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?
I just bought my own domain name. It took me much longer than it should have, and now my own website has a fresh, professional address that it lacked before.
It can be scary to invest in your business. There’s a nagging fear that you won’t get the money back.
The truth is, making that room in your budget can be the extra polish your business needs to succeed.
Of course, I’m not recommending that you spend money you don’t have.
That’s why I made another small business investment this week. I bought a subscription to an accounting service. Subscribing to a service like QuickBooks, FreshBooks or Zoho can make it easy to keep track of your business’s cash flow, write invoices, and do your taxes. Knowing exactly what money is coming in and going out of your accounts takes the fear and guesswork out of your business strategy.
It’ll also help inform you on what to charge for your services. Maybe after balancing your business checkbook you realize you need to charge more per word, more per hour, or more per graphic. That realization can be the kick your confidence needs to set a fair price for your services.
Invest in your business. It will motivate you to seek better clients, to keep track of your expenses, and to request a worthy price.
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?
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.