Let's look at some tips for writing accessible webpages.
First, let's consider our audiences. Who often finds copy inaccessible? We need to keep people who use screenreaders in mind, as well as people who are not experienced with technical jargont. There are a few things we can always do to make sure everyone can access our copy.
1. Use a readability analyzer.
Making your copy more accessible will typically entail writing at or near an 8th-grade level. At this level, you know your copy won't be too technical for a general audience. Datayze has a simple readability analyzer. Just copy+paste your text and view your readability level.
2. Write well.
The Studio has a great list of copywriting best practices for accessibility. A lot of the elements of accessible text are also just elements of good copywriting.
For example, no all-caps, leetspeak, or unexpanded acronyms. Screenreaders will not translate these properly.
3. Understand HTML semantics.
Make sure your copy is organized well. Give it clear headings and organize it into meaningful chunks, each of which includes the most vital information closest to the top. Make sure your page titles match the <h1>.
This way, people using an F-shaped scanning pattern will understand your message.
Writing for accessibility is an element of good copywriting.
When you write, you need to keep your audience in mind.
Harold Evans continues, "Could it not make out with another adjective for a decade or two, deepen our depression by linking with the catalog of deadly d words, disintegrating, dilapidated, decaying, or just rot and collapse? Better, is it beyond the wit of writers to get out from under the Latin infra and remind us that the abstractions covers a multitude of sins-- corroded water pipes, leaking dams, archaic airports, decrepit overhead power cables?"
Harold is pointing out a tired phrase, "crumbling infrastructure." Our language is spilling over with similar threadbare adjectives and nouns.
If your experience is similar to mine, it's really, really hard to avoid them. Especially when you're tired or working under the strain of an imminent deadline.
Of course, there are ways to cope. A good way to increase self-awareness of my own tired language is to read books like "Do I Make Myself Clear? Why Writing Well Matters," by Harold Evans. One of the best parts of the book so far (in my opinion) is the content of the footnotes which link to helpful websites which offer writing exercises and articles on writing well.
There are also sites like Unsuck-it.com, which lists tired corporate idioms to avoid using in your business copy. Lisa Kellaway's Golden Flannel Awards measure the depth of corporate guff.
Grammarly also keeps me on my toes-- less stylistically and more, well, grammatically. I took a look at my stats recently and found my top mistake was missing a comma after an introductory clause. I've done it 124 times. Yikes!
What are some resources for avoiding tired language that you can recommend?
Do you know what a scanning pattern is?
It's the way our eyes move across a webpage when we're reading it.
Our eyes don't move across a webpage thoroughly from left to right in the same way that they do when we're reading the page of a book.
Our brain has adapted the way we read webpages to glean information efficiently.
The Nielsen Norman Group has identified four major scanning patterns.
It's good to know the scanning patterns for copywriting so you can format your text to reach your readers. Most articles are best formatted under the assumption that the reader will be using an F-shaped, Layer-Cake, or Spotted scanning pattern.
What elements of each pattern have I incorporated into this blog post?
After I picked up my bags at the checkout lane in Sprouts yesterday the cashier bowed with his hands folded. “Namaste!”
At first this interaction made me giggle, but it stayed with me. It was unique to his way of expressing himself. True kindness has a way of personalizing itself.
It also has a way of crossing barriers. There are all kinds of barriers around communication, like language, emotional background, etc. Written words on the internet are a great communication pathway, but they also pose a barrier because they lack some of the nuances of personal communication.
It takes extra thoughtfulness to be kind online. I’ve been working with a great copy editor recently, and his communication style has inspired me to be more careful with my words online. When he asks for a revision, he’ll first thank me for my work. He’s specific about what he likes about my work and what can be improved. It makes revising much more palatable because I’m clear about the direction I’m going.
Online thoughtfulness is more than just kind words. It’s about anticipating the different ways your words can be interpreted, and thinking through the consequences.
If it’s important for us to think before we speak, it’s doubly important for us to think before we type.
There’s no second chance-- we can’t interpret our audience’s facial reaction and say “Wait, let me clarify!” It’s important that the first time we write we make our message objectively clear and kind.
There’s a lot of talk about how to individualize your brand.
What better way to individualize yourself online than to be kind and thoughtful? Thoughtfulness makes us unique because it requires consideration of the unique needs of your listener. Every time you interact with someone it gives you a chance to be creative. The relationship you build between yourself, another person, or your audience is special because it can be replicated by no one but yourselves.
Treat your online relationships with respect by communicating thoughtfully; consequently you’ll differentiate yourself in the best way possible.
In the first page of his work "The Design of Everyday Things," Don Norman says that good design "is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable."
What Norman says is true, and it extends to copywriting. When you're reading good copy, you're not noticing the copy, you're noticing what it says. When you're reading bad copy, the meaning is obscured by the number of mistakes. Let's take a look at a few examples. First up is a profoundly bad headline.
"Phoenix police disabled placard patrol tickets drivers misbehaving." Ok. Let's set aside, for a moment, the cringing insensitivity of 'disabled.' What is this headline even saying?
The headline writer could have written "Phoenix police are ticketing drivers who misbehave by using placards for those with disabilities." Only 6 more words, and we're all better off.
It's important to arrange headlines carefully. This one was undercut by verbs that could be nouns and nouns that could be verbs.
It's also important to watch those dangling modifiers:
The author is saying here that he sees millennials making 4 money mistakes, from his perspective as a finance coach. Unfortunately, due to the dangling modifier, it could also mean that he sees millennials collectively making 4 money mistakes in their role as a finance coach. Confusing.
The mistakes I've noted above are are both grammatical. I believe it's an even worse mistake for a copywriter to be tone-deaf than for a copywriter to be ungrammatical. Accurate tone and voice are essential to the message of a copywriter. Look at this magazine headline I noticed the other day while I was grocery shopping.
Nothing wrong with the grammar here. It's in title case and in fragments because that's allowable in a tabloid headline. The problem is that Anne Frank's story does not belong in a tabloid.
You could just as easily write "Jennifer Aniston. Who Betrayed Her? Finally, the Truth Revealed."
It's tin-eared to write a headline like this regarding a historically significant child author who died in a concentration camp. The gossipy tone is completely off.
These types of copywriting mistakes are to our advantage if we take conscious notice of them, which is pretty easy since they are so glaring.
The more we notice copywriting mistakes while we're reading, the better we're able to monitor our own mistakes.
What's harder is noticing good copy. Make a goal of noticing two pieces of excellent copy a week. Since it's so smooth, it'll be more difficult than you think.