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Effective writing for the web | Center for plain language workshop
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Effective writing for the web | Center for plain language workshop

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Writing for the web workshop ...

Writing for the web workshop
Instructors: Dr. Annetta L. Cheek, (Board Chair Center for Plain Language) & Dr. Kath Straub, (Principal, Usability.org and Board Member, Center for Plain Language)

Description
People use the web to get information about your organization more than any other source today. Do you know how well your content works?

In this workshop you will learn how to create useful and usable web content.Through lively presentation using real examples we’ll review concepts, best practices, and testing methods used by experienced plain language writers and content strategists. We address how to

Identify and understand your audience
Plan and organize content
Write in Plain Language
Measure whether people understand what you mean and can use what you say
By the end of the workshop you will feel confident that you can create content that people can find, understand, and use effectively.

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Effective writing for the web | Center for plain language workshop Effective writing for the web | Center for plain language workshop Presentation Transcript

  • Writing for the webCreating persuasive web contentin plain languageAnnetta CheekKath Straub16April2013
  • What is plain language?
  • A document or website is in plain languageIf readers or viewer can easily•  Find what they need•  Understand it•  Use it to fulfill their purposeWhat does “In plain language” mean?
  • In plain languagedoes NOT mean•  Writing to the lowest common denominator•  Avoiding all technical words•  Being impreciseWhat does “In plain language” mean?
  • ExampleAfter Katrina, FEMA received this questionI just found out that the products I have beenusing to clean my home are toxic! Have Idamaged my health by using these products?Here’s how FEMA responded on their website –do you think they gave the important information,and only the important information?
  • FEMA’s answerAnswer: First of all, what is meant by toxicity? Somewhere on theorder of 70,000 different chemicals have been identified as toxic. Achemical produces a toxic effect at concentrations that alter thenormal state of the organism. For many chemicals, there is a dose atwhich there are no toxic effects, there is a dose at which the effectsare reversible, and there is a dose at which the effects may havepermanent consequences. An example of some toxic chemicals thatmany of us are exposed to regularly are caffeine, tobacco, andalcohol. At doses normally consumed by the average person, the"high" effect felt by the individual response can be quite different.One person may be able to drink 5 cups of coffee with out visibleeffects, while another person might get the shakes after 2 cups ofcoffee. This is an example of how the dose and response varies fromone person to the next. At some point, each of these chemicals canhave a much more serious effect on the individual. At extremelyhigh doses . . .And this went on for another 10 lines.
  • Example from a real RegulationBeforeWhen the process of freeing a stuck vehicle that has beenstuck results in ruts or holes, the operator will fill the rut orhole created by such activity before removing the vehicle fromthe immediate area.AfterIf you make a hole while freeing a stuck vehicle, you must fillthe hole before you drive away.(National Park Service regulation)
  • The key to plain language is understanding your audience•  Who is your audience?•  What do they already know?•  What do they still need to know?How can you help them get where(you know) they need to go
  • URBAN LEGEND:People don’t readon the webEXPLANATION:People don’t readon the web whenwhat we write doesnot fit their needs.EyetrackingImage showinguser reading along text-y pagecarefully.
  • Where we are going with thisGood web content sets up a dialogue•  Talk about things I (need to) care about•  Know what I already know•  Hold my hand•  Guide me, don’t lecture me•  Don’t overwhelm me•  Maybe even, … make it fun
  • What does it meanto design a dialogue?
  • The evolution of self-service designUsed carsalesmenand deskclerksWebsitesUsablewebsitesConversationsmade possibleby technology1980 2020We areabout hereHelp meget things doneHelp medo things
  • When we say“transition to self-service,”we don’t really meando it yourself…even on the web.
  • •  READSMARTSmile, Youre in the Dental Care Aislehttp://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/06/business/06shortcuts.html
  • •  READSMARTSmile, Youre in the Dental Care Aislehttp://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/06/business/06shortcuts.htmlI haveLOSS AVERSIONin the toothbrush aisle
  • My mental modelfor getting a toothbrushincludes a guide
  • •  READSMART
  • Two big changes1.  We make more choices from larger choice sets2.  We make them alone…. or with the web as our guide.
