Simple, clear copy (in any language)

One of the first rules of web copywriting is to use plain English, to give every reader the best chance of understanding your content. Your website is available to the entire world and will have visitors who have a first language different to your own. Don’t forget, however, that native speakers also have differing reading and writing abilities.

Writing in a simple, clear style benefits all users; it makes your website easier to read and understand (communicating your messages more effectively). Concise copy fulfils accessibility requirements for both people and search engines, making your website also easier to find.

Reading ability will vary within your own audience

The W3C’s WCAG 2.0 has a reading level criterion that says if the ‘text requires reading ability more advanced than the lower secondary education level’, a version that is not more advanced should also available.

This caters for ‘people with reading disabilities [which may include highly educated members of the intended audience] while also allowing authors to publish difficult or complex web content’.

Consider users …

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Originality is underrated

This might seem like an obvious statement, but I’ve been mulling over this a lot today. I know I should write more regularly on this blog, but I’m finding it hard to think of things that nobody else has covered a million (okay, ‘several’) times before.

In this new world of web 2.0, ideas are created and shared faster and more regularly than ever before. Or, thinking about it, perhaps there are the same amount of ideas but they’re shared MORE?

Like any self-respecting web ‘professional’, I have a profile on the requisite hat trick of social networks (Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook). I also read a long (some might say out of control) list of blogs. Hey, I’m a copywriter; I like to read and I also like to learn.

While most of the blogs do seem to come up with new angles on the same ideas, Twitter, for example, only seems to share and not create them. It’s got to the point where several people I’m following all RT (‘return Tweet’) the same idea in the space of minutes. …

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Book: ‘Eats, shoots and leaves’

I’m not one of those people who’s averse to using an exclamation mark. I also like commas, apostrophes and all the other types of punctuation. I don’t apologise if this sounds a bit geeky; I write for a living, so it’s right that I have an interest in how to use them to their best effect.

So, I’ve just started reading Lynne Truss‘s book, Eats, Shoots and Leaves (2003). It’s been on my mind to get hold of a copy for a little while, as it received quite a mixed reception when it was first published. Okay, it may not be for everyone, but I’m really enjoying it. The book’s a very interesting, curious account of modern-day applications of punctuation and where it all stemmed from.

It’s not an in-depth history of the development of each mark, but more of a cheerful narration on where many of them started and why they’re so necessary to our understanding of the written word. Leading on from that, the book also mentions how punctuation has contributed to different …

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‘Thoughtful, investigative pieces don’t work on the web’

An interesting article on the Guardian’s website today. Aida Edemariam looks at the issue of search on the internet and how this influences online writing in contrast to offline articles.

This, of course, links in to how content for the web must be structured differently in general. Unfortunately, she thinks it makes ‘depressing reading’, interpreting it as meaning that ‘long, thoughtful, investigative pieces don’t work [on the web]’.

‘Write great content’

She quotes Paul Roach, the Guardian’s head of SEO, who says that for successful search results, ‘you just have to write great content’. Good advice. She then refers to the following advice from Jakob Nielsen:

“Stick to simple presentation formats in all ways: a logical progression of the story, mainly active sentences, simple words, short sentences, and a plain, scrolling page. Also, keep people looking down the page by scattering attractive elements throughout the page in the form of subheads and bulleted lists.”

Edemariam concludes that: ‘Short pieces work. Lists work even better. Long, thoughtful, …

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British English or American English?

Jakob Nielsen recently covered the issue of which English language variant to use in one of his recent Alertbox emails. This topic usually interests me or bugs me in equal measure (but for different reasons).

I’ve written for companies that want to use British English and for those that prefer American English. As Nielsen points out, it’s not just a case of changing the spellings. It’s about terminology and more. He provides some useful tips, as well as guidance on which version to use.

As ever, it boils down to your website’s target audience, which is your first consideration in any type of communication. However, your choice is also influenced to some extent by how you want to portray yourself or your company. That is, as an international business or a regional one.

Nielsen also explains how using the incorrect version can alienate the people you’re trying to speak to. As he says, ‘language matters’. Visitors will make assumptions about a company or product based on the variant used.

Finally, he says to …

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Online style guides

Any organisation that produces printed publications understands the importance of an editorial style guide. So it stands to reason that a separate style guide for your websites, intranet sites and e-newsletters is important too.

When creating an online style guide, the differences between online and offline communications and how content is generated should be taken into consideration.

In many instances, a network of administrators (not always professional communicators) add information onto a website via a content management system (CMS). They might not be very knowledgable about the best ways to write for a website, or sure of what information to include.

An online style guide can help to define some of the basic rules for writing for the web, such as the right language to use online, how to structure the content to make it easier to read, or even what fonts and colours to use.

It also serves many of the same purposes as a style guide for printed publications. For example, it helps to make sure that all websites have a consistent tone of voice, and that spellings …

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