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Latest news in content: Summer 2017

A round-up of the best advice, thinking, tools and news in content. This has all appeared in the fortnightly Scroll newsletter. (Sign up on the right, never miss out again…) Enjoy your summer!

News, thought pieces, advice

Content and emotions
Rule #1 for emotion-driven content: never assume you know how your user is feeling. Rather, focus on what you can do for them.

Mailchimp wins again
This is still the best tone guide around. That’s partly because they have focused on content types, so people know where they can vary tone as well as how to vary tone. That means this is more actionable than most. Annoyingly good.

Required reading for accessibility
Excellent, detailed advice and tools to help you meet AA compliance for accessibility. Good on the balance between font size, colour and contrast.

Government is service design
A classic by @mattedgar. Expresses why anyone who works in government, not just in digital, needs to develop design thinking capability. Required reading.

Practical tips and ‘how-tos’

How to get hired – advice for contractors
Top advice on getting hired, from an expert. Hetty Meyric Hughes is the Scroll partner in charge of matching contractors with jobs.

Voice and tone tables
Nice, simple way to explain tone and voice. Conveys a lot of information in an easy format.

How to SEO your video content
Excellent best practice advice, updated for 2017.

Tools

Distraction-free writing app
Of the many distraction-free writing apps around, we like Focus Writer the best. Good for working when it’s sunny outside.

And finally…

The Cat in the Hat style guide
The Bank of England uses Dr Seuss to train staff in the art of clear writing.

 

Latest news in content: Spring 2017

A round-up of the best advice, thinking, tools and news in content. This has all appeared in the fortnightly Scroll newsletter. (Sign up on the right, never miss out again…)

News, thought pieces, advice

Structured content saves lives
US doctors had to use a huge reference book when they diagnosed cancer. This case study explains how a digital team turned that reference book into interoperable digital content, accessible via APIs. Amazing piece of work.

Q: What’s a ‘UX writer’?
A: The private sector name for a content designer.

Design patterns for trust and consent
Digital is losing people’s trust. We need to get better at this.

GOV.UK taxonomy in beta
This is a sea change in the way GOV.UK content is organised. We’d love your thoughts on this – tweet us @ScrollUK using #taxonomybeta.

Much smarter marketing
Quite a long read but rammed with fascinating stuff about how to get people’s attention, digitally.

Practical tips and ‘how-tos’

Get the bullets right
A satisfyingly detailed article about how to use bullet points effectively.

How to use a content model
A step-by-step walk through designing and using your own content model.

Writing for translation
By a Google content guru. This shows how much worse badly written content gets after it’s translated. (Trigger warning: may make you feel retrospective guilt if you’ve ever written anything that was translated into Thai.)

Design your own chatbot
Excellent 4-part series about using IA to design chatbots. It’s not an in-depth guide but it’ll give you a couple of ‘Aha!’ moments as you see traditional content strategy tools being deployed in chatbot world.

User research: small-ish is beautiful
Definitive answers to the perennial ‘how many people is enough?’ question for doing qualitative user research. (Hint: about 5.)

Tools

Community thesaurus
Folksonomy-style thesaurus. Lovely little tool if you’re lost for words.

And finally…

Fiendish UX quiz
Do you know your Pantone Colour of the Year from your therblings? Prove it here!

Why your style guide should be a style manual

A style guide is a very useful resource for any organisation. It helps everyone communicating in and from that organisation maintain consistency. It doesn’t tell them how to communicate, though.

A style guide sets out conventions. It doesn’t tell you how to write, what tone of voice you should use, how to manage content or how to communicate effectively.

If you’ve got a style guide, you must update it continually or you’ll find that you’re speaking to users in a style that’s increasingly old fashioned.

In fact, the term ‘style guide’ is becoming increasingly old fashioned. The term ‘style manual’ is increasing in popularity and style manual editors recognise their job isn’t to tell writers what to do, but why they should do it.

Google’s style manual, for example, tells writers to avoid the pronoun “we” and explains why: “Focus on the user and what they can do with your app, rather than what you or your app is doing for the user.”

The GOV.UK style manual tells writers to use contractions because then they can write in a tone of voice that users trust.

Forget what you learned in school

Not everything you learned, of course, but some of the grammar you were taught is probably out of date.

Let’s say you’re 40 years old and were taught grammar in the 1980s by someone who learned it in the 1950s. Grammar rules have changed a lot in the last 60 years.

