Creating simple content

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It’s often said that less is more.  I disagree if we’re talking about champagne or expensive chocolates.  But when it comes to content I wholeheartedly agree.

So here are my top tips for creating minimal (but valuable) web content.

Do you even need words?

Did you know you can speak a thousand words with an image?  Of course you do, we all know that.

If you need to communicate quickly, an image allows the user to make connections and understand what you’re talking about in a fraction of the time it would take to read a sentence or three.  In fact, research estimates you can process an image in 13 milliseconds (it took me longer to type 13).

Consider whether you can show a diagram, use icons, images or infographics to make complex information easy for your customer.  Here’s a great example from GDS:

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By using the diagram they’ve eliminated the need to explain in words where to find something.  Think mobile-first, and you’ll soon recognise the need for reduced copy.

Crystalise your copy

When you write your copy, write it, re-write it, then re-write it again, removing the unnecessary words each time you write.  This is a crucial skill that journalists learn because they have word restrictions.  Tweeting is a great way to practice this.  A character limitation forces you to be brutal with words.  It also makes your sentences shorter and easier to read.  Reader comprehension drops dramatically once a sentence creeps above 25 words according to research by Ann Wylie.

Write in tiers

Rather than writing in tears (which makes your words look a bit smudgy), think about tiers.  Some users want to move through a journey as quickly as possible and don’t worry about the detail.  Others want to delve into every bit of information and read the small print.  You can cater for all these people by layering your copy.    Keep the critical information to the forefront of your journey then allow people to ‘read more’ if they want to by revealing it bit by bit.

Keep it bite-sized 

If you’ve ever looked at a heatmap you’ll see how much less time web users dwell on large chunks of copy.  They’ll look for navigational clues that allow them to take in what’s there more easily.  Headers, subheaders, bullet points and small bite-sized sections of copy are easier to digest.  You wouldn’t eat an elephant in one go would you?

Write in your users’ language

Don’t create a language barrier by using technical jargon or long words that need to be read twice to understand.  If you had to explain what you’d just written to a friend would you use the same words?  If not why not?

Write in simple terms and where possible bring your copy to life with real-life examples.  Think about your audience, who are they, and how would they want to be communicated to?  The broader your audience, the more accessible you’ll need to make your copy.

User test

For the ultimate test of your copy, put it in front of users and check they’ve understood it.  This also allows you to iterate and pick up any issues early on (better now than once it’s live).  A user can be anyone – someone in the street, your office, your mum, or a formal participant in a lab.  We’re all web users after all.