Business Writing Tip #192—Using Hypertext Links Effectively

visit our websiteHyperlinks, or hypertext links, are elements of electronic documents, such as emails and webpages, that take your reader to another place, either in the same document or in another document. Your reader will click on the link and be taken to the target location.

Unfortunately, some authors use ugly constructions when they are hyperlinking. In this tip we’ll look at effective hyperlink practice. Please note that the underlined links are only to show how they would be if they were linked. The links in this tip aren’t active.

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Happy writing.

Business Writing Tip#103—Wordiness

I’ve been reading some academic and business writing lately. It’s been a frustrating experience, mainly because many writers use unnecessary words.

Do you use more words than you need to?

Here’s an example of too many words being used to deliver a simple message.

Welcome to the new [company name] website. We have worked on improving the design and overall user experience, so you can navigate the site much easier and get quick access to what you are looking for. We welcome your feedback, so please email us at xxxx if you see a broken link, or feel that something should be reviewed or enhanced. We will do our best to refine your user experience.

How about…?

We have improved our website design so it’s easier and quicker for you to discover what you need. If you find any errors, or have any suggestions for our site, please email us.

Wordiness—the definition

Wordiness refers to using more words than you need to express what you mean.

Wordinesscommon causes and how to fix them

Everyone has a tendency to be too wordy at times. Think about these common causes:

  • Trying to sound formal or academic

Academic writing is well-known for using too many words. This does not make it good and recently many universities and colleges have introduced programmes to help staff and students write more clearly. Thankfully!

  • Failing to select precise vocabulary

Every time you use an adverb to modify a verb, look for a single word alternative. She shut the door loudly becomes She slammed the door. The result is more interesting writing, and fewer words. Check any adjectives you’ve included too and ask yourself if they are adding important information.

  • Using vague or unnecessary modifiers

Whenever you use the word very, think about what you’re trying to say and look for a better word. Very large might be huge, massive, humungous or even elephantine—depending on what is appropriate for your piece. Really and quite are other words which don’t add meaning, and several is vague. Use precise modifiers if you need them. I worked there for several years becomes I worked there for six years.

  • Filling your writing up with too many prepositional phrases

The representative of the company which won the contract becomes The successful contractor’s representative

The car belonging to the General Manager becomes the General Manager’s car

  • Relying on standard phrases

It’s easy to become lazy when we write, especially when we’re busy. We don’t mean to. It’s just that we have heard or read some expressions so often, over years, that they are built into our writing minds. That does not make them good. In many cases they are old-fashioned, and they make our writing seem overly formal. There are too many of these to mention! You can download a table here of some common standard phrases and less-wordy alternatives.alternate word list

  • Unnecessary personal commentary

I believe, I understand, I think, I just want to emphasise often aren’t needed to make your point.

Finding wordiness in your writing

The best way to check if your writing is too wordy is to read it aloud. Listen to how it sounds, sentence by sentence. Edit your work carefully and become ruthless when you find too many words.

Effective Writing for the Web (5): Meaningful Headlines

headlinesWhen it comes to web copy, I’ve mentioned that you want to put the text in short sections and that you want to make it easy for someone to scan, right?

Headlines, that is meaningful headlines, help people decide if they’re going to read the content or not. In some contexts these are also referred to as headings. Take your pick.

The important thing is that because they are a tool to help your reader, in my view they are pretty much essential.

What do I mean when I say meaningful?

When I talk about meaningful headlines, I’m referring to two things:

  1. The headline states what is coming—it introduces the main topic (like the headline above. When you read this you know the next section of the text will be about what I mean when I write ‘meaningful’.)
  2. The meaning of the headline needs to be clear. Ambiguity is rife in headlines—you may have seen Facebook posts, blog posts, etc. packed with funny headlines. A couple of years ago my sister gave me a book which includes a couple of great examples of what I mean:
    1. Tiny babies do worse in exams
    2. New housing for elderly not yet dead

And then there’s my personal favourite seen in Dubai a few years ago:

Lack of facilities in schools to hit children

When you’re writing your copy, keep thinking about your reader and how they will be reading your words on the screen. Use headlines to break up blocks of text and as signposts to the content that is to come. Do this and your reader will thank you for it and you’ll have taken another step towards effective web writing.

