How to Write Clearly

A recent project has been keeping me very busy. We’ve been redesigning a site with numerous content problems, including a large amount of jargon-heavy copy. Our next step is to prioritize the many pages that need rewrites. We’ll know we’ve been successful if users are able to understand information without calling the help line. In other words, we need to make sure the copy is understandable. And that means writing clearly.

And now we’re faced with a conundrum.

Our client wants a new voice and tone. How do we make sure we add personality, but don’t go overboard with new terms? We need to make the copy even better, and┬ánot add any confusion.

Here are five tips for creating a jargon-free, confusion-free, clear voice:

Five Tips for Writing Clearly

  1. Talk to the users. Find out when they want to speak to a person, and when they want to feel autonomous. Tasks that users prefer to do alone should have minimal personality, so that users have a sense of privacy.
  2. Separate “serious” from “boring.” When your copy needs to be serious, that’s not a license to write like a dictionary merged with a law revue.
  3. Write the first pass without a personality. Then identify what voice came out naturally. Remember, creating Voice and Tone guidelines is as much about documenting the current style as anything else. When you write something “without personality,” it will take on some of your natural writing style. You need to document that for future writers to emulate.
  4. Read the copy aloud to someone who isn’t looking at the screen. Not only is this helpful in ridding the world of unnecessary jargon, it’s also a good way to improve accessibility for screenreaders.
  5. Use a readability tool. Apps like Readability Score┬áreview copy for reading level. When you’ve stared at a paragraph for too long and can’t tell whether or not it’s using jargon, just copy and paste the text into the app.

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