*Update: Whoaaa, this blog post is really old! Check out some more recent posts here.
Scannable content presents information in the right order and with the right formatting so that users barely need to read but still get the point. How is this done?
8 tips for making intranet content easy to scan
The goal here is to make your content so simple that people don't have to read the page. Instead, they can get almost all the information they need from scanning. Here are the major tricks for creating good scannable content:
- Descriptive headings: The big text of headings makes them stand out. People's eyes spot them quickly and can read them easily. The key is to capitalize on that by writing descriptive headings that carry key words and phrases. For example, for a heading before a paragraph about deadlines, writing "Performance Review Deadline" is good, but adding the date in there too is better: "Performance Reviews Due April 14th." The important information jumps right off the page and into people's minds.
- Small paragraphs: Break text up into small paragraphs. Important information gets lost in large paragraphs, which intimidate readers. Short paragraphs promise succinct information that's to-the-point and easy to digest.
- Bold text: Bold text is the next layer of visual differentiation below headings. Just make sure to bold important text and only short phrases. Making a whole paragraph bold just makes it harder to read.
- Italics: Italics are another way of making important text jump out at readers. This is more subtle than bold text but can play a helpful role.
- Links: Hyperlinks are a web-savvy girl's best friend, as long as you use them right. The bright color of links grabs visual attention just like bold text. Because of this you want to pack hyperlinks with helpful verbiage. For starters, never say "click here". A user should always know where a link is taking her, so use relevant words and phrases. Instead of "click here for the performance review form," the link could say: "Download the performance review form." See the difference?
- Bullets: Look for opportunities to break up paragraph text into bullets. Bullets break the visual monotony of paragraphs and help users scan.
- Images: The right images help convey rich information at a glance, speeding a reader's comprehension of the contents and message of a page. But it has to be the right image. It's worse to have a random, unhelpful image than no image at all. Simple graphs, charts and diagrams often go a long way.
- Don't use underlining: On the web underlined text indicates a clickable link. That's what we all have come to expect, whether consciously or sub-consciously. So avoid using underlining to emphasize text. With all of these other great options, that should be easy.
Start with the conclusion: Inverse pyramid writing
For decades, newspapers have used the inverse pyramid style of writing: put the most important information at the top, and the least important information at the bottom. This approach is useful for your intranet news as well as static reference content.
Here are the pyramid basics:
- Title: The news title conveys the core message, in as compelling terms as possible.
- Lead paragraph: The lead paragraph (known simply as the "lead" in journalism) provides a short, simple snapshot of the important facts. Often this includes the who, what, where, when and why of a story.
- Body: The rest of the information, with the most important information near the top.
The pyramid is inverted to indicate the portion of readers who actually read each element of the news story or page. Take, for example, a news story on the intranet home page:
- Perhaps 50% of readers will read just the title
- Perhaps 25% will read the lead
- Perhaps just 15% will click through to read the fully body of the story.
This breakdown shows how important it is to shape your page title and lead paragraph carefully. If you assume that the majority of readers won't read your news story in its entirety, then you need to figure out what the main message of the post is. What should readers glean from scanning a news story's title? Can the who, what, where and when go into the lead paragraph?
Real life example
One ThoughtFarmer client would post notes about quarterly Executive Team meetings. Initially the posts were titled "Executive Team Retreat notes, August 2013." What message did that title convey? That the executive team had a retreat and has posted notes. But why is this important? What decisions did they make? What business priorities did they address? A better title would be "Executive Team tackles concerns about Beer Friday beverage selection." Now the title conveys a message. And the title suggests a more compelling read than just meeting notes.
Using specific and informative titles for news posts will not only help readers gather important messages quickly and move on, but it may also lead to higher rates of readership.
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