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.