Words on a Website: Microcopy

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microcopyimageThe words used on a website are becoming increasingly important, especially when it comes to the user experience. Words set the tone, voice, and brand personality of a site. It’s not just where the words are placed and how they are displayed, but what they actually say. This is called “microcopy.”

Microcopy is the smallest bits of copy in a web interface. It’s the label on a form field, a tiny piece of instructional text, or the words on a button. Microcopy is contextual. It can deliver the right message at the right time and place. It can answer a specific question and address concerns people might have. It’s powerful because it affects the information flow of a website.

The little words and phrases that make up microcopy can add personality to a brand. For example, if you fill out a form incorrectly, the error message you get when you click Submit might say something like: “Oops, looks like you forgot to add your first name.” It’s a lot more friendly than “Invalid field.” The message should provide enough detail so people know exactly what to do, but not so much detail that the information is difficult to process. You don’t want to risk confusing users as they try to accomplish something. Keep it short and sweet.

Another example is the words on a signup button. Rather than saying “Sign Up,” you could say “Sign Up for Free.” By adding just two more little words, users might be more likely to join the site. In addition, the sentence above the button might say “You can unsubscribe at any time.” This microcopy is both informative and reassuring, alleviating concerns of potential customers.

So, think about what those little words on a website mean to the people who use it. You want their experience with the site to be a positive one.

 

7 Common Grammar Myths You’ll Never Fall For Again

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Source: Lindsay Kolowich, HubSpot

Spelling and grammar matter. Consistently correct grammar makes content more credible, and could impact its presentation. But there’s a lot of conflicting advice about what things are (and aren’t) grammatically correct. Here are seven common grammar myths.

Myth #1: You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.

Ending a sentence with a preposition is not a grammatical error.

For example: “Bob has a lot to be happy about.” This sounds worse: “Bob has a lot about which to be happy.”

Although the revised version is technically and more formally correct, it sounds stiff and unnatural.

So, go with whichever sounds better.

Myth #2: You shouldn’t split infinitives.

An infinitive is a verb in its most basic form: “to walk,” “to see,” “to eat,” etc. To break an infinitive means to put a word or several words in between “to” and the verb itself — as in, “to automatically update an account.”

There’s actually nothing grammatically incorrect about splitting infinitives. The only reason you wouldn’t want to do this is if the resulting sentence just didn’t sound right.

Myth #3: “i.e.” and “e.g.” mean the same thing.

If you struggle with remembering which is which, here’s what’s up: “i.e.” means “that is” or “in other words,” and “e.g.” means “example given” or “for example.”

Myth #4: “–” and “—” are totally different.

Both “–” and “—” are versions of the dash: “–” is the en dash, and “—” or “–” are both versions of the em dash. You can use either the en dash or the em dash to signify a break in a sentence or set off parenthetical statements.

The en dash, not the em dash, can also be used to represent time spans or differentiation (e.g., “that will take 5–10 minutes” and “we crossed the Spanish-French border”). The em dash, not the en dash, can be used to set off quotation sources (e.g., “‘To be or not to be, that is the question.’ —Shakespeare”).

Myth #5: You use “a” before words that start with consonants, and “an” before words that start with vowels.

You use “a” before words that start with consonant sounds, and “an” before words that start with vowel sounds. For example, it’s correct to write “I have an RSS feed” but incorrect to write “I have a RSS feed.” When in doubt, sound the sentence out in your head.

Myth #6: “Irregardless” is not a word.

Yes, it is a word. And it means “regardless.” Someone even wrote an entire article about it in the Huffington Post.

But even though it’s technically a word, you may not want to use it. Some people still frown upon it, so you may not want to use it in your content.

Myth #7: You can’t start sentences with “and,” “but,” or “or.”

Often, the choice is stylistic. If the sentence reads better, keep the conjunction. If it functions just as well without the conjunction, or if you can connect it to the previous sentence without compromising readability, then reconsider using it.

 

 

Does Topic-Based Authoring Help Readers As Much As It Does Writers?

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*Due to web issues, we lost information on who authored this piece.  If this is your work, please let us know and we will give you publishing credit.*

Many large companies have adopted a modular, topic-based approach to technical documentation. This is mainly because content can be reused in various ways from a single source, preventing multiple versions of the same information. This approach helps writers publish the same information in different combinations to different media (for example, mobile devices and TV screens).

Does topic-based authoring also help readers? In a number of ways, it does.

Structured content helps readers because the format and approach are consistent, therefore it is easier to use and understand, even when it is accessed from an index or search.

Standalone topics are based on their content type: tasks, concepts, and references. For example, tasks provide the steps necessary to perform a specific goal; concepts provide a way to understand how that goal fits into a larger scheme of information; and references often provide alphabetical lists in tables, such as a command options list.

Separating descriptive information from task-oriented information helps readers access only what’s relevant to them. Topics provide just enough detail for readers to understand the content contained in each one without having to look somewhere else.

Linking related topics is an important part of modular documentation. Links help readers navigate, and the information they find will be exactly the type of information they need. If different topics are written by different authors, readers should still be able to navigate efficiently through the content to find what they’re looking for. For example, task topics almost always have related concept topics, reference topics are referred to by multiple concept topics.

Mark Baker, who writes about developing task-oriented, topic-based content in his blog Every Page Is Page One, points out that “breaking down content into small structured units is a good way to improve consistency and productivity.” Topics help readers, he says, when they include context and links. “Context can be a sentence or two that helps readers figure out what the topic is about and how it relates to other topics, for example, what it covers, what release it applies to, and what type of information it is (task, concept, or reference).”

So perhaps the answer is that what helps writers also helps readers.

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