Wednesday, March 24, 2010

11 Hot Tips for Techknowledgeable Writing

Well... they were hot when I wrote them originally 4 years ago. But I think it is still valid for creators of website content - layout and presentation can make or break the deal...

1. Put yourself in the reader's position
What is the most important thing on your website or in our email, newsletter or blog for users? (Use your web statistics to form and opinion on this.) In each and every article, try to pinpoint what users will find to be most interesting or useful, and focus on this.

2. Use the right trigger words (key word)
When users come to your website, they have a mental picture of what they seek, often a so-called "trigger word". If they come from a search engine, is is the word that they used in their search query.

If a user is searching for "glasses" , he (read "she" if you prefer) will not automatically click on the word "visual aids". It is for this reason that it is counter-productive to use the jargon in articles or navigation bars.

Jargon fails because the user is looking for his trigger word, and does not find it. Therefore; fine out which words your users like to use and to describe their search. Use these words and not your own internal jargon!

3. Write meaningful headlines
In order for a reader to get interested in an article, web page, long email, blog or newsletter, he has to know what the article or page is about. After that, the reader will determine whether it is relevant and interesting and whether it answers his current question.

Therefore: A good headline uses relevant trigger words (see above) and is descriptive - telling what the article is about. If you have a web page about offshore oil exploration off the coast of Newfoundland, "Newfoundland offshore oil exploration" would be a good title, and "Newfoundland economy" would not.

Remember that headlines can end up being the entire story (when the article is placed lower on the screen, or when another site quotes your content). Then the headline will have to stand alone - with neither picture or sub-header to support it - and still be able to convey the news.

4. Write the article as a teaser
A "teaser" consisting of a headline, sub-headline and picture, should be able to inform the user of an event to such a degree that a user that is in a hurry (or who is only reading superficially) does not need to read the whole story. Those who are interested in reading more about the topic can click in on the entire story, while those who aren't, will still get the basic information.

5. Use the most appropriate presentation method
Information can be presented in many different ways. By analyzing and organizing your content you will be in a good position to select the best presentation method. Choose from:
  • bullet and numbered lists,
  • tables,
  • graphs,
  • flowcharts and
  • diagrams.
6. Help readers down the page
Let the reader get a quick grasp of the article by simply glancing at the page. Techniques to help readers down the page, are:
  • Bullet Points
  • Hyperlinks
  • Bold words (preferably trigger words)
Remember that these elements must give a complete description of the article when the reader simply looks down the page (seeing only the headlines, links, points and bold or underlined words). Pay attention to the fact that you can spin or twist a whole article by choosing to make one word bold, so be careful.

7. Create space on the screen
Few things kill a reader's desire to read, like a massive and visually impenetrable block of letters. Only the most motivated readers will dare to read such an article (basically fewer than 5 per cent - check your website statistics if you do not believe me!

Therefore: Create space! Break text up into paragraphs, sub-titles, pictures, lists and bold words so that the page doesn't appear like a fortress.

8. A picture is worth more than a 1000 words...
Text is not the best medium to convey all types of information. So, consider whether your information can be conveyed better via pictures, numbers, models, diagrams etc.

9. Say it as simply as possible
Write simply and directly. To achieve this, think "How would I explain this to a grade 4 student?" or "What would I have said if this were a classified advertisement?"

The intention is not to underestimate the reader, but to write in an inclusive way. If you need to write an extensive and complex article (a research report, a medical analysis etc.) consider breaking it into smaller parts (see Tip 7).

10. Layer it
If you must convey a demanding text, consider doing it over two different pages: Make one simple article, which explains where the content can be obtained, or which presents the main points of the larger article.

Set up a link to the entire report/text/evaluation for those who are particularly interested in it, from where it can also be printed.

11. Watch out for typing errors!
It is hard to catch your own mistakes, so set up routines whereby a colleague double-checks your work, if possible. Spell-check your own work. Remember that a misspelled word not only looks unprofessional, but can also confuse a search engine. A user looking for "Canada" on your web site will not get a hit for an article that mentions "Caanada".

1 comment:

Bettina said...

Good usefull stuff! Thanks, Wilma.