  • Acton itUnderstandwhat I foundFindwhat I needWeb design needs to evolveThe old good: A website is good if people can find what they need,understand what they found and act on it effectively.But, this assumes that I know what I’m looking for.
  • Acton itUnderstandwhat I foundFindwhat I needNew “good design” needs to support self-serviceFigure outwhat I wantThe new good: A website works if it helps peoplefigure out what they need to do or ask, find the relevantInformation, understand what they found and act on iteffectively.
  • Acton itUnderstandwhat I foundFindwhat I needNew “good design” needs to support self-serviceFigure outwhat I need/want1. Diagnose2. Guide3. FacilitateThe new good:The web “asks”and understandswhat I want andneed. And thenhelps, based onthat.
  • What does thislook like onthe web?
  • •  READSMART
  • •  READSMART
  • •  READSMART
  • •  READSMART
  • But there isstill a disconnect.There is no web kioskin the toothpaste aisle.
  • How will we knowwhat to say?
  • Step 1: Recognize your biasYou knowtoo much. Andyou probablygive otherpeople thebenefit of thedoubt that theyknow what youdo.
  • Participants can find the answers to key questions on the site, when directedto. But, most were not motivated to do that—or to request their free creditreports—before to the usability test.We have hypotheses for why:1.  Credit reports are mirrors that people don’t want to face.2.  Advertising and experience influences consumer expectations about“free”3.  People don’t understand how reviewing/monitoring their credit reports willbenefit them.All are viable reasons for the low motivation. Since the site can potentiallyaddress it, our research explored #3.Step 2: Understand your audience.
  • Research Insight: Our content will have to (re-)educateUrban legend RealityMy credit report is like a report card. It is animmutable snapshot of my credit history.Your credit report may contain errors thatshould be fixed.I have one credit score. You have three, potentially very differentscores. (And soon, possibly more)All my credit reports will be the same.OrThe different credit reporting companiessell the same report.Each credit reporting company collectsinformation from different organizations. Youneed to check all 3 reportsThe credit reporting agencies are theenemy holding me back.*You and the organizations that provide youcredit are responsible for your score. TheCRAs are just the messengers.Emerging: My credit card company willalert me if anything out of the ordinary ishappening. That is enough.Some credit card companies do that forsome customers.
  • Step 3: Create the conversationUrban legend:Rotating carousels(or hero boxes) arealways bad.Reality: If you know howusers will interact with them,you can use rotatingcarousels to a specific end.
  • Step 3: Show them how it will work
  • Step 3: Show them what to do
  • Step 3: Help users connect the dots (that you take for granted)
  • Step 4: Check to see if they can do it (“Old” usability)
  • Step 4: Ask them if they really understood it (Content testing)
  • How do I know it is in plain language?
  • Writing goals vary on different pages within websites.•  Homepages•  Navigation pages•  Hybrid pages•  Content pagesWe are talking about designing content.
  • Plain writing principles
  • For things we don’t get to …Do this•  Keep it short•  Organize content logically•  Use headings as sign posts•  Use strong verbs, including active voice•  Use pronouns•  Use common words•  Design tables, matrices to guide decisionsAvoid these•  Abbreviations, jargon, legal terms, Latin•  Confusing constructions•  3 or more nouns in a row•  Excess words•  Information the audience doesn’t need to know
  • Today we will focus on ..Do this•  Keep it short•  Organize content logically•  Use headings as sign posts•  Use strong verbs, including active voice•  Use pronouns•  Use common words•  Design tables, matrices to guide decisionsAvoid these•  Abbreviations, jargon, legal terms, Latin•  Confusing constructions•  3 or more nouns in a row•  Excess words•  Information the audience doesn’t need to know
  • For things we don’t coverFederal Plain Language Guidelineshttp://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/guidelines/FederalPLGuidelines/TOC.cfm
  • GOAL:Use fewer words
  • Reduce•  Words on the page•  Sentence length•  Paragraphs length•  # of Pages•  Omit wordy phrases.
