Last week, Bryan told us that it's all about great copy—but how do you make that great copy perform? Designing your words is an easy way to turn effective copy into a weapon of mass enjoyment. Here are three tips for designing better copy on the Web.
Headings: Treat each line as a phrase
A good headline sparks interest and captures your attention. It also gives you a good idea of what's to come as you start to read. When it comes to headings, I'm often faced with working with more than one line. In those situations, you have to treat each line as a separate phrase.
Consider this example:
It doesn't read well, does it? The lines are choppy with no consideration to the overall flow or interaction of each line. Each line breaks in mid thought, forcing an unwanted break in the message. It feels rushed and amateur, making me focus on individual words instead of the overall message. (And look at that widow!)
Let's take that same example and give it some structure, forcing line breaks at the proper points such that each line reads on its own:
Each line can now pull its own weight, giving readers a small sense of completion with each line that adds value to the entire headline. Forced line breaks in HTML are easy (
<br />), so take the extra time when possible to make your headings stand out.
Paragraphs: Strategically emphasize
When it comes to emphasis, you can learn a lot from properly styled hyperlinks. If the goal of a hyperlink is to encourage action through special visual styles, then the same can be said of bold and italicized text.
With a similar goal in mind—improving scanability by highlighting important ideas—a little emphasis can add a lot of value to your words. We call it strategic bolding.
Look at it this way: as you've been reading or skimming through this post, you're eyes have likely jumped to the bolder, bigger, or more colorful elements. That means our styles are doing their job. We want your eyes to skip along, fixating on key areas to grab your attention. We know where we want your eyes to fall, so we put a little extra emphasis on them.
The result? Faster reading, improved comprehension, and some more "colorful" paragraphs in an otherwise dull piece. But the real benefit is that you'll improve the interaction of your words. As readers get through paragraphs of text faster, they'll be able to latch onto and recall key concepts.
However, not even strategic bolding can help you out if the words you're bolding aren't readable. That's where an iteration or two will help you out.
Everything: Read, re-write, repeat.
Nothing compares to copy that's been put through the grinder a few times. Consider your process and approach to writing. Do you start with a good outline, but spin your wheels on turning it into a stream of thoughts? Maybe you have a tendency to talk too much with run-ons abound in everything you write. Then again, maybe you think your words are the best around.
Either way, writing what comes naturally is easy to do, but iterating—rewriting and proofing your work—will have a huge impact on the success of your words. Getting someone else's eyes on your work will also help expedite the process. Seek out someone who has that attention to detail and passion to read and write.
We employ the same tactics here at ZURB. When blogging, we encourage the off-the-cuff posts, but also acknowledge that those in the moment posts come with diminishing returns. You need the proofreading, the editing, and that little extra polish to make your post sing.
You can get better results with very little overhead. Encourage your teams to print and edit drafts, use a blogging buddy, and establish a few guidelines to designing your words. You'll like what you read a lot more.