Once again, it’s time to make promises that are impossible to keep, and swear off bad habits that are sure to come back, because, well… they’re habits. But if it’s any help, I’ve identified some bad habits that are pretty common among web writers. Break them and more user-focused content could be yours.
But first, repeat after me…
1. “I will not assume that people will read every word I write.”
We all know perfectly well that they won’t, so why do we tend to write as if they will?
2. “I will not try to ‘help’ people by giving them all the information they could possibly want.”
It’s right there, so why can’t they find it? Because everything else is right there too.
3. “I will not start at the beginning.”
Given that they may only read the first part, it just makes sense to start with what is most immediately applicable to their needs and interests.
4. “I will stop once I’ve met the users’ needs.”
And if I have a lot more to say, and it’s really, really cool and interesting… I’ll stop anyway.
5. “I will not put my organization’s perspective ahead of the users’.”
“We pride ourselves…” — just broke this resolution twice within the three words.
6. “I will not patronize or flatter my readers.”
“Because you, our valued customers, come first” — if they come first, why is it taking so long to get to their content?
7. “I will not make access to information dependent on prior knowledge.”
Unfamiliar acronyms and jargon fail to guide users to content, while making them feel like outsiders who don’t know the lingo.
8. “I will write only about the subject at hand, not about the website.”
“Welcome! Click on these links to…” – It’s 2018; we can stop telling people how to use the web and just get to the content they’re looking for.
9. “I will not make relative time and date references.”
Users don’t read as if in the here and now. They’ve been burned too many times by web pages that say things like “Check back soon for updates!”
10. “I will not blame users for anything, ever.”
Maybe they inadvertently caused the problem, but if I say “Your entry is invalid,” then I’ve just dissed the very people I’m trying to please, meaning I’m now the bigger problem.
These are based on my workshop, “Writing and Editing for the Web,” so if you find them useful, consider requesting the full workshop for your institution.