Writing for Users

Century College is one of the largest community colleges in Minnesota a student body of over 10,000. I oversaw a total site redesign in 2015-16, and my time since has been focused on maintaining the integrity of our shiny (formerly new) site.

With a distributed content model, and a team for whom content coordination equals 10% of their job as a whole, it’s not uncommon for me to come across oddly-written pages. Like this one:

Writing clear web copy for users

High School Transcripts

High school diploma or GED certificate. You may download a High School Transcript Request to send to your high school.

High school transcripts are submitted to the Admissions Office:
West Campus 2350
1-800-228-1978, extensions 1700

I don’t think I’m alone in asking *whut?*

  • Does this mean that the high school diploma or GED certificate can be submitted in lieu of transcripts?
  • What’s the address of the Admissions Office?
  • Is the number below a fax? A telephone?
  • Etc.

Like I mentioned above – it’s way easy to let bad copy slip through the cracks when 1) it isn’t your full-time job and 2) you have a pile of other things to get through. Luckily, that’s why it’s my full-time job to ensure the web is running and looking its best. By doing weekly content reviews on a schedule (on a weekday morning, I take a few hours to focus on specific sections and review for accessibility compliance, general web standards, and of course, readability.

While this is an admittedly small example, it’s notable for a few things:

  • Silo-speak: from an internal perspective, this might be understandable or discernable. Externally? It makes no sense.
  • Clear action associated with the text: from every page, we want there to be a clear action associated with the content. It’s inspiring the user to perform some action, or gain some knowledge to move forward. This achieves part of that… But it’s unclear in a few ways.
  • Not meeting style guidelines: from the phone number to the Admissions Office location, it’s inconsistent with our established guidelines.

Here’s how I rewrote the section:

High School Transcripts

In place of high school transcripts, you can also submit your high school diploma or GED certificate.

You may download a High School Transcript Request to send to your high school. Submit high school transcripts to the Admissions Office:

Admissions Office
Century College
3300 Century Ave N
White Bear Lake  MN  55110

If you have any questions, contact the Admissions Office (651-773-1700).

It’s action-oriented. We’re explaining how these things relate to each other. The address i complete, not relying on users to go elsewhere for the information. Plus, we added the email address and the phone number for contact. It seems a lot like common sense, but it’s really just writing for users.

Tools: Drupal CMS
Skills: Content strategy, writing