Raising children helps hone your web writing skills.
They curiously ask questions and hang on your every word, forcing ‘plain talk’ in the simplest form.
While website content shouldn’t necessarily cater to toddlers, simple language does go a long way to promote readability and usability. In fact, when you’re writing for the Web, your language should generally hover within grade eight to 10 levels. But that can be difficult to achieve.
Kids naturally help refine communication skills. My son, who just turned three, asked me several questions today, including: what’s a hole? It took me a couple of tries to find the right words to give him clear answer. My initial response — “an opening” — just didn’t cut it as young children communicate in concrete or literal terms.
Consider your website content. Is it overly complicated and abstract? Can you simplify sentences, remove dead words and lose the ‘in-house’ jargon that might not be understood by your audience?
It can take time to develop crisp, clear website content, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Your key messages gain strength as they compete with less fluff, helping you connect with more visitors.
Are web users stupid? That’s a questions frequently posed to me at workshops. No. In fact, web- and tech-savvy people are generally quite intelligent. But people don’t read website content, they scan it — plus they’re often busy and easily distracted. Hence, clarity and simplicity go a long way in engaging online visitors.
In turn, they spend more time on your site, increasing your opportunity to entice them into taking a certain action, be it to subscribe to your newsletter or reach for their wallets.
If we write too simple, won’t we offend visitors? That’s another question I’m often asked. Which do you consider clear communications:
- “Are you by chance acquainted with what precise period we’re at?”
- “Do you have the time?”
There’s a big difference between simple communications and poor communications. Clear website content promotes effective communications. It gets read, is understood and connects with people.
Alternatively, convoluted, jargon-heavy website content inflated with massive, multi-syllable words can alienate your visitors.
There is an exception to this rule, in the event you’re targeting a very specific group. For instance, a few years ago, as managing editor of a publication specifically geared toward aviation maintenance engineers, it was appropriate to include complicated technical terminology and internal lingo.
However, when speaking to broader groups, plain talk can significantly increase a website’s value, effectiveness and success. That’s why it’s important for web writers, when suitable (which is almost always), to put the flowery terms and egos away, and genuinely cater to websites’ audiences.
What’s the grade level of your website content? Many word processing programs have the ability to provide you these stats, or you can run it by a child and find out how it fares. Just have a sweet or two ready for payment.
By the way, this article is written at a grade 9.5 level, which is between Reader’s Digest (grade eight) and Newsweek (grade 10).