Content Writing

Writing more consumable content

As part of your transformation journey, it's important to understand that you're serving a digital audience. Writing for a digital audience to inform and educate requires an approach that puts readability first. More "readable" content allows your audience to consume, understand, and retain information quickly and easily. 

The Audience

Audiences of the digital age 

The digital age is not only changing the way we work, but the way we consume, interact with, and use information. Today, our ability to access a wealth of information online presents us with an interesting challenge—how do you find, consume, and retain the information we need, when we need it? Understanding the behaviors, needs, and habits of digital audiences help you address this challenge, using your digital workplace as a tool to deliver valuable, helpful content to your audience of employees. 

PlaybookTip_Icon.pngPlaybook Tip:  Understand the goals of your digital workplace audience

Employees generally come to a digital workplace to do one of two things: 

  • Find information 
  • Complete a task

Digital Workplace Builders and Content Creators must keep this in mind as they build your digital workplace and populate content. If your digital workplace fails at helping employees achieve either of these goals, adoption doesn't happen and engagement drops.

Access to information 

With the digitization of information and processes, access to information has become a universal expectation. Ease of access is also expected, enabling users to find the information they're looking for quickly and easily. Digital audiences generally have a "get in, get out" mentality, wanting to find information or complete tasks as quickly as possible, without hitting roadblocks, wasting time trying to navigate to where they need to do, or having to read a bunch of information just to find out that they are in the wrong spot.  

Your digital workplace has features and functionality that can support your efforts to provide your employees with easy access to information—a key goal of many organizations going through a digital transformation journey. This includes centralizing related information and content, taking a user-centric approach to storing and organizing content, making it easy for employees to find and use the information they need to do their job or complete specific tasks. 

Attention spans



“We are moving from a world where computing power was scarce to a place where it now is almost limitless, and where the true scarce commodity is increasingly human attention.” - Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft Canada

In 2015, a study by Consumer Insights, Microsoft Canada reported that the average human attention span is 8 seconds (compared to 12 seconds in 2000). With user attention spans averaging less than that of a goldfish (9 seconds), you had better deliver content that gets right to the point. Grabbing a user's attention (and maintaining it long enough to deliver key information) requires more than a clever headline or eye-catching visual. Once you have their attention, users expect to see the purpose and value of content right away. Users can become frustrated and give up rather quickly if they're unsuccessful at the finding information they need or understanding the value/purpose of the content available. Trust in your digital workplace's content can drop, impacting adoption and engagement. 

Scanning and skimming 

Another common behavior of digital audiences is scanning and skimming content rather than reading every single word, sentence, and paragraph. Scanning and skimming helps people find the information they need faster, quickly sorting through all of the additional information presented to us. Some things that stick out to a user while they scan and skim content include: 

  • Headings 
  • Bullet lists 
  • Links 
  • Visuals 

Your digital workplace contains a lot of valuable information. It's your job to ensure users can find the piece of information they're looking for easily within documents, files, articles, etc. by supporting their desire to scan and skim. Creating scannable content also helps ensure the consumption of key information because the creator is narrowing down the information instead of the audience making their own decision about what to scan and skim.

Literacy, language, and cognitive barriers  

Some organizations must serve a wide, diverse audience of employees. The wider the audience, the harder it can be to create content that serves their needs. This is also something many organizations must think about when it comes to providing accessible content to their workforce. When it comes to accessibility of information, consider the following: 

  • Education and literacy levels 
  • Language barriers
  • Cognitive barriers (e.g. dyslexia) 
  • Physical barriers (e.g. visual impairment) 

The tactics outlined in the Digital Content Writing chapter provides best practices for creating accessible, easy-to-consume content. 

The Content

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. 

ContentWriting_imgWords 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. 

PlaybookTip_Icon.pngPlaybook 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. 

Inverted pyramid   ContentWritingPyramid_img

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.  

Bullet lists 

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.  

Headings 

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. 

Descriptive links 

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." 


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