Your content will be most effective if you understand who you’re writing for.
To understand your audience, you should know:
- What they’re interested in or worried about, so your content catches their attention and answers their questions
- Their vocabulary, so that you can use the same terms and phrases they’ll search for
Our audience mostly consists of:
- Current or prospective students
- Current or prospective employees
- Local organizations or businesses looking to partner or do business
Our audience’s age spans from teens to late adulthood, and they are racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse. This means our content must be communicated in a way that most people understand. In some cases, it must be translatable to other languages.
Focus On User Needs
Include only what someone needs to know so they can complete their task, and include a clear call to action.
A call to action is an instruction to the user designed to provoke an immediate response, such as “apply now” or “sign up.”
The User Experience
A user’s process of finding and absorbing information on the web should follow these steps:
- I have a question.
- I can find the page with the answer easily.
- I understand the information.
- I trust the information.
- I have my answer.
- I know what to do next/my fears are allayed/I don’t need anything else.
If you’re writing for a specialized audience, you still need to make sure everyone can understand the content.
Specialized audiences might include expert employees, auditors, accreditors, and so on. These audiences understand complex, specialized language, but still prefer plain English because it allows them to understand the information quickly.
Technical terms (that are not jargon) can be used in this situation, they just need explanation the first time they’re used.
Legal content can still be written in plain English.
It’s important that we present complicated information simply, so users understand it easily. If there is a clear need to include a legal term, for example “quid pro quo”, always explain it in plain English.
If you’re talking about a legal requirement, use “must”.
- For example: “Consent must be voluntary.”
If you feel that “must” doesn’t have enough emphasis, then use “legal requirement”, “legally entitled”, and so on. When deciding which to use, consider how important it is to talk about the legal aspect and the overall tone.
- For example: “Employees who receive these reports are legally required to report them to the college’s Title IX Officer.”
If a requirement is legal, but administrative, or part of a process that won’t have criminal repercussions, then use “need to”.
- For example: “You will need to provide a valid photo ID to get a copy of your transcripts.”