  • Omit wordy phrasesPhrases to look for:•  Doublets (cease and desist)•  Redundancies (at this point in time)•  Prepositional phrases
  • Omit wordy phrasesrReplace this … With this …At a later time LaterDuring that time period During that time, or thenWorked jointly together Worked togetherLevel of coverage CoverageWill plan in the future Will planAt least 12 years of age or older At least 12For the purpose of For, toAt this point in time NowIn an effort to To XOn the grounds that BecauseOn a monthly basis Monthly
  • Reduce sentence length•  Written material: 20 words or fewer average•  On the web: 10 words or fewer average
  • Examples: Long sentencesThe 12-month in business requirement can be waived if theborrower’s key personnel can demonstrate export expertiseand successful previous business experience and the lenderuses conventional commercial loan underwriting proceduresand does not rely solely on credit scoring. 39 wordsFederal support for wind and solar energy, biofuels, and otherrenewable energy sources, which has been estimated atseveral billion dollars per year, is fragmented because 23agencies implemented hundreds of renewable energyinitiatives in fiscal year 2010—the latest year for which GAOdeveloped these original data. 48 words
  • Examples: Long sentences (Data.gov)Here you will find hundreds ofgovernment datasets that can helpenable consumer choice; apps thatdemonstrate the power of SmartDisclosure; challenges for appdevelopers; and resources to learnmore about Smart Disclosure.34 wordsToday’s most important choicesinvolve a complicated array ofoptions, whether you’re lookingfor health insurance, educationalopportunities, housing, financialproducts, energy providers, airlineflights, or other products andservices.30 words
  • GOAL:Avoid walls of words
  • Walls of words
  • Walls of words
  • Walls of words
  • Walls of words
  • Not a wall of words
  • Not a wall of words
  • Not a wall of words
  • GOAL:Avoid long pages
  • Our favorite long page: AARP
  • AARP keeps going ….
  • AARP: … and going
  • AARP: But wait … there’s more!
  • AARP: … and MORE!
  • Not a Myth:Readers read more near thetop of your page.The longer the page, thelower the percent they read.How much of this do you think most (any?) people see?
  • Deciding where to start onthe AARP website is a bitlike deciding which shop tovisit in a South East Asianstrip mall.
  • Keep content to one screen•  Readers may scroll, but they read less farther down
  • Your screens: Content on one screen
  • Your sites: Content on one screen
  • Your sites: Content on one screen
  • Your sites: Content on one screen
  • GOAL:Use common words
  • Use common wordsAvoid•  uncommon words•  bureaucratic words•  foreign words•  legal terms•  terms of art•  Even highly educated people read faster and with bettercomprehension if you stick with common words.•  Difficult words do not make you look smarter•  “Common” does not mean “short”!
  • Replace this … With this …Instruct TellReceive GetObtain GetAssistance HelpFacilitate HelpRetain KeepExamples
  • Resources – Common wordshttp://www.plainlanguage.gov/howto/wordsuggestions/simplewords.cfm
  • Uncommon words glued together confuse people even more.Examples from your work:• Enterprise infrastructure solution• Sector protection efforts• Formulates targeted notice programs groundedin . . .• Cloud Enabler• End-to-end mobile application solutions• Potentially duplicative asset managementactivities• Mission specific domain expertise
  • http://www.wordcount.org/main.phpIt is important to knowwhere the corpus comesfrom. This corpus is British..
  • For the scientific purists and people with too much time.http://www.wordfrequency.info/
  • GOAL:Avoid jargon
  • MYTH :All jargon is bad.Good jargonWell understoodwords used inside agroup that facilitatecommunication withinthat groupIf you are writing for rocketscientists, speak rocketscience
  • Bad jargon istypically technicallanguage that hasescaped to the realworld…
  • Abbreviations•  Readers hate abbreviations•  Abbreviations turn your material into a research project foryour readerIf you have to shorten things, use “nicknames” that have somemeaningful content.
