There is no “correct English,” just different audiences and contexts. Read more www.PlainLanguage.gov   Gather your data   Parking Lot Test  
  10. 10. Avoid jargon Are these your words, or the words of your audience? •  Unnecessarily-technical terms •  Legalese •  Marketing copy fads
  11. 11. Avoid jargon The Mom Test: 1.  List your assumptions on what these users care about. 2.  Write your copy based on those assumptions. 3.  Would your mom say this (or call your shenanigans)? 4.  If no, try again. http://alistapart.com/article/being-real-builds-trust
  12. 12. Avoid jargon Cloze Deletion Test: 1.  2.  3.  4.  Find a sample text of 125 to 150 words. Replace every fifth word with a blank space. Ask participants to fill in the blanks. Is (correct/blanks) greater than 60%?
  13. 13. Avoid jargon Cloze Deletion Test: Want ___ experts on your bookshelf? ___ Works is sharing our ___ apps tips and tricks ___ the book, Professional ___ Application Development. We deliver ____, personalized, powerful mobile ___ for our clients, and we're ___ our secrets.
  14. 14. Avoid jargon If you need to point to a glossary or a technical manual, your users are losing both interest and meaning. Read more HBR Guide to Better Business Writing, Bryan Garner   Gather your data   The Mom Test, Cloze Deletion Test  
  15. 15. Common words, common meanings If you must define terms, give them their commonly-accepted meaning. Check out the competition to see what words are used, and how these words are used.
  16. 16. Common words, common meanings Follow the Storytellers: 1.  Start a story with general language. 2.  Ask if user if this has happened to them. 3.  Actively listen to user stories. - Excessive talking? - Distracted? - Emotional?
  17. 17. Common words, common meanings
  18. 18. Common words, common meanings You can avoid jargon and still be using different or unclear terms. Check out the competition, and Google Trends.   Gather your data   Follow the Storytellers   Read more
  19. 19. Know which grammar rules matter Grammar is for the sake of clarity. Words should flow as naturally as spoken language, without non-standard language. 1.  Read first-rate writing. 2.  Ask colleagues to proof your work. 3.  Consult grammar and usage guides.
  20. 20. Know which grammar rules matter Fact: Starting sentences with “and” and “but” is just fine.
  21. 21. Know which grammar rules matter Fact: “If” is conditional, “whether” is not conditional.
  22. 22. Know which grammar rules matter Fact: “That” is essential to the sentence, “which” is not essential.
  23. 23. Know which grammar rules matter Fact: Sometimes, dropping the oxford comma changes everything.
  24. 24. Know which grammar rules matter Fact: You can end on a preposition. (“Where are you from?” is grammatically valid.)
  25. 25. Know which grammar rules matter Fact: You can get it right, and still get it wrong.
  26. 26. Know which grammar rules matter Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula 0.39 (total words/total sentences) + 11.8 (total syllables/total words) - 15.59 = Grade Level (.73 = US 7th grade.)  
  27. 27. Know which grammar rules matter Learn common grammar myths, versus when clarity is at stake. Read more Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, Mignon Fogarty   Gather your data   Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Formula  
  28. 28. Be precise •  Most-important message go at the top. •  Try writing out main points as sentences, brainstorm, then cut in half. •  Avoid clutter with short sentences, and short paragraphs. •  Aim for less than 20 words each sentence.
  29. 29. Be precise The Great Read-Along: 1.  Ask users to read copy out loud. 2.  Note where they stumble. 3.  Ask them to summarize the copy. 4.  If they can’t summarize, rewrite.  
  30. 30. Be precise Maintain more-direct content by finding and removing useless words. On Writing Well, William Zinsser   Gather your data   The Great Read-Along   Read more
  31. 31. Promote descriptions, demote exceptions Verb > Adjective > Noun > Exception Clean the silver car, unless you enjoy the smell of stale fries.
  32. 32. Promote descriptions, demote exceptions Day-After Recall 1.  Show a passage of text. - Can be an informal email. 2.  Next day, follow-up: can they summarize the point?  
  33. 33. Promote descriptions, demote exceptions Be crisp and memorable by restructuring your sentences. Word Up, Marcia Riefer Johnston   Gather your data   Day-After Recall   Read more
  34. 34. Avoid hidden verbs Don’t turn verbs into nouns. Red flags: “to be” (such as am, is, was). As in, “I was wanting…” destroys messages.
