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Notes from the NNG writing for the web workshop

I’ve been a follower of Jakob Nielsen for a number of years. Love him or hate him, his theories on usability are tried and tested, and I’ve been in a number of workplaces who have implemented his guidelines and as a result have very successful sites.

Last week I went to Melbourne to attend Usability week 2008. It was great. Unfortunately Jakob wasn’t able to make it, but there were a number of excellent presenters. Chris Nodder held the writing for the web workshop.

So, as promised, here are some key tips that I picked up from his workshop. There isn’t anything earth shattering here, just some good advice on how to write quality web content.

  • Most online reading is done for research, not entertainment. Be to the point, don’t tease, and clearly have a purpose to the content you are writing.
  • Uppercase letters slows down your reading speed. This means that sentence case (which I’ve always advocated) is best practice for headings and titles. Title case isn’t completely bad; it just means that readers can’t scan content as quick.
  • It’s important to have a good understanding of the reading age of your content. By making your content suitable for a lower reading age, you not only help those with lower literacy levels, you also make it easier for those who can read at a higher level. MS Word does a basic reading age check under Tools > Options > Spelling > Readability. Most sites should be written for a primary school reading age.
  • Having a low reading age doesn’t mean that you are uneducated or stupid. Intelligent people can still have a low reading age, as can people with English as a second language, and older people.
  • Short sentences, short paragraphs, and short words all make it easier to scan text.
  • Keywords should be at the start of sentences and paragraphs as online readers don’t usually read content word-for-word.
  • Bold text can draw people’s eyes to key words or ideas within content.
  • Sub headings and bullets are great for readability.
  • Have one idea per paragraph.
  • Meaningful links are very important: they help with search engine ranking, screen readers, and allow people to know what will happen if they click on one. ‘Click here’ as a link is very BAD.
  • The first paragraph on a page should be a summary of what’s on the whole page (inverted pyramid theory).
  • Use simple words; don’t make up words, no jargon.
  • Write concisely – there should be 50% less text than in a printed document.
  • Have a consistent ‘voice’ for your site.
  • Images should have a purpose and add value to your content.

Sorry for the briefness of the notes, but I think most of them are very self-explanatory. Chris offered his del.icio.us page as a source of reading.

Looking forward to Usability week 2008

I am looking forward to this week as I’ll be flying to Melbourne to attend one of the full day tutorials that will be held as part of Usability week 2008. Some of my colleagues have been to previous NNG events over the years, but this will be my first. I’ll report back soon!

Make it snappy

Finally I’ve started the blog that’s been growing in my mind for the past couple of months. Eventually I’ll move it to my site www.snappysentences.com.au (once it’s up and running), but for the time being this will be my home.

I offer a freelance copywriting service (Snappy sentences), with a focus on web content writing. My blog will consist of the advice and observations I’ve collected from 15 years in the communications world.

Stay tuned….