Tear down that wall of words!

December 16, 2011
Tear down the wall of words

Often I have a client who needs a lot of words on the page. At first glance, I feel like I can condense the message — but just as often, the nature of my client's industry requires specific language. Good design and marketing practices tell me to have a short page to read, but when I try to edit the page, there isn't much content I can trim (especially when there are product features or legally-required points to cover).

We are busy, we want short sentences, we want people to get to the point — how do you keep it short when you have a lot of information to share?

Step 1: Trim what you can

There is always some trimming possible. Here are a few ideas:

  • Change passive to active voice. This makes the content more engaging and easier to read and many times it eliminates some extra words.
  • Remove unneeded prepositional phrases.
  • Replace big words with small ones.
  • Throw out entire sentences if they repeat something already said, or if they do not logically flow from the previous sentence.

Step 2: Graphics can replace words

Are there concepts or features that can be better illustrated instead of described? If a picture is worth a thousand words, let's get more pictures and remove those thousand words.

Step 3: Advanced design

Are there user interface tweaks that can break down the content into manageable chunks? If I go to a web page and there is a wall of words, I run screaming; but if I go to a web page and see fewer words, I'll examine it. Take for example a website from a company named Panic; they have a lot of features to list for their product Coda, so they have broken down the wall of words into a nice series of horizontal sliding panels with icons and graphics to create visual interest. 

Bottom line

The key here is interest. The page needs to be interesting. The wall of words may be wonderful words that I may take the time to read if it were on paper, but on the screen, the mindset is different. Most of the time, the reader is busy and task-driven. They want the information they are seeking. My rule of thumb? Imagine holding a cute crying baby in your arms while you read the page you are editing. There is a lot of noise in our culture, a lot of competing priorities going on inside your reader's head. Can your message be scanned, can you message be "heard" over that crying baby? 

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Image credit:  by misterfifths