Effective Writing for the Web (4): Keep it Simple

Who is reading?

It’s interesting to think about who might be reading the content we write for the web. It might be friends and family, or complete strangers, personal or business contacts.

In User Interface Design (UX Design), UX designers use personas to help them picture their users to make it easier for them to keep their users in mind while designing. You can use personas for writing as well. You may have a few different personas, each representing a group of your typical users, or readers. I’ll talk about personas and how to develop them in a future post.personas

At this stage I want to highlight that many of your readers may not use English as their first language; they may have different levels of education and varied levels of knowledge about your topics. You want to reach as many of them as you can and one of the best ways to do this is by keeping it simple.

A few guidelines

  • Write your content as though you’re having a conversation with your reader, maybe in a coffee shop or a bar. Picture them standing next to you.
  • Avoid using jargon. A lot of people don’t understand it, and you don’t want them leaving your page every sentence to look up a dictionary.
  • Use short sentences, and short paragraphs. Use short words.
  • Follow Plain English guidelines.

Follow these guidelines and you’ll also make it easy for people to skim read your content.

Of course, you may want to provide more comprehensive content on occasion. This is often best provided as a downloadable document so people can choose to look at the full information if they are interested.

Remember; make it easy for your reader to understand the important information and to know what they need to do next and you’ll be well on your way to effective web writing.


Effective Writing for the Web (3): How we read

Different ways of reading

We read in different ways depending on what we are reading.

If you are reading a novel, you might be caught up in the action and reading quickly, or drawn to beautiful language and reading slowly. When you read technical material about a subject you’re not very familiar with your reading speed will probably slow markedly. When you’re reading a report to find specific recommendations you may just quickly skim through the document looking at headings and reading summaries, unless it’s important for you to know all the detail.books 1 (480x640)ipad

Most times when people are reading on the web they are trying to get the information that they need as quickly as possible (although there will be exceptions to this).

What does this mean for you as a writer who is writing for the web?

When you are writing for the web, you really need to know:

  • Who you are writing for, and
  • Why you are writing.

If you want someone to take action as a result of something you have written you must be clear about what you want them to do. You want them to be able to work out what they have to do quickly.

For example, if you need someone to click a button to order a product, you probably won’t include something like this:

“If, after reading this text, you feel that you are ready to order product XYZ, and if you are absolutely certain, you should click on the green button on the right side of the screen—the one under the pretty picture. This will take you to our order form where you will complete all of your personal details and tell us how you would like to make the purchase. You will then have an opportunity to review your order and blah blah blah…”

When did you stop reading?

How about “Click here to order now” printed in a legible font on the button they need to click? Much easier, isn’t it?

So when you’re writing for the web you need to think about:

  • What you’re writing,
  • What it’s for,
  • Who it’s for,
  • What you need your readers to do, and
  • What information they need to do what you want them to do.

Make it easy for your reader to know what action you want them to take and you’ll be well on your way to effective web writing.

Effective Writing for the Web (2): Web versus Print

Reading on the Web versus Reading in Print

You may feel that this point is obvious, and to many of you it will be, but I’m sure there are others who may not have considered the differences between reading online and reading paper-based materials.cover image

The basic difference is that you will be reading from a different physical object.

When you read print content on paper it might be books, magazines, newspapers or reports. You will normally read straight through from the front to the back (although there are exceptions to this).

When you read online you might be using a desktop computer, a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet. You will be moving from page to page, or screen to screen, often quite rapidly.

Another major difference is the amount of fatigue your eyes will suffer. Reading on paper is much less tiring for your eyes than reading on a screen, which is usually backlit.

Think about this when you’re writing and make sure that your words will translate into easy-to-read text on the screen. Your readers will thank you for it.