Responsive writing

02 September, 2016 by Clare Elliott

How to write when you don’t know what’ll be seen
Responsive writing

Screen size matters, and it’s what you do with it that counts.

Lewd puns aside, anyone who writes for digital could do with having a bit of re-think in light of the move towards responsive design. I say the ‘move towards’, when in fact most brands are already there – it’s more that ways of producing content are lagging a little behind.

 

Context

Regardless of screen size, the aim should be to present the reader with the information they came for, with minimal swiping or tapping.

 

In the case of the content on mobile, if there’s something the reader needs to do now, then we should get to it first. There’s no time, or space, for a build up. To my mind, the CTA now needs to come first, and the substantiation later. When the same content is displayed on desktop, the copy serves the same purpose, it’s just needs to be ordered in a different way.

 

It’s the essential vs the in-depth

Taking the Post Office’s Branch Finder page as an example, it’s the difference between:

 

Branch Finder

Our branches are now open earlier and close later than you might expect – and on Sundays too. Use our Branch Finder to search for your nearest branch and its opening hours. You can add products or services to search for the branches that provide them.

Accessibility/disabled access - For information about the access and facilities provided by the Post Office™, please visit  The Nationwide Access Register at directenquiries.com

Where: Enter postcode, town or street name

Select service:

Select date:

SEARCH >

And:

Branch Finder

Use our Branch Finder to search for your nearest branch and its opening hours – you might be surprised at the service we offer.

Where: Enter postcode, town or street name

Select service:

Select date:

SEARCH >

 

Accessibility/disabled access - For information about the access and facilities provided by the Post Office™, please visit The Nationwide Access Register at directenquiries.com

 

None of the pertinent information’s been lost, it’s just been brought to the top.

 

It means front loading every sentence

Lead by the benefit. Ask yourself ‘what’s in this for the reader?’ Then take the answer and make it the focus of the copy – stating the benefit to them upfront so they’re encouraged to read on.

 

Again this comes back to smaller screens sizes. If your reader is on a mobile, give them what they came for, not the more in-depth or story-building content.

 

My top responsive writing tips: 

Write concisely.You may feel like you need to write less, but it’s less about length, and more about being concise and ordering messages cleverly. People are more inclined to scan images rather than read text, so writers need to work hard to grab their attention.  

And when we don’t know what device our users are viewing the content on, every word they can see should be there for a reason.

And when we don’t know what device our users are viewing the content on, every word they can see should be there for a reason.

Streamline (or just avoid) tables and lists. And be mindful that indenting bulleted and numbered lists uses valuable screen real estate.

Clean up device-specific terminology. ‘Click’ and ‘Tap’ only apply in specific environments. Use generic terms, such as ‘Select’.

Write short paragraphs. A paragraph need only be one sentence. And make just one point. Your reader will most likely be scanning, so it’s good to keep them going from point to point. 

And lastly, muscle in on the test environment

Whether you’ll be writing directly into a CMS, or not, it’s important to see how copy looks when the screen size it adjusted.

 

Try and check the following: 

  • How do your headlines and sub heads read when the page size is reduced?
  • If a sentence is cut off, does what’s there make sense on its own?
  • Is enough copy visible to communicate key messages? Don’t let imagery crowd copy out
  • Are buttons visible?

 

It’s in this way writers can ensure they’re on a par with coders when it comes to giving consideration to the user experience. One size can still fit all, it just requires getting more upfront.

 

Get in touch with Clare at linkedin.com/in/clareelliott