October 21, 2016 3 reasons why writing in a direct style increases content accessibility

By Jay Carmichael

close-up of a hand flipping dictionary pages for writing

An audience with whom persons from operational facilities of varied proportions wish to effectively communicate, be it by the most unobstructed avenues, a message, such as those messages which regard the operational facility’s current catalogue of offerings, should seek to do so in a way that is clear.

What? Okay, try this: Writing clearly is the best way to communicate your message or product to your audience.

Sounds better, doesn’t it?

That’s because the second sentence uses the basic rules of plain English, which include:

  • preference for everyday words
  • active voice and constructions
  • precise word choice.

This style of writing crafts a direct style. A ‘direct style’ is one that most people, regardless of reading level, can understand. And writing directly gives your business a better chance of getting noticed (and of getting people to do what you want them to do!). When a copywriter is crafting copy to convert, they try to keep the following tips in mind to help.

1. To communicate your message

Being able to communicate your message in a clear and direct way is key to making sure your audience understand what you’re saying.  A copywriter does this by:

  • putting only one topic in each paragraph
  • writing each sentence to contain only one idea
  • using familiar words that readers understand and use themselves, like ‘although’ rather than the longer form ‘in spite of the fact that’
  • engaging with the audience by using personal pronouns, such as ‘we’ and ‘you’
  • opting for simple verbs, for example, using ‘explain’ rather than ‘provide an explanation’
  • varying the length of sentences
  • avoiding jargon, clichés, ‘trendy’ words and euphemisms.

A direct style allows more people to access content because it removes some of the barriers around language. While this is key to writing copy, there are more ways to build on these principles.

2. To create copy accessible to everyone

Accessibility is the inclusive practice copywriters take to remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities, such as vision or mobility impairments, interacting with or accessing websites.

On a sentence-by-sentence level, one such aspect is avoiding sensory characteristics in instructions users need to follow (e.g. downloading a form, navigation) or calls to actions (e.g. for contacting your business).

This means not including words or instructions that rely solely on things like shape, size, visual location, orientation or sound. For example, a copywriter who incorporates web accessibility best practices into their writing, as outlined in the web content accessibility guidelines (WCAG 2.0), won’t write:

This is correct:

By doing this, a copywriter widens the content’s reach and doesn’t discriminate against any web user. Just as when writing in a clear and direct manner, there a few more guidelines for accessible copy, like:

  • avoiding character symbols, emoticons or other special characters that aren’t correctly interpreted by a screen reader
  • not using colour as point of reference to instructions
  • supplementing any shapes, visual locations, sounds and colours with descriptive text labels.

Many people are building on such basic accessibility techniques outside copywriting. Chieko Asakawa, from IBM, lost her sight at 14 in a swimming pool accident. She’s developed an app that allows vision-impaired people to navigate the world. The app analyses ‘beacon signals’ and smartphone sensors and feeds this input back to users, meaning they can move around indoor and outdoor environments by themselves.

In this TED Talk, Chieko discusses developing this complex technology to help vision-impaired people explore the world.

3. To help with easy navigation

Labelling page titles and other headings gives order to content so that a user can find what they need efficiently. On a website, the information is usually categorised into pages ­– ‘About’, ‘Contact’, ‘Services’, etc. Or, for example, the heading and its three subheadings on this blog post follow this principle.

When used well, page titles and headings give the user a quick overview of what the page is about and what they need to know. This way, a user doesn’t have to read an entire page if they don’t have to; rather, they can find the bits they need by the headings and the subheadings, which correctly gives a page hierarchy and indicates the ‘chunking’ of its information.

Good page titles (e.g. what appears in a search engine, such as ‘Business Insurance’) and main headings (e.g. the headings on pages, like ‘Small Business Insurance Claims’) aim to:

  • clearly identify the purpose of the page – e.g. ‘GIO | Business Insurance’
  • include keywords at the beginning
  • describe or summarise each topic, or communicate the key message
  • try to answer questions rather than ask them
  • are short and concise.

The team at Avion actively uses these guidelines when writing content. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about writing direct and accessible content.