  35. 35. Avoid hidden verbs The Passive Zombie Test: She was caught [by zombies]. They caught [by zombies] her.
  36. 36. Avoid hidden verbs Stop hiding your intended meaning behind passive copy. Word Up, Marcia Riefer Johnston   Gather your data   The Passive Zombie Test   Read more
  37. 37. Be actionable Know the primary call to action for each screen, and use a verb for that action. •  Web: within 400px •  Mobile: on screen without scroll
  38. 38. Be actionable Analyze User Benefits 1.  What is the specific action users are about to take? - Lead with a familiar verb. - Be specific with word choice. 2.  After selecting, where will users land? 3.  What benefit will they get out of taking this action?
  39. 39. Be actionable Pay attention to the verbs, especially in your primary call to action. Buttons & Click-Worthy Calls to Action, Joanna Wiebe   Gather your data   Analyze User Benefits   Read more
  40. 40. Use visual aides Simplify complex data. Show structure, highlight key facts, and compare options. •  •  •  •  Bulleted lists Headers Tables Illustrations
  41. 41. Use visual aides: General •  •  •  •  Left-aligned text over justified text. Use parentheses, em dashes, and ellipses. Use numerals for numbers. Avoid all caps or excessive exclamation points.
  42. 42. Use visual aides: Headings •  •  •  •  Not just navigation. Stop the reader in their tracks. Limit punctuation (and look for an “amen”). Subheadings clarify claims or support them with proof.
  43. 43. Use visual aides: Bulleted Lists •  •  •  •  Five or fewer points. The first is most important. Grammatically-parallel items. If timing is relevant, follow chronological order.
  44. 44. Use visual aides First-Click Test  
  45. 45. Use visual aides The format shapes user perceptions; take advantage of lists, headings, punctuation, and design. Formatting & the Essentials of Web Writing, Joanna Wiebe   Gather your data   First-Click Test   Read more
  46. 46. Project Management: Give common words common meanings. Search Engine Optimization: Avoid jargon, promote descriptions and demote exceptions. Information Architecture: Be precise. Content Strategy: Be actionable, don’t hide your verbs. Usability: Use visual aides, know which grammar rules matter.
  47. 47. Cage Fighting Babies* A Mobile App Case Study *I do not endorse the actual fighting of babies, in cages or otherwise.
  48. 48. Entering a contract to develop the Cage Fighting Babies application.
  49. 49. Know which grammar rules matter We will create web, Android, iPhone and iPad application interfaces. We will create web, Android, iPhone, and iPad application interfaces.
  50. 50. Collaborating with stakeholders.
  51. 51. Be precise After reviewing the feedback, a meeting should be scheduled. After reviewing your feedback, we will schedule a meeting with you.
  52. 52. Creating the design concept.
  53. 53. Avoid jargon We’ll use a CMS to interface with the iOS and Android mobile application. We’ll use a Content Management System (CMS) to connect with the native mobile application. We’ll use web content tools to connect with the mobile application.
  54. 54. Writing button text.
  55. 55. Be actionable Click here to battle! Battle!
  56. 56. Explaining the rewards program.
  57. 57. Really, be precise. If you want extra strength in today’s battles, the best way to do that is to check in today, on Foursquare, at your local Starbucks. Check in at Starbucks on Foursquare for extra strength in today’s battles.
  58. 58. Creating error text.
  59. 59. Avoid hidden verbs To enter a battle, you must complete the registration form. Register to battle.
  60. 60. Surveying users on their experience.
  61. 61. Promote descriptors, demote exceptions Did you press the button that is red to battle, before creating your profile? Before creating your profile, did you press the red button to battle?
  62. 62. Users are searching the app store.
  63. 63. Common words, common meanings Create character profiles and battle with bando boxers, buckaroos, and Martians. Create character profiles and battle with ninjas, cowboys, and aliens.
  64. 64. Go forth! 1.  It’s about consistency, not “correctness” (see who versus whom). 2.  Keep testing. 3.  If you wrote a sentence, now you can write an even better one. Lauren Therese-Grace Colton @LaurenTGC
  65. 65. •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  •  Speak to your audience Avoid jargon Give common words common meanings Know which grammar rules matter Be precise Promote descriptions, demote exceptions Don’t hide your verbs Be actionable Use visual aides Lauren Therese-Grace Colton @LaurenTGC

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