Most of us are aware of the golden rule for plain writing on the Web: Keep It Short and Simple (KISS).
But there’s no getting around it--at some point you are likely to have a long piece of complex material that you have to put up on your website.
It might be a ‘terms and conditions’ page for a contractual agreement. A set of instructions for a new product. A detailed explanation of a business policy. Whatever it is, you want your customers to read it because it will improve your business.
You can’t force them to read it, but you can encourage them to read it. You can make it inviting. Enticing. Kissable. Here’s how.
1. Break the text into shorter pages or sections
Nothing is more forbidding to an online visitor than a long page of unbroken text. If you can break the text into shorter pages, do so. And be sure to put a navigable menu at the top or left of the page, so users can see at a glance what the material covers and get to the page they want easily.
If you do have to keep a long piece of text on a single page, put a clickable list of subheads at the top of the page, so users can jump down to the section they want. ‘Back to top’ links every two or three paragraphs are also thoughtful and help visitors cut down on scrolling.
2. Keep sentences short
Online visitors get lost in long sentences. Don’t present them with something that they’ll have to reread and decode. Keep sentence length to about 15 to 20 words, with no more than two clauses.
One way to keep sentences short is to break them, with the most natural break being at a second ‘and’. The sentence ‘This agreement is between the Widget Communications Company and customer and applies to the customer’s use of Widget services’ isn’t that long, but would work better as ‘This agreement is between the Widget Communications Company and the customer. It applies to the customer's use of Widget services.’
If a sentence has a long list of words or points, recast it using bullets.
3. Use plain words
Officialese is so pervasive that we hardly recognize when we read it. But it still has an effect, and it still sounds pompous and impersonal:
- ‘Due to the fact that’ instead of ‘because’
- ‘Regarding’ instead of ‘about’
- ‘For the purpose of’ instead of ‘for’
- ‘If this is not the case’ instead of ‘if not’
The list goes on. Review your text and mercilessly strip it of officialese, which only alienates visitors.
4. Get rid of unnecessary words
You’ll recognize these when you see them--words or phrases that add nothing to the meaning of a sentence, clutter up a page and make it longer. Strike out useless words: