A point to note on this one: some organisations don't want to make contact
easy. Some don't want their audience to engage -- which in the digital age
is madness. Users will find your contact details even if you don't provide
them. So make your contact details easy to find – you'll frustrate your
The Oxford Guide to Plain English recommends words per sentence. It also
says: 'If you regularly exceed 40 words, you'll certainly weary and deter
Jyoti Sanyal, author of Indlish (the book for every English-speaking
Indian), said: 'Based on several studies, press associations in the USA
have laid down a readability table. Their survey shows readers find
sentences of 8 words or less very easy to read; 11 words, easy; 14 words
fairly easy; 17 words standard; 21 words fairly difficult; 25 words
difficult and 29 words or more, very difficult.'
Author Ann Wylie said: 'When the average sentence length in a piece was
fewer than 8 words long, readers understood 100% of the story. At 14 words,
they could comprehend more than 90% of the information. But move up to
43-word sentences and comprehension dropped below 10 percent.'
I've found the best way to get the rest of an organisation to agree with my
work and approach is to run a workshop where all the right people are
My advice is to invite anyone and everyone who might influence, stop or
change your content.
Get the fact-checkers, the lawyers, the bosses – anyone who might feel the
need to interfere.
A user story is a way of pinning down what the team need todo without
telling them how to do it.
A user story looks like this: As a [person in a particular role], I want to
[perform an action or find something out], So that [achieve my goal of...]
In his study 'How Little Do Users Read?', Jakob Nielsen found that online,
people only read 20-28% of the page. The cognitive load (in other words,
the mental effort required to take in the information) increases 11% for
every 100 words added to the page.
Don't call it a meeting. Sometimes, a word like workshop does the job, but
it is overused and can mean different things to different people.
...you call it a 'decision-making session'.
This will stand out in people's email inboxes. It sounds final and it has
an action attached. People in places of authority or responsibility either
love, or are scared of decisions. Either way, you probably have their
attention. It also sends a clear message to those people. They: are
expected to make a decision, may feel they'll miss something important if
they are not there, and are much more likely to open that email.
Most probably do 4 to 5 saccades per second, and a regression once every 2
seconds. This leads to a typographical consideration. If lines of text are
too short, you'll increase regressive saccades. If they are too long, the
return path is too long and people can get confused about where their eye
needs to go back to.
People who are well read (aka not dumb) read a lot. They don't have time to
wade through jargon. They want the information else quickly and easily –
just like everyone else. Wanting to understand quickly has little to do
with intelligence. It has a lot to do with time and respect.
Filling web pages with turgid prose doesn't make anyone look clever; it
makes them look arrogant and disrespectful. They don't care what people
think of the writing or how long it takes the audience to get through it.
The rules are: be respectful, everyone did the best job possible with the
knowledge they had at the time. Only discuss the content, not the person
who created it. Only give constructive criticism: "That's crap" is
unhelpful and unacceptable. No one has to defend a decision.
The way you do bulleted lists is a matter of style. Generally I'd go with:
if it has a lead-in sentence, use lowercase at the start of each of the
bullet points. If there's no lead-in, uppercase. Punctuation at the end of
a sentence is entirely optional. Screen readers (software products designed
to help people with visual impairments read digital content) will pause
longer if there is a comma at the end of each point. That's about it,
Job stories are for specific tasks and usually when you have one audience.
They are good for targeted actions.
Job stories always start with: When [there's a particular situation], I
want to [perform an action or find something out], So I can [achieve my
So, with your research and your user needs, you know what is important for
your audience. With that in mind you can put what most people are looking
for right up front. This is the 80/20 rule. Put the information that 80% of
your audience is looking for first. The information the other 20% of your
audience is looking for should be there – and findable from a search engine
– but not front and centre. It will put off 80% of your audience.
Subheadings help you remember and understand. When you read a very complex
or long document, your brain will see subheadings as markers. If you need
to go back through the text you have read, it's easier to remember where
that info is if there's a subheading nearby (particularly if your
subheadings tell a coherent story).
There's a book called 'Information Foraging Theory' written by Peter L T
Pirolli, published in 2007. Despite its age, it's an mine of information
that is mostly still relevant today. In short (I'm reducing 216 pages to a
sentence here), it says that users will go as far as they need to, and
click as many times as they need to, as long as the scent of information'
In other words: as long as a person thinks they will get the information
they need, and they don't think they are on the wrong path, they will
continue for quite some time.
You can use this for structuring the information on your website, in-page
copy, and tools and transactions. As long as you follow your audience's
mental model of how the information will be available, and you provide a
strong scent of information, you are on the right path.
That's not an excuse to be verbose. What I'm saying is: people don't always
abandon a task within a set number of clicks.
Job stories are a better choice if you only have one audience to deal with.
You know you need to switch from user stories to job stories if every
single user story you write begins with the same thing. If you're writing
'As a shopper, I...' at the beginning of every user story, switch to job
If you have multiple audiences, each of which has different needs for
different kinds of content and different levels of detail, you may find
user stories better.