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All killer, no filler: 5 content things

Once in a while it’s good to have an honest look at your content. Here are 5 content things you can do to get it into shape.

1. Chunk it

Breaking your digital content into small chunks makes it easier for your users to scan the page and find what they need. This means:

  • A heading or subheading that sums up what is in the paragraph
  • A short paragraph containing one idea or message
  • A link that tells readers exactly where they are going

You can also break long sentences up into a short list, like I just did, above.

People don’t read all the words you write. This is because they are focused on a task, so will be quickly scanning your content for key words that might help them get what they need. Chunking your content helps your users quickly understand what is on the page, and move on with the thing they came for.

F-Shaped Pattern of Reading on the Web: Misunderstood, But Still Relevant (Even on Mobile): blog, Nielsen Norman Group

2. Make your links work

Write meaningful links

Headings and link text are what people scan for key words that will show them how  to get the thing they need. A reader will take just a few seconds to do this, so your words really have to say what’s on the tin.

People who use screen readers rely on well written link text to be able to navigate. This is why ‘click here’ doesn’t help, because it doesn’t tell the person anything about where they will end up if they select it.

What’s much better is to write link text that tells people where they’re going, for example to an external site or a PDF, so they can make an informed decision about whether they want to go to a different, potentially less accessible, environment.

Know where your links are going

Understand how your links connect your site to others, and what impact this might have for someone who just needs a simple answer but has to travel across several sites that all look different. It can be a rough journey. You can make it easier by regularly checking your links, to keep on top of pages that might have moved, been unpublished, or been replaced elsewhere by better information.

3. Write for a global audience

The language of the University is English, but there are roughly 160 English dialects spoken around the world. How do we make ourselves understood to everyone?

The answer, although this can be a bit of a shift in practice, especially if you spend the majority of your time doing academic or policy writing, is to use small, plain words. Instead of ‘utilise,’ write ‘use.’ Instead of ‘facilitate,’ write ‘help.’ And so on.

Be aware of your own language quirks, too. For example, a word like ‘outwith,’ is unlikely to be understood outside Scotland and might make a prospective student’s journey through your site harder. (A sad thing for me to have to write, as ‘outwith’ is a favourite word.) The key thing here is to make sure your calls to action are plain, direct and inclusive.

4. Alt text your images, subtitle your videos

It’s a legal requirement to make sure your images and videos come with text that describes them. Always give your images alt text, and make sure this description briefly and accurately describes what is in the image. This makes it accessible to screen readers, and opens your images up to more people.

Subtitle your videos so that everyone can read what is being said, and provide a transcript in an accessible format. This means your video can be consumed with or without sound. This is a no-brainer if you want a user to understand your video with no sound, and makes it much more accessible (although some D/deaf users will still be excluded, as written words are not as accessible as sign language. A video that includes a person signing, in addition to subtitles, is the best way to ensure inclusive content).

If an individual asks, it is a legal requirement that you make your content available to them in British Sign Language (BSL). The University can provide a BSL signer to help you with your content. Remember to ask as far in advance as you can, as BSL signers are in high demand.

British Sign Language plan

5. Murder your darlings

Take the time to understand who your audience is, and what they need. Then go through your content and weed out anything that doesn’t serve this purpose. In a wilderness of weeds, be a gardener. Or, to slightly misquote Arthur Quiller-Couch, edit precisely and without sentiment, and murder your darlings.

In 2021, an audit by Fresh Egg showed that the University web estate has over a hundred thousand pages that need to be cut. Put that way, it might seem like a large number in a huge jungle, someone else’s problem. But the reality is, you have too much content. It is your corner of the jungle, and you have the machete.

Make cuts. Your users will thank you for their improved experience navigating your pages, and you’ll know your content is all killer, no filler.




3 replies to “All killer, no filler: 5 content things”

  1. Ala says:

    Very useful, thank you.
    I send newsletters to prospective students using dotdigital. Can I alt text images, subtitles and videos there? If yes, guidance will be much aooreciated.

    1. Ariadne Cass-Maran says:

      Hi Ala,

      Yes, you can alt text images in Dotdigital. When the image is selected in your draft, you’ll see some labels across the top- select Image Title to write your alt text.

      For videos, use Media Hopper. It is now incredibly easy to caption your video, although do bear in mind you’ll need to spend a little time going through and reviewing the captions in case there’s anything that needs to be edited. Under your video to the right you’ll see a drop-down menu called Actions. Select Caption and Enrich. This will generate automatic subtitles. You’ll then be able to review it and correct as needed.

      Hope this helps – Ari

  2. Neil Allison says:

    Great minds, Ari… 🙂

    Nicole in the Prospective Student Web Content Team has just written along very similar lines.

    So if any readers enjoyed this and want extra tips and resources, we have more… Common editing mistakes in writing for the web – blog post from the Prospective Student Web Content Team

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