General tips and best practice

Page last updated 03/11/2020
Image of female student using the library computer

THESE TIPS ARE DERIVED FROM EXTENSIVE RESEARCH INTO HOW TO GIVE ONLINE AUDIENCES THE BEST 'USER EXPERIENCE'.

Sentences and paragraphs

  • 15

    WORDS
    PER SENTENCE

    We scan over words to get an overview of the sentence’s meaning. Keep sentences short so your readers understand the sentence quickly and easily before moving on.

  • 4

    SENTENCES
    PER PARAGRAPH

    For online content, large blocks of copy make users jump ahead. They avoid reading your copy unless they absolutely have to in order to achieve their goal.

  • 1

    IDEA
    PER PARAGRAPH

    This helps your user’s scanning, bouncing eye to quickly grasp the overall meaning of each paragraph so they can build up an understanding of the page.

  • 4

    PARAgrAPHS
    PER SUBHEADER

    This follows the same principle as for ideas – by simply scanning your subheadings alone, a user should be able to get the general gist of what you’re saying.

Keep it conversational

  1. Use contractions freely

    ‘Can’t’ over ‘cannot’, ‘isn’t’ over ‘is not’, etc…

  2. Use plain English

    Never use a long word when a short one will do – it’s not that your users need simpler language, it just makes the journey from eye to comprehension shorter.

  3. Use neutral gender terms

    Use ‘them’, ‘their’, ‘they’, etc...

Get to the point

  1. Front-load sentences

    Always put the most relevant information at the start of every sentence.

  2. Headings

    Use imperatives or questions in headings wherever possible.

  3. Avoid redundancies

    And copy written entirely in the passive voice.

Be straightforward

  1. Microcopy

    Labels, opt-out messages, etc should be as simple and transparent as possible.

  2. Informal

    Avoid the formality of phrases such as ‘Please be aware’ or ‘Please note’ - they have a time and a place, but that is usually limited to compulsory ‘polite notices’.

Other things to consider

  • Keep body copy focused – keep focused on your key message – don’t include unrelated or unnecessary information
  • Put the user first – not the product or service - use ‘you’ and ‘your’ (but avoid using ‘you can’ repeatedly), and refer to Leeds Beckett University as ‘us’ and ‘we’, not ‘Leeds Beckett University’ – focus on what the user will ‘get’, not what we will give
  • Be active – use imperatives and active voice
  • Simple sentence structure – lots of ‘if’, ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘because’, ‘as’ in your sentence means too many concepts in that sentence
  • Don’t be afraid to use the exact words that come from users during research – or from reviews – basically, anything that is the authentic voice of your users, for example, “…makes finding the perfect course for you easy and painless”, “…all your bills in one monthly payment mean there are no nasty surprises.”
  • Emphasise benefits over features – show users exactly how the service, course, or feature will make their lives better or easier – talk explicitly about the direct benefits to the user
  • No jargon, slang or internal terms
  • No unnecessary description – for example, don’t say, ‘This page contains everything you need to know about Architectural Technology’ when the title of the page is ‘Architectural Technology’ – the thinking here is:
    • What other information would the page hold?
    • Over-explaining may make the user feel as though we’re talking down to them