3 diseases that infect web content

Want clean, healthy web content? Protect it from 3 common diseases.

These diseases are highly contagious: if some of your content suffers, it tends to infect the rest. Style guides offer little defence — many web writers copy their colleagues, unwittingly passing on the infection.

If your web content is suffering, your readers will be too. They'll be sick of wading through plagues of pages trying to work out what you're trying to say.

Here's what you need to watch out for.

1. Acronymitis

Acronymitis is the overuse of acronyms or initialisms. This disease runs rampant on government websites. But infection rates on university and large corporate websites are not that far behind.

A glossary is a common treatment. But it doesn't work, even when the glossary is extensive (and they often are), because they're rarely read. A better approach is to encourage web writers to avoid acronyms.

You should encourage:

  • removing acronyms and other short forms for things only referred to once
  • using a pronoun (like 'we', 'it', or 'they') instead
  • using one or two words from the long form (for instance, 'the project', 'the Act', 'the department')
  • only using short forms everyone uses (like 'DVD'), or your audience knows (like 'NSW').

2. Jargon monoxide poisoning

"Nothing kills content like jargon" says Brain Traffic's Angie Halama, and we agree. It's poisonous stuff that can also kill your relationship with your audience.

One way to treat this problem is to create a list of the jargon used on your site and ban it. Provide writers with a list of preferred terms to use instead.

This sounds radical but you won't be the first to have done it. Would you believe an organisation as staid as the UK government has a list of banned jargon? See for yourself: Gov.uk's Content style guide.

3. Bloat

While it's fashionable to blame gluten for bloat, the only solution for bloated content is to cut words. And to cut words you've got to stop cutting corners.

You should encourage:

  • planning. Writers must know their focus, know what readers want and need to know, and leave the rest out.
  • reviewing. Writers should make time for this, and leave a day or so between writing and reviewing. Another writer should always review their work.

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