Choose your words wisely
You have limited time and opportunities to communicate key information to your audience. The words you use to reach your audience of employees can make or break user experiences, communication efforts, and even the adoption of your digital workplace.
Words matter and have an impact on the following:
- Rate and success of content consumption: Choosing the right words for the right audience makes content easy to consume, allowing the audience to get the information they need quickly and easily.
- Ability to complete tasks or access information: Choosing the right words to direct and instruct audiences makes them more successful at completing tasks or finding the information they need.
- Trust in the information and the source: Choosing the right words builds trust being content creators and their audience. Poor word choices can lead to distrust in the content itself or in the source that's providing the information.
- Emotional response: Choosing the right words can make your audience feel confident and positive, while poor word choices can lead to feelings of frustration, confusion, and negativity. Offering the most positive experience will keep audiences coming back to find what they need.
Keep it simple, stupid! (KISS)
If your information isn't simple, clear, and concise, it may get missed, ignored, or misinterpreted. Consider the following tactics to keep content simple and succinct:
- Use plain language: This doesn't mean dumbing down information. It's about choosing the simplest words to create clear and concise content that employees can easily understand, whether they're desk focused on reading or on-the-go, scanning information as they head to their next meeting.
- Avoid jargon: Some departments have their own jargon, but if the goal is to communicate with employees outside of a department, that jargon will not only be confusing but can result in employees unfollowing channels because they're unable to see the value of information they can't understand.
- Avoid abbreviations and acronyms: Like jargon, abbreviations and acronyms can be confusing for employees. If have to use these short forms, use the general rule of spelling it out on the first mention with the short form in brackets, then you can just use the short form after. For example, "key performance indicators (KPIs)" on the first mention, and "KPIs" after that first mention.
- Use only the words you need: Don't use three words when one will do.
- Avoid long sentences and paragraphs: Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point.
Active versus passive voice
One of the easiest ways to create clear and concise content is to write in the active voice versus the passive voice. The active voice is generally more authoritative and flows smoothly. The passive voice often requires more words and can be unclear or vague.
- Active voice: The subject of the sentence performs the action. (e.g. The dog bit the man.)
- Passive voice: The subject receives the action. (e.g. The man was bitten by the dog.)
Note: There may be some cases where using the passive voice makes sense, like when you want to emphasize the action more than the subject of the sentence. When in doubt, try reading your sentence aloud to see how it sounds.
|Playbook Tip: How "readable" is your content?|
Did you know that you can measure the readability of your content through readability statistics? There are tools that help you measure the readability of your content by analyzing things like the length of paragraphs and sentences, and the complexity and length of the words used. Learn more from our best practice for measuring the readability of content.
Guide content consumption
The structure and organization of content is another opportunity to ensure readability. The tactics listed below help guide your audience to consume content in the most effective way possible.
A technique used by journalists, the Inverted Pyramid approach puts the most important information first. This is a great way to ensure that your audience is consuming key information, even if they simply scan the first few sentences.
Another advantage of using the Inverted Pyramid approach is grabbing the audience's attention quickly with the most crucial information. Then following with additional information that is helpful, but not crucial. Lastly, you can include more general information that is "nice to have" but not critical to the key message or information you are covering.
Breaking up large chunks of text helps improve the readable of your content. One way to do that is to use bullet lists. Bullet lists are also helpful for drawing attention to multiple related key points. Visually, bullet lists stick out and when your audience scans and skims, they are more likely to pay attention to these lists. Each point of bullet lists can be short and sweet, summarizes important information quickly and efficiently.
Another way to break up large chunks of text is to use headings and subheadings. Use descriptive headings to clearly indicate what information will follow. Resist the urge to be clever with your headings. A reader should be able to know what the section is about by simply reading the heading or subheading. This is another technique that supports scanning and skimming, as well as accessibility for anyone using assistive technology like a screen reader.
Like headings, your links should be descriptive. A reader should know exactly what will happen when they click on a link simply by reading the hyperlinked text or call-to-action (CTA) within a button or other clickable element. Never use "click here" or "learn more" for your links.
Why? Close your eyes and imagine that you are using assistive technology like a screen reader. The technology reads aloud the available links for you to choose from: "click here; click here; click here; learn more; click here...". How do you know which link you need to select? Descriptive links tell you exactly where the link will take you. (e.g. "Learn more about writing descriptive links." versus "Click here to learn more about writing descriptive links."