  • Use nicknames instead of abbreviationsFor Instead of UseInteragency resourceadvisory committeeIRAC Advisory committeeNew England QualityCare AllianceNEQCA Alliance, or CareAllianceCentral ValleyRegional Health TrustCVRHT Regional Trust
  • Examples from your writing…•  Agile•  Resonating•  APY (not defined)•  Optimization•  Tier•  Termination (unless you’ve killed somebody)
  • Use strong verbs•  Verbs are the strongest word type in English, so use lots ofstrong ones.Goal:Use strong verbs
  • Weak verbs•  Passive voice•  Hidden verbs•  Subjunctive•  Complex forms like perfect tenses•  Simple present is the strongest verb tense.
  • Passive voicePeople read passive sentences slower than active sentences.Active sentences are more common than passive sentences.Active sentencesNoun Verb NounDoer Action to Do-eeThe cat chased the dog.Passive sentencesNoun Verb NounDoer Action to Do-eeThe dog was chased by the cat
  • Present tenseStrong verbsSimple tenseSimple present is thestrongest verb tense
  • Hidden verbs•  Hidden verbs are verbs disguised as nouns - they are longerand weaker than verbs.•  Hidden verbs are one of the biggest problems inbureaucratic writing.
  • Passive voice may not identify the actor.*•  Reports were written.•  Decisions were issued.•  Mistakes were made.* Writers use this strategy to avoid saying who is responsible.
  • ExamplesReplace this … With this …Conduct an analysis AnalyzePresent a report ReportMake a recommendation RecommendProvide assistance HelpThe use of Using
  • Examples from your sites•  facilitate the delivery of•  provide assistance and coordination•  enhance their collaboration•  provides an overview•  undertakes an analysis of
  • GOAL:Don’t say too much
  • Remove content people don’t need• Web content is a conversation with your customer.If material doesn’t belong in the conversation, itdoesn’t belong on the web.• You aren’t Santa Claus. You can’t serve allcustomers. Serve the 2 or 3 most important ones– at the most.• Challenge every word. If you don’t need it, get ridof it.
  • What does this really say?
  • What does this really say?If you’ve been arrested and you can’t afforda lawyer, we can help you.
  • How is knowing this level of detail helping me?What SBA Offers to Help Small Businesses GrowWhat does SBA offer to small business owners? Theprograms are many and varied, and the qualificationsfor each are specific. SBA can help facilitate a loan foryou with a third party lender, guarantee a bond, orhelp you find venture capital. Understanding how SBAworks is the first step towards receiving assistance.SBA’s RoleSBA provides a number of financial assistanceprograms for small businesses that have beenspecifically designed to meet key financing needs,including debt financing, surety bonds, and equityfinancing.You canStart hereand not missanything.
  • Does the reader need to know this?•  The content and organization of the Aviation Safety web pages was inspired by the"Pillars" of the Safety Management Systems (SMS). The resources provided aregrouped into the areas of Promotion, Risk Management, Assurance and Policy toreflect the four pillars of SMS.•  SMS can be utilized as a means of providing a formal process and structure to controlthe risk associated with the vast array of aviation missions.•  It is the goal of SMS to create a positive safety culture where participants continuallychallenge the processes, the culture and the systems to identify weaknesses andwhere improvements can be made. This web site was created with the intent ofproviding relevant and current information, facilitate opportunities to capture thewealth of operational knowledge and experience from the aviation community and tolink learning with training so we may actively take steps toward reaching that goal.Visuals should helpusers identify andunderstand keycontent.
  • US embassy websites around the world say thisSecurity Notice for Visitors to the Embassy and the ConsulatesIn order to ensure everyones safety and to ensure that securityscreening does not delay entrance in to the Consulate and plannedinterviews, no electronic devices, including cell telephones, may bebrought into the Embassy or Consulate. Large backpacks, suitcasesand glass containers are also not permitted. Security personnel willnot store items for applicants and will confiscate all weapons. Wetherefore suggest that all such items be left at home, in a locked car,or with a friend or relative who remains outside the premises.Documents relevant to the visa and/or passport application are theonly items that we encourage applicants to bring with them.Your cooperation will help to ensure everyones safety and will helpus to ensure that we are able to interview you as quickly as possible.
