Thursday, January 14, 2016

Happy talk must die. (Steve Krug)

Sometimes, I joke with my writers that they must get paid by the word.

Actually, for some of them, that’s not that far from the truth. A lot of writers for the web wander over from more traditional, print-based media – newspapers, magazines, PR … And, in those fields, writers do have to deal with something called a “word count.” In other words, there is a set amount of words they have to produce – even if they might not have all that much to say.

So, the first thing all these writers who are new to the web have to deal with is the fact that – I hate to break it to ya, fella, but – no one really wants to read your stuff. I’m sure that’s an incredible blow to the ego. It almost, though, seems like a rite of passage to have to come to terms with that fact.

There are two ways that last bit happens. Probably the most effective is to watch a few usability tests. That masterful opening paragraph that you spent hours on and are quite pleased with? Well, it looks like only 9 of 10 users actually read it. And, of the 9 who didn’t, did you hear their quotes? Did that one guy actually say, “Blah blah blah”? He did!

If that doesn’t work, I usually bring up all the research that shows that people really don’t like to read online, and why that is. My particular favorite is the seminal work that was done at the Nielsen Norman Group.

Nielsen Norman also, however, point to some real solutions as well. Now, these are simple things such as:
  • Using lists
  • Bolding keywords
  • Breaking up paragraphs

What’s really great about these methods is that they support the way most people read on the web, something known as “scan and skim.”

The main point I try to get across, though, is that those big, grey blobs that you were been rewarded for in previous lives? I hate to break it to ya, but they just ain’t going to work here. 

I’m pretty sure this is not what Steve was talking about
(Happy Talk is a song from South Pacific,
here covered by English Goth Punk band The Damned)

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