It may appear obvious, but often the most important element that will ensure the people you want to participate in your intranet, enterprise portal or extranet, is given limited attention. Yet research and anecdotal feedback clearly shows that when you spend time and effort getting your content right you can achieve high levels of participation and so realise your ROI.
Look and feel and information architecture are important, but no matter how technically sound, your online communication will only have as much value as the content that is available and how effectively you can create a dialogue with the users to help them interact with that content
Online readers have a lot in common with supermarket checkout scanners
People seldom read webpages word for word. Instead, they scan pages, picking out individual words and sentences. Their eyes will fall to headings, bullet points, key words and graphs on a Web page. So when writing or editing for the web it is critical to recognise the way in which readers seek information within this environment, and tailor your content so it grabs their attention.
Golden rules in creating content for the web
Golden rule 1: Assume a conversational tone
Use an informal conversational tone that has more in common with a one to one dialogue than the printed word. Include pre-emptive questions and “calls to action” for example click here to find our more.
Golden rule 2: Don’t waffle, be factual
Golden rule 3: Reveal your main point from the first paragraph
Get your message across in the first paragraph. Online readers are impatient and will abandon what you’ve written if you haven’t engaged them quickly.
Golden rule 4: Be active, not passive
Write in the present tense.
Golden rule 5: Write a good headline
Users select what to read, it is rarely an accidental choice: employ headlines to engage them (five/six words).
Golden rule 6: Break up it up
Break up dense paragraphs of text by employing bullet points, subheadings and introducing attention grabbing hints, tips or shortcuts. This encourages users to scan the page and hit on key words.
Tip: Subheadings are mini headlines that appear throughout text and improve legibility. Ideally these sub-heads will appear after every third or fourth paragraph.
Golden rule 7: Keep paragraphs short
Golden rule 8: Create links within text
Online readers like to graze rather than sit down to a big meal so create information in layers and offer links to more detailed information. The top layer should a summary, with links to deeper content.
Golden rule 9: Avoid jargon and acronyms
Don’t make the fatal mistake of assuming readers understand the jargon or the acronyms you take for granted. Introduce a glossary if you feel jargon and acronyms are necessary.
Golden rule 10: Be consistent
Good websites use style guides that set a standard for tone, use of language, grammar, syntax, document formatting, design rules, etc.
This ensures consistency throughout the website.
First published in the Content Digest December 2002