Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.
The bigger a site or service gets, the more support requests it usually has. And the longer its list of online help articles becomes.
Whether they’re simple FAQs or more instructional how-tos, once the list is long enough, you’ll usually want to break those items up into groups for easier navigation.
So far, so good. But what happens when those groups start getting longer, and you need to group the items each contains? In practice, you won’t always want to split groups into subgroups with headings. Here’s a case in point:
Read an email Create an email Use spell-check Include emoticons Use formatting, fonts and colours Change the text direction Add files as attachments Add images Add images inline Add an email signature Save a draft email Send an email Reply to an email Forward an email Get a read receipt
We’ve been told for years that menus aren’t meant to have more than seven items, but web users are expected to use long lists all the time — in search results, in forms, and on ordinary content site web pages.
Faced with this problem recently — along with the challenge of ordering a lot of help articles, I decided to do some research into whether there might be better or worse ways to order long lists of help articles.
What’s the problem?
The list above may seem logical to you. Indeed, that was the whole idea. That’s the procedural list order I used in the test. The list starts with composing an email, then steps through all the things you might do as you compose that email, and finishes with the things you’d probably do after that, like sending and forwarding.
The order is pretty rough — you could argue that the Reply to an email article should come before the one on composing email — but you get the idea. In terms of “precision” ordering, this is about as good as it gets for most content managers.
Does your content “resonate” with users? Does it empathise? If your help articles, system emails, or website copy are lacking the spark of true engagement, your language choice could well be to blame. So, here’s a 3 second way to test your copy. Getting personal In my experience, the best way to address users through […]
Ever since we started creating graphical user interfaces, we’ve been trying to make them friendlier and more usable. Sometimes those two goals coincide; sometimes they don’t. When space is at a premium, and you need to minimise ambiguity, the most direct approach is often best — which is why the button in this interface says […]
If you’re wondering how web standards for writers play out in practice, you’d better read this post. Recently I took a look at the website of my country’s leading telco, to see how they handled the standards I pointed out recently for web writers. The company’s name is Telstra, and it maintains the basic landline […]
Around this time last year, Mark Boulton proposed a new way of communicating information about linked content online He called his idea sparkicons, building on Edward Tufte’s description of sparklines, and pointed to some examples on large content-rich, link-heavy sites: Wikipedia and the BBC. He also created some examples of his own. Mark Boulton: I’m defining […]
“Do you have wireframes?” I asked a client this question not so long ago, and the answer surprised me. “Not yet, he said, “but they’re not far away. In the meantime, here are the sections of content we need written, so if you can get started, that’d be great. We’re on tight timeframes here!” The […]
Remember the bad old days of all those “writing for the web” articles? Now, people writing for the web don’t just have other writers to rely on for advice—they have real, live standards to follow! Hooray! Here, I’ve pulled together some of those standards, and explained why they’re useful, and for what kinds of web […]
Marketers love online video. But few realize how a simple transcript can help their cause. Last week I won over a marketer who wanted to present her swanky, shiny, high-end company video on its own—without a transcript—using three little words: “Expand your audience.” From a brand perspective, she argued, she wanted the words to be […]
Showing people your product, rather than telling them about it, is a great way to engage potential users or customers. Last week we looked at some of the ways we can use rich media to do that. But today I wanted to look at how we can show people your product using text. Why use […]
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