You can have a pool made out of gold – if the water in it is as dirty and old as a swamp- no one will swim in it!
The same can be said about the content of an intranet. You can have the best design, the best developers and the most carefully planned out navigation and taxonomy but if the content and documents are outdated and hard to read, staff will lose confidence in its authority and relevance and start to look elsewhere – or use it as an excuse to get a coffee.
The content of an intranet is usually left to a representative from each department (if you’re lucky!) Usually people that have been working in a company for years. Or worse yet, to the IT guy. They are going to use very different language to a new starter, or to a book keeper, or the CEO. Often content is written for an intranet “because it has to be there” or to “cover ourselves” or because “the big boss said so” with no real thought into how easy it is to read or who will be reading it.
Content on the internet has changed and adapted to meet a need that a user has and to find it as quickly as possible. Why isn’t the same attitude used for your company? If your workers weren’t so frustrated finding the information they need to do their job, maybe they’d perform better, maybe that would result in faster sales, maybe investing in the products your staff use is just as important as the products your consumers use.
I’m not saying that you have to employ a copywriter for your intranet but at least train the staff you nominate to be custodians of your land (your intranet- your baby).
Below are some tips for your nominated content authors.
The way people read has changed
People read differently thanks to the web. They don’t read. They skim.
- They don’t like to feel passive
- They’re reluctant to invest too much time at one site or your intranet
- They don’t want to work for the information
People DON’T READ MORE because
- What they find isn’t relevant to what they need or want.
- They’re trying to answer a question and they only want the answer.
- They’re trying to do a task and they only want what’s necessary.
Before you write, identify your audience
People come to an intranet page with a specific task in mind. When developing your pages content, keep your users’ tasks in mind and write to ensure you are helping them accomplish those tasks. If your page doesn’t help them complete that task, they’ll leave (or call your department!)
Ask these questions
- Who are they? New starters? Experienced staff? Both? What is the lowest common denominator?
- Where are they? At work? At home? On the train? (Desktop, mobile, laptop, ipad)
- What do they want?
- How educated are they? Are they familiar with business Jargon?
Identify the purpose of your text
As an intranet, the main purpose is to inform and educate. Not so much to entertain or sell.
When writing to present information ensure:
- Consider tables, diagrams or graphs
Structuring your content
Headings and Sub headings
Use headings and sub headings for each new topic. This provides context and informs readers about what is to come. It provides a bridge between chunks of content.
Sentences and Paragraphs
Use short sentences. And use only 1-3 sentences per paragraph.
‘Front Load’ your sentences. Position key information at the front of sentences and paragraphs.
Chunk your text. Break blocks of text into smaller chunks. Each chunk should address a single concept. Chunks should be self-contained and context-independent.
Layering vs scrolling
It is OK if a page scrolls. It just depends how you break up your page! Users’ habits have changed in the past 10 years due to mobile devices, scrolling is not a dirty word, as long as the user knows there’s more content on the page by using visual cues.
Use lists to improve comprehension and retention
- Bullets for list items that have no logical order
- Numbered lists for items that have a logical sequence
- Avoid the lonely bullet point
- Avoid death by bullet point
General Writing tips
- Write in plain English
- Use personal pronouns. Don’t say “Company XYZ prefers you do this” Say “We prefer this”
- Make your point quickly
- Reduce print copy – aim for 50% less copy than what you’d write for print
- Be objective and don’t exaggerate
- USE WHITE SPACE – this makes content easier to scan, and it is more obvious to the eye that content is broken up into chunks.
- Avoid jargon
- Don’t use inflated language
- Avoid explicit link expressions (eg. Click here)
- Describe the information readers will find when they follow the link
- Use VERBS (doing word) as links.
- Warn users of a large file size before they start downloading
- Use links to remove secondary information from the bulk of the text (layer the content)
- Empty words and phrases
- Long words or phrases that could be shorter
- Unnecessary jargon and acronyms
- Repetitive words or phrases
- Adverbs (e.g., quite, really, basically, generally, etc.)
- Don’t pad write with unnecessary sentences
- Stick to the facts
- Use objective language
- Avoid adjectives, adverbs, buzzwords and unsubstantiated claims
Tips for proofreading
- Give it a rest
- Look for one type of problem at a time
- Double-check facts, figures, dates, addresses, and proper names
- Review a hard copy
- Read your text aloud
- Use a spellchecker
- Trust your dictionary
- Read your text backwards
- Create your own proofreading checklist
- Ask for help!
A Useful App
Hemingwayapp.com assesses how good your content is for the web.
A few examples (from a travel page)
Our Approved and Preferred Providers
Company XYZ has contracted arrangements with a number of providers for travel. These arrangements have been established on the basis of extracting best value by aggregating spend across all of Company XYZ.
Why it’s Bad
Use personal pronouns such as we and you, so the user knows you are talking to them. They know where they work. Remove Fluff.
Our Approved and Preferred Providers
We have contracted arrangements with a number of providers for travel to provide best value
Travel consultant: XYZ Travel Solutions is the approved provider of travel consultant services and must be used to make all business travel bookings. All airfare, hotel and car rental bookings must be made through FCM Travel Solutions
Why it’s bad
The author is saying the same thing twice in two different ways. This can easily be said in one sentence.
XYZ Travel Solutions must be used to make all airfare, hotel and car rental bookings.
Qantas is Company XYZ preferred airline for both domestic and international air travel and must be used where it services the route and the “lowest logical fare” differential to another airline is less than $50 for domestic travel and less than $400 for international travel
Why it’s bad
This sentence is too long. This is a case of using too much jargon. What does lowest logical fare even mean? And the second part does not make any sense. What exactly are they trying to say here? I am not entirely sure, but if my guess is correct it should read something like below.
Qantas is our preferred airline for both domestic and international air travel. When flying, choose the cheapest rate available within reason. You can only choose another airline if it is cheaper by $50 for domestic and cheaper by $400 for international travel.
Ground transportation: Company XYZ preferred provider for rental vehicle services is Avis. Please refer to the list of approved rental vehicle types in the “Relevant Documents” link to the right hand side of this page.
Why it’s bad
Front load your sentences. With the most important information first. Don’t make a user dig for a document, have the relevant document right there. Link the Verb. Don’t say CLICK HERE!
Booking lead times: To ensure that the best airfare and hotel rate can be obtained, domestic travel bookings should be made between 14-21 days prior to travel, and international travel bookings between 21 and 42 days prior to travel. For international bookings, also consider lead times for any visas that may need to be obtained.
Why it’s bad
Front load your sentence… most important information first. This is a good opportunity to chunk your text.
Booking lead times
Ensure your book your travel early
14-21 day prior to travel for domestic
21-42 days prior to travel for internatonal (also consider lead times for visas)
This will ensure that the best airfare and hotel rate can be obtained.