  • US embassy websites around the world could say thisSecurity Notice for Visitors to the Embassy and the ConsulatesIn order to ensure everyones safety and to ensure that securityscreening does not delay entrance in to the Consulate and plannedinterviews, no electronic devices, including cell telephones, may bebrought into the Embassy or Consulate. Large backpacks, suitcasesand glass containers are also not permitted. Security personnel willnot store items for applicants and will confiscate all weapons. Wetherefore suggest that all such items be left at home, in a locked car,or with a friend or relative who remains outside the premises.Documents relevant to the visa and/or passport application are theonly items that we encourage applicants to bring with them.Your cooperation will help to ensure everyones safety and will helpus to ensure that we are able to interview you as quickly as possible.Security Notice - Embassy and Consulates VisitorsTo ensure safety and reduce waiting time, the Embassy limitslimits the items you can bring into the building.Do bring•  Documents relevant to your visa and/or passport application.Do not bring• Electronic devices, including cell telephones• Large backpacks and suitcases• Glass containers• Weapons of any typeThe gate staff can’t hold items for you.
  • This is probably Too Much Information (TMI)
  • Let’s rewrite this paragraphCall our toll-free numberIn addition to using our website, you can call us toll-freeAt 1-800-772-1213. We treat all calls confidentially. We cananswer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondaythrough Friday. Generally, you’ll have a shorter wait timeif you call during the week after Tuesday. We can provideinformation by automated phone service 24 hours a day.(You can use our automated response system to tell us anew address or request a replacement Medicare card.) If youare deaf or hard of hearing, you may call our TTY number,1-800-325-0778. 97 words
  • We think it could look like this:Call us toll-free anytime at 1-800-772-1213.From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday you can talk toa staff person. At other times you’ll reach our automatedsystem. Use it to give us a new address or ask for areplacement Medicare card.)All calls are confidential.TTY number 1-800-325-0778. 52 words
  • Information your users (probably) don’t need•  When Director office was formed•  Who is the Director•  What the Director said the day he was sworn in•  What the Director looks like•  What your annual report from 3 years ago looked like•  How the County government is organized•  What you did for customers 5 years ago•  The text of a law that authorizes your office
  • Reality checkIf you aren’t sure if you need theinformation, ask yourself:Will Kath’s mom care?
  • Back at the conversation (10K ft)
  • Create a conversation that motivates your users•  Help me connect the dots•  Remind me why I care•  Remind me what to do•  Make it easy•  Make me accountable•  Reward me
  • GAMIFICATIONIS JUST BEHAVIORAL MODIFICATION REBRANDED
  • . Now = 6:42am EST today
  • Zynga made 3 things acceptableBeggingBraggingTiny Victories
  • Behavioral change means usingreinforcement to get people tolearn/do things that you wantthem to do that they probablywouldn’t do otherwise.
  • Positive:Add somethingNegative:Take something awayReinforcement:Increasesbehavior Positive reinforcement Negative reinforcementPunishment:DecreasesbehaviorPositive punishment Negative punishmentRemember this from Psych101?
  • Things that make games work.Make success into small,Incremental, visible steps.
  • Things that make games work.Give actionablepositive feedback.
  • Things that make games work.Short termand long termgoals areinterwoven.Hint: sometimes youhave to create sub-goals
  • Things that make games work.Make (tiny)achievementsbuild up.
  • Things that make games work.Benchmarkslet mecompeteand/or collaborate
  • Things that make games work.It is there when I wantit. But opt in.
  • Game mechanics in the real worldFreshbooks
  • A space where game mechanics could help ….How might theexperience of enrolling inand picking 401/403funds be different if youinterposed feedbackduring the process andleveraged the interactivedecision tools on thetoothbrush site?What other gamificationstrategies could youapply?
  • Questions or commentsAnnetta Cheekalcplain@gmail.comKath Straubkath@usability.org