October 17, 2017

Cut the fluff online

Hype reduces reading, sharing — even sales

When “king of usability” Jakob Neilsen cut the fluff from a webpage about Nebraska, the neutral webpage was 27% more useful.

Cut the fluff online

Everybody loves a fluffy kitty Nobody loves a fluffy webpage. Cut the hyperbole online. Image by Jonathan Fink

That is, web visitors were 27% more likely to be able to read the neutral version faster, understand it better, remember it longer and enjoy it more.… Read the full article

Adjectives can sell

‘Applewood-smoked bacon’ just tastes better

Turns out a Southwestern Tex-Mex salad by any other name would not taste as good.

Adjectives can sell

What’s that you say? An Applewood-smoked-bacon burger by any other name would not taste as good. Image by Niklas Rhöse

Vivid menu descriptions — “applewood-smoked bacon,” “Maytag blue cheese” and “buttery plump pasta,” for instance — can increase restaurant sales up to 27 percent, according to research by Brian Wansink.… Read the full article

Avoid fake benefits

‘Pat yourself on the back for choosing us’

“Clean your face,” demands a hotel soap wrapper. No, YOU clean YOUR face! I want to respond.

Avoid fake benefits

‘Clean your face’ is not a benefit How can you tell real benefits from fake ones? Image by Kristina Balić

I’ve been seeing a lot of messages like these: messages that sound like benefits but that really are not. Fake benefits.

These fake benefits mirror the structure of benefits messages — Do/this (Save/money) — but not their spirit.… Read the full article

Overcome information overload

Readers face the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day

Talk about TMI: Your readers receive the data equivalent of 174 newspapers a day — ads included, according to a study by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

Overcome information overload

TMI Your readers receive the equivalent of 174 newspapers a day. How can your message compete? Image by rawpixel.com

“We’ve created more information in the last five years than all of human history before it,” says author and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin.… Read the full article

‘Nearly all of them are far too long’

Churchill calls for shorter communications

Do your executives add words to every communication they review? Not so Winston Churchill. He called for shorter pieces to save staff time and energy.

Nearly all of them are far too long

British bulldog Churchill was bullish on short memos, short paragraphs and short phrases. Image by Laurel L. Russwurm

In a memo to his war cabinet titled “Brevity,” the British Prime Minister called for short pieces, paragraphs and phrases as an aid to clearer thinking:

To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers.… Read the full article

Watching paint dry?

Must web heads be dull since Google never laughs?

There’s a lot of sniveling and squawking going on in the web writing community these days. Consider the headlines:

Watching paint dry?

No colorful web heads? Can online headlines be both witty and wise? Image by Mike Petrucci

Read the full article

Help Google find your page

Optimize web heads for search, humans

If Google can’t find it, to paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, can’t nobody find it.

Help Google find your page

Search me Write headlines for humans, optimize them for search engines. Image by Richard Tilney-Bassett

Indeed, one key role of web heads is to help Google find your page.

“If the story is about the dangers of salmonella in tomatoes in California, by golly, the headline probably needs to have ‘California,’ ‘bacteria’ and ‘tomatoes’ in it,” says Sara Dickenson Quinn, visual journalism teacher at The Poynter Institute.… Read the full article

Tough nut to crack

Put your story into a nutshell in the nut graph

If I came to your house and told you to grab your things and follow me, how far would you go? To the front door? The driveway? Would you hop in my car without further explanation?

How to write a nut graph

Crack open the nut graph The nut graph tells readers where you’re going with this story and why they might want to join you. Image by philografy

No matter how dazzling your feature lead, at some point, readers want to know where we’re going with this story.… Read the full article

Avoid ‘the pig in the snake’

Write a nut graph that doesn’t slow the story’s flow

Don’t let your nut graph become the pig in the snake, counsels Jacqui Banaszynski:

Avoid 'the pig in the snake'

This little piggy Nut graphs shouldn’t be too big to go down in a single swallow. Image by Eric Parker

“I like the nut graph,” says the Knight Chair in Editing at the Missouri School of Journalism and visiting faculty member of The Poynter Institute. “Readers need a frame around the picture.… Read the full article

Benchmark readability against the BBC

How does your clarity stack up?

The BBC covers the most serious news known to man — West Bank stabbings, friendly fire air strikes, Justin Bieber’s bad behavior — and does so in an average of 4.7-character words.

Benchmark your readability

News for you The BBC makes the most serious news easy to understand with highly readable copy. Does your organization do the same? Image by Poster Boy

How does your copy’s readability compare to that of the world’s largest broadcast organization?… Read the full article

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