Writing for Findability

Jacob Nielsen has a useful (although fairly common-sense) article on Useit.com today about using old words when writing for findability.

This is a useful article to keep in your ammo belt for use when you need to tell a stakeholder why their beloved name or phrase is actually a really bad idea.

In short:

  • Supplement made-up words with known words
  • Play down marketese and internal vocabulary
  • Supplement brand names with generic terms
  • Avoid "politically correct" terminology

This is an issue I've come up against frequently in the development of hospital sites and content. For example, we have an online triage tool that's branded Child Health Advice.

However, that name by itself is not overly descriptive and so when we reference it we try to include a supplemental description which makes it much clearer as to how and when you would use the tool:

Is your child sick? Find out when to call the doctor and when to treat at home.

Useit.com Bows to Reader Feedback?

I also couldn't help but notice that the content on Useit.com no longer stretches the width of the page, making it far more readable (although it's still a little long for my liking).

This is thanks to the fact that the following CSS has been added:

.maintext {max-width: 50em; margin: auto; }

Unfortunately, visitors to Useit.com who are using IE will not get the benefit of this improvement as IE does not support the max-width attribute.

Naturally, there's a fix to the max-width in IE problem — I'm surprised that Nielsen didn't take the time to implement it.

Posted on: August 28, 2006 | 2 Comments

Recent Entries in "Writing for the Web"

2 Comments Posted

I am so glad to find this blog! You mention Nielsen's site -- I have been so disappointed by him and other web gurus who often have such great advice but such ugly, unreadable (unscannable) websites.

You have, on the other hand, a very user-friendly site, as well as really good information. (I found you from the A List Apart blog, because I wholeheartedly agree with your comment on the article on writing that was so terribly long-winded...)

We just started a blog on writing/editing in media (redinked.com), and it's been surprisingly difficult to find related blogs of quality. I will definitely add your site to our blogroll, and I've already subscribed via Bloglines.

And yes, fighting the use of jargon on corporate websites is often really difficult, as people are so wedded to their words... so providing context is often a way to compromise...

Thanks, Amy (Eliot)

Amy – thanks for your kind words!

I agree that there are few good sites or blogs on writing for the web.

Moreover, little is written about it in the web design field (which is funny considering that the content is the most important part of a web site).

I try and take my lead from news sites such as the BBC and Yahoo! both when it comes to writing content and headlines.

The headlines on my "My Yahoo!" page are a lesson in conveying the maximum amount of information in the fewest number of words. They always inspire me to do a better job.

You can see my own efforts on the home page of our hospital web site .

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