Category “Plain Language”

Less is Definitely More When Writing Web Content

Tuesday, 10 June, 2014

Man surrounded by paperwork

I wrote the following post on the new LinkedIn publishing tool, and I know I’ve written similar topics before, but I thought it was worth reproducing here:

The architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously stated that “less is more” when it comes to good design. The same applies to many things in life such as asking for favours, applying make up, McDonald’s, and above all, web content.

The challenge all web writers have is not only how to write engaging content but also how to keep visitors on a website long enough to actually read that content so they’ll do what you want them to do (e.g. buy your product, hire your company, etc.). One of the recommended rules of writing is that you should take what you’ve written, halve it, and then halve it again – leaving you with the core of the message.

It’s definitely something I’ve found hard, as a lover of words and coming from an academic background, but there is a certain satisfaction in knowing you’ve picked the most precise language, used one word instead of five (what’s wrong with using “because” instead of “due to the fact that”?), and kept it simple but eloquent.

So when you’re considering writing web content, remember the following tips:

  • lists and headings/sub-headings can often replace a chunk of text (but make these count – engage the reader and focus on your main ideas and calls to action)
  • images really can be worth 1000 words
  • paragraphs should be short and start or end with the main idea (think about how seldom we read everything on the page)
  • nouns and verbs should be concrete and precise
  • language should be easy to understand, concise, and conversational
  • meaning should be very clear – don’t make the reader search for key information (hint: they won’t!)
  • links and sub-pages can divide up long chunks of text and add value for the reader (remember we don’t read web content in a linear way like a book)

So, focus on what you want the reader to do on your page, help them navigate the information and the website as a whole with logical ideas and design, and make sure that whatever content you include answers all the reader’s potential questions.

Finally, Van der Rohe also said “God is in the details,” so don’t forget to do a thorough proofread, spell check, and fact check before you publish. Heaven forbid you include an incorrect phone number or broken link.

PS – If this sounds like your worst nightmare, despite my tips, then why not hire me to do it for you?

Plain Language and Clear Communication

Friday, 18 October, 2013

Last week I had the fortune to attend the Plain Language Conference (PLAIN2013) that was held here in Vancouver. I have to admit that I had never heard of the plain language movement, but after this great event, I certainly do now.

I met a lot of very interesting people from different backgrounds, including one of the plenary speakers, the highly entertaining and informative Dr Neil James who is the Executive Director of the Plain English Foundation based in Australia. In essence, the conference was an opportunity to meet and hear from plain language advocates. So just what is plain language?

Plain language is also often referred to as clear communication, and as these names imply, focus is on trying to craft easy-to-read and consume documents. The following is a slide from Dr. James’ presentation and it explains it in more depth:

Definition of Clear Communication

 

 

What was enlightening (and reassuring) about all the talks I attended is that I realised that this is what I am trying to teach my students and also trying to apply to the work I do for my clients. I just didn’t know it had a support group.

Although there was a volume of information, all the talks I went to taught me something new, and I came back inspired and more confident in what I do. I especially enjoyed a talk by Rachel McAlpine, an author, teacher, trainer, and generally all round fabulous person. She spoke about her experiences as a writer, trying to bridge the gap of what she calls “joy writing” with “work writing” and how one can feed the other. It was a good reminder of needing to slow down, feed one’s passions, and not let the ‘everyday’ get one down. Good life lessons.

Some of the ideas and information I absorbed included information on  rethinking how people read (getting rid of this polarization of good and bad readers and adding an intermediate level), needing to accommodate mobile users, and being aware of the stories of those around us.

I came back brimming with ideas and inspiration, a ton of excellent resources, a great sense of reassurance that I know what I’m doing, and  some new friends to top it off.

For more inspiration about plain language, you should check out this TED talk by Sandra Fisher-Martins, titled “The Right to Understand” and you can also access speaker videos, presentations etc, from the PLAIN2013 website.

Geraldine