Clear Language
and Readability
Zurich Content Strategy Meetup
September 24 2013
What makes language clear?
What makes texts readable?
The obvious basics
Readability
The quality of written language that
makes it easy to read and
understand.
Representational elements that
make reading difficult
• Small type, long lines, insufficient
contrast.
• Long paragraphs with ...
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer
adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod
tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna ...
Linguistic elements that
help reading:
• short words, short sentences.
• familiar terms over technical terms
• Syntactic s...
High level elements that
help.
• coherence
• consistency
• Illustrations and diagrams
• redundancy
Familiarity:
Fitting the target audience
• The language used must reflect the target
audience
• You can only make it harder...
Measuring Readability:
Fry readability graph
Averagesentences/100words
Average amount of syllables / 100 words
Measuring Readability:
Flesch-Reading-Ease
FREen = 206.835 - ( 1.015 · ASL) - (85.6 · ASW)
FREde = 180 - ASL - (58.5 · ASW...
What users want
• Gain overview
• Scan the content
• Make decision „Is this for me?“
Users don‘t read, they
skim
• Users won't read your text
thoroughly in a word-by-word
manner
• The first two paragraphs mus...
People scan web pages in
an F-shaped pattern
Make it scannable
• Break down texts into concise
paragraphs
• Offer headings to paragraphs
Signal vs Noise ratio
The ratio of relevant to irrelevant
information should be as high as
possible.
PENDENTPENDENTPENDENT...
Clarity
Plain language
Not ambiguous
simple
to the task
no fillers
This is a Swiss Ballot Paper for a referendum.
The question asked has always this simple form.
This is from the brochure accompanying
the referendum.
Short sentences.
Scannable
Subheads
A far less readable ballot paper for a
local referendum on a public credit.
This is an Italian ballot paper on a change of legislation regarding electoral lists.
The question contains every passage ...
Workflow
Writing is rewriting.
Revision is where the
magic happens.
Establish a workflow
• Establish the workflow before the project
starts
• Discuss the Brand:
voice / identity / existing mat...
Links
• True writing is rewriting
http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Issue9/
true.htm
• Wikipedia on Readability measurements...
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Clear Language and Readability

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Language is at the core of user experience. From microcopy to error messages, from product information to legal text, the words you use matter. This session will look at how you make sure that your copy is readable and actionable.

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  • Cool example with the ballot papers: Switzerland vs. Italia :-)
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Clear Language and Readability

  1. 1. Clear Language and Readability Zurich Content Strategy Meetup September 24 2013
  2. 2. What makes language clear? What makes texts readable?
  3. 3. The obvious basics
  4. 4. Readability The quality of written language that makes it easy to read and understand.
  5. 5. Representational elements that make reading difficult • Small type, long lines, insufficient contrast. • Long paragraphs with no segmentation • Clutter.
  6. 6. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat.
  7. 7. Linguistic elements that help reading: • short words, short sentences. • familiar terms over technical terms • Syntactic simplicity: • no dependent clauses (Nebensätze) • Split up compound words: Parkettbodenschleifmaschinenenverleihfirma • Don‘t use machine-readable IDs for idetification of elements. (IBAN, Error Codes)
  8. 8. High level elements that help. • coherence • consistency • Illustrations and diagrams • redundancy
  9. 9. Familiarity: Fitting the target audience • The language used must reflect the target audience • You can only make it harder for everybody • Know for who you have to make it really easy. • Don‘t buy into the „Kompetenzvermutung“ nonsense. It‘s a trap.
  10. 10. Measuring Readability: Fry readability graph Averagesentences/100words Average amount of syllables / 100 words
  11. 11. Measuring Readability: Flesch-Reading-Ease FREen = 206.835 - ( 1.015 · ASL) - (85.6 · ASW) FREde = 180 - ASL - (58.5 · ASW) ASL = Average Sentence Length: Total words / total sentences http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesbarkeitsindex ASW = Average number of Syllables per Word Total syllables / total words
  12. 12. What users want • Gain overview • Scan the content • Make decision „Is this for me?“
  13. 13. Users don‘t read, they skim • Users won't read your text thoroughly in a word-by-word manner • The first two paragraphs must state the most important information.
  14. 14. People scan web pages in an F-shaped pattern
  15. 15. Make it scannable • Break down texts into concise paragraphs • Offer headings to paragraphs
  16. 16. Signal vs Noise ratio The ratio of relevant to irrelevant information should be as high as possible. PENDENTPENDENTPENDENT Empfänger Fällig Betrag Krankenkassse Helsana 25.09.2013 235.65 UPC Cablecom 30.09.2013 76.50 GE Money Bank 08.10.2013 56.80 PendentPendent Krankenkassse Helsana 25.09.2013 235.65 UPC Cablecom 30.09.2013 76.50 GE Money Bank 08.10.2013 56.80
  17. 17. Clarity Plain language Not ambiguous simple to the task no fillers
  18. 18. This is a Swiss Ballot Paper for a referendum. The question asked has always this simple form.
  19. 19. This is from the brochure accompanying the referendum.
  20. 20. Short sentences. Scannable Subheads
  21. 21. A far less readable ballot paper for a local referendum on a public credit.
  22. 22. This is an Italian ballot paper on a change of legislation regarding electoral lists. The question contains every passage of the legislation that is being changed.
  23. 23. Workflow
  24. 24. Writing is rewriting. Revision is where the magic happens.
  25. 25. Establish a workflow • Establish the workflow before the project starts • Discuss the Brand: voice / identity / existing material What is the message? • Who is in charge, who is not? • How many revisions are there going to be? • Who has the last word and why.
  26. 26. Links • True writing is rewriting http://fmwriters.com/Visionback/Issue9/ true.htm • Wikipedia on Readability measurements: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesbarkeitsindex • Kate Kiefer: Voice and Tone http://www.uie.com/brainsparks/2013/09/17/ kate-kiefer-lee-voice-and-tone-live/
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