The term “user experience” was originally coined by Don Norman, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), in the 1990s. NNG defined U/X as “all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”
This understanding of user experience applies to writing too.
We’ve argued before that the documents your organization produces are your true deliverable:
“From sales copy to technical manuals, from online FAQs to instructional articles, any customer-facing writing related to the product must be treated with as much seriousness as the product itself, or you’ll undermine its success before it gets off the ground.”
One of the main ways businesses undermine their own success is by paying insufficient attention to the experience of the reader. In other words, it’s not enough just to commit the author’s expertise or the organization’s messaging to paper. It’s key to also make the information accessible, usable, and even enjoyable to your intended readers.
If these things aren’t done, you risk readers abandoning your written works altogether. As the American Writers and Artists Institute writes, “If you confuse a reader who wants to learn something, you’ll alienate them. If you confuse a reader who wants to buy, they won’t.”
So, how do you ensure excellent UX in your content?
The 3 Pillars of User-Friendly Writing
1: Make the content readable.No written document can serve its intended function if it cannot be easily and straightforwardly read by its intended audience. The more readable the content, the more readers will respond to the material in the way the author wants.
What counts as “readable” will obviously vary a great deal. Readability requires understanding the reader. A formal scientific study aimed at an audience of graduate students and professors will use different vocabulary and concepts than would be appropriate for a lay audience. Some universal principles do apply, however. Writing should always be clear, concise, and avoid unnecessary cliches and jargon.
2: Make the information manageable.One study on the user-friendliness of informational brochures found that reading grade level captured only part of what made brochures useful to readers. One thing researchers discovered: readers rated content with information that was “manageable” more highly and found it to be more useful.
This means the document should do as much work as possible to make its content easy to understand. The reader should not have to do unnecessary mental labor. Instead:
- Authors should get to the point quickly with a clear message.
- The document should focus exclusively on information that the reader needs to know.
- Authors should keep the text to a minimum so that the information remains manageable.
3: Make the document visually appealing.The authors of the same study also found that “a visually appealing well-formatted brochure increases the likelihood that information will be read, understood, and used.” In other words, you can create the most pristine prose ever committed to paper (or a computer screen), but if it’s presented in a way that displeases the eye of the reader, it will fall short of its potential.
Ideally, the layout and formatting should make a document relatively easy to skim and pick up key points. A reader should be able to get the “gist” just by scanning headings, subheadings, callouts, bold text, bullet points, and the like. Then, to facilitate more in-depth reading, researchers recommend elements such as ample white space, short paragraphs, and illustrations.
- Use automated readability calculators. Plenty of online tools and word processing programs will estimate the grade level of the writing to ensure it matches the intended audience. By itself, this isn’t a perfect way to ensure “readability,” but it’s a good first step.
- Incorporate “user-friendliness” into the review process. Make liberal use of formatting elements that catch the eye and avoid dense, unbroken blocks of text.
- Get help. In truth, user-friendly writing is as much art as science and as much strategy as technique. A consultation with expert business writers can shed light on areas of opportunity and offer ways for your team to strengthen the UX of their writing and, consequently, make their writing more effective.
To figure out the best strategies, tools, and training to help your organization maximize the user experience of its writing, contact Hurley Write for a no-obligation consultation today.