I edited a national organisation’s style guide a couple of years ago. Its 8,000 words had a lot of archaic rules, such as telling its writers they couldn’t end a sentence with a preposition. This assumes firstly that their writers know what a preposition is and secondly that they would be writing in Latin rather than English.

Everything they were publishing was stuffy and rigid. Using an inflexible style guide was making their writing difficult to trust and engage with. Yes, I did just end that sentence with a preposition. I hope we can still be friends.

Did you notice I used ‘learned’ rather than ‘learnt’ in this section? A good style manual will tell you which spelling to use and why. I don’t know who you are, but I know that you might not be British or that British English might not be your first language. If so, you’re likely to be more comfortable with ‘learned’.

By using a word that all English speakers are familiar with, I’m making sure that I can be understood by all users.

Your audience knows best

You’ve probably read an American magazine recently. On the internet. Or the ‘Internet’ as it most likely would have said. Almost all American journalism follows the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, which insists on capitalising ‘internet’.

Or it did until earlier this year when AP announced it was changing to the lower case usage. That’s earlier as in earlier in 2016, about 15 years after everyone else thought it was a good idea.

Do you know anyone who uses ‘phone instead of phone? I’ve had it in draft documents in the last year. That’s as in 2016, not 1916. Most users would be confused by it and possibly think it was a typo. If I used ‘phone in content, it would slow down users’ comprehension and lose their trust.

A style manual should tell you why using sentence case makes your text easier to read. Advertisers have known for decades that possessive apostrophes in slogans and display copy slow down users’ comprehension. You’ll never see something that offers “6 months’ free credit”, even though that’s correct English. Likewise, apostrophes in abbreviations and rogue capitalisation makes content harder to read and less approachable.

It’s a manual not a bible

The GOV.UK style manual has a words to avoid section. This was originally a ‘banned words’ list. I worked on transitioning central government departments to GOV.UK in 2012. The first content we transitioned was government policies.

If there’s one thing that policies like to do, it’s ‘promote’ things. There are a number of synonyms I used, but quite often the government might not have been promoting anything. There may have been a target. So instead of, say, ‘promoting energy efficiency’ there was really an action in, for example, ‘giving solar energy grants to householders’.

What if, though, I’d simply swapped ‘promoting’ for ‘encouraging’? Well, I’d have swapped one dogma for another. If in the last 4 years users had read many times that the government was encouraging something, they’d have lost trust in the word ‘encouraging’.

Use a style guide if you’re unsure about a spelling or a capitalisation. But use a style manual to help you create content in language that your users can understand, trust and find.

Get the best bits! The latest thinking in content design and content strategy

Here’s what you might have missed while you had your ‘Out of Office’ on (metaphorically or not) for a sunny, summery August.

This blog is a round-up of the best of the Digital Content Academy newsletter in August. The newsletter is itself a round-up of the best advice, thinking, news and events in content strategy and content design. Sign up, don’t miss out…

News, thought pieces, advice

Agile is for everyone
New to/terrified of agile? Think a sprint is something to do with Usain Bolt? Here is some excellent advice on how to find your feet as a content person on an agile project.

Pandas, penguins and hummingbirds
Penguin 4.0 is launching ‘soon’, says Google. If that means nothing to you, maybe read this cheatsheet.

Content strategy at non-profits
Content strategy work at non-profits has some specific issues – budgets are tiny, resources are tight, and there is generally a huge content / tech debt to sort out. Here’s how Josh Tong did it.

Practical tips and ‘how-tos’

Are you sure?
How to write a confirmation dialogue. Brilliant.

Writing a style guide? How to explain tone
It’s insanely hard to pin down tone in a style guide – to explain it in a way that makes sense to senior management and is actionable by content creators. This Nielsen article gives a good example of a tone scale (and quantifies customer reaction to changes in tone.)

Do better UX for video
We watch 4 billion YouTube videos every day. Mark Zuckerberg says that soon the majority of content we consume will be video. So let’s start learning what good video content looks like for users.

Tools

Canva
Best. Graphic design tool for dummies. Ever.

And finally…

No more postcodes
Mongolia is changing all its addresses to 3-word phrases. (I know, I also thought it was a hoax, but it’s definitely a thing – look at what3words.) Developed because 75% of the world’s population have no mailing address.

 

Image copyright: Chris Blakely